The private college way to a law degree

Those who have set their hearts on studying law but fail to get into the NUS' law faculty need not despair. David Gabriel takes a look at the private law education centres in Singapore

Prestige, money and self-enhancement

It is relatively easy for a determined student to study law in Singa- pore. While the 800 or so places in the Law Faculty of the National Uni- versity of Singapore are going at a premium, those who fail to make it there can turn elsewhere. At least six private education centres are offering courses to almost 1,000 students, leading to a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of London. The private centres say demand for law courses is brisk and comes not only This takes a further year, making a total of four years, to qualify to practise in Singapore needed to obtain a degree from the NUS.

The basic qualification needed to register for the ex- ternal degree course is two GCE A level passes. But stu- dents with three O levels may, instead of doing A lev- els, spend nine months pre- paring for the examination set by the Associated Exam- ining Board. A pass in this exam allows the student to proceed to the degree pro- gramme and saves a year. for the Bar exams. Otherwise, students can also teach them- selves, but this is extremely difficult. Some law centres are keen to offer courses preparing students for the English Bar exams, but the Ministry of Education has yet to grant permission.

The largest private law centre in Singapore is the Singapore Institute of Commerce, which occupies the former skin clinic at Middle Road. This is the only centre with a dedicated building, which has been renovated and has 10 lecture rooms.

The largest private law centre in The centre has begun to Singapore is the Singapore Institute of Commerce, which occupies the former skin clinic at Middle Road. Enrolment is approaching 300 students, both full and part-time from young Singaporeans and Malaysians who are un-able to get into the NUS Law Faculty but also from mature students.

Generally, the younger students demand full-time courses and want to pursue a legal career after graduation. Mature students include a significant number of profes- sionals who believe a law de- gree will enhance their existing career. Many have little or no interest in pursu- ing a legal career after obtaining a degree. Students who, after three years, obtain a University of London external degree and who wish to practise law in Singapore must then go to London to prepare for the Bar examinations set by the Council of Legal Education.

The cost of tuition for a law degree student is about $3,000 a year, which is slight- ly than the NUS. But class sizes are smaller in the pri- vate centres. Another cost is that of registration with Lon- don University, amounting to about $1,000 a year. The expensive part is the Bar preparation. For this, a graduate must go to London, enrol in a law centre such as Holborn Tutors and attend six dinners at the Inn to which he or she has applied for admittance. This will cost at least $25,000.. It is possible to prepare for the Bar exams in Singa- pore, in which case the cost can be halved. One centre, Advance Law Tutors, has Ministry of Education per- mission to prepare students build up a law library. Enrolment is approaching 300 students, both full and part-time, and is growing.

The institute is funded by a group of lawyers and managed by Mr Kannappan Chettiar, himself a law graduate, who sat for the London University external exams. All teachers are law graduates, and several practising lawyers are teaching part-time. The institute recently ob- tained results for the first 26 students it put up for the final Part II exams. All but one passed, with more than half obtaining second lower honours.

The second largest private centre is Advance Law Tutors, run by Mr S Kunalen and his wife, Ms Susan McKenzie, both law graduates with master's degrees. This centre has 200 students. There are at least four other law centres in the Re- public, and with a severe shortage of places at the NUS it looks as if the private sec- tor has developed the capacity to meet the market demand for law degrees.

HE STRENGTH of demand for law studies can be gauged from the queue at the Regional English Language Centre when registration for the University of London external examinations takes place. One student said the queue was so long he went home and returned the next day. He was not prepared to stand for two to three hours, which is what it would have taken him. Most of the young, full-time students studying law at the Singapore Institute of Commerce law have been rejected by the NUS Law Faculty.

Loretta Holmberg, 19, did not meet the minimum A level criteria for law. She had three C-grade passes and was offered a course in the Arts and Social Science Faculty but declined. "Law has always been my number one love," she said. "Basically, I believe a law degree will bring me prestige and money, but I also believe I have the right argumentative skills." She said one of her school teachers left teaching to study law. He was her role model and reinforced her interest in law. Many say they have two Miss Holmberg was inter- A-grade A level passes and tested enough to turn her back one B grade pass but still on the NUS and find her failed to win a place. One own way to a law degree. Morris Chew, a Malaysian, obtained ABB grades in his A level exams and failed to win a place at the NUS. He did not qualify for the University of Malaysia because he did meet have the language requirement. The NUS offered him a place in the Arts and Social Science Faculty but he turned it down.

Asked why he was so in- terested in law, he said: "Of course money has crossed my mind, but I have really been influenced by my sister. She in at Nottingham reading law. Besides, I believe a law degree is a very flexible de- gree. It allows you to adapt yourself to many different fiends. It does not tie you down to one profession, like an Engineering Degree would do for instance." But life is not a bed of roses for students such as Miss Holmberg and Mr Chew. Library facilities are, as yet, not adequate, which means they have to travel to Kent Ridge to use the Law Library. This involves time and money. One student suggested they be allowed to enjoy the same privileges of other full-time students, such as concession bus travel. Not all the young students in the pri- vate centres come from well-off families. On the other hand, Chuay Keng Chiew is established in his job with a subsidiary of the Exxon Group. He has no plan to switch careers - and reads law because he sees it self-enhancement. His as hope is that a law degree will help him reach the upper lev- els of management in his company.He is now a sales and marketing representative but wants to diversify from the service side of business. "I have no definite plans to practice law," he said. "What the law degree will do is to help me move up the corporate ladder." Why the demand for law studies? Kannappan Chettiar suggested one reason. Law was the only profession which did not require spe- cialist preparation in school, he said. Unlike becoming an engineer or doctor or archi- tect, anyone with general preparation at school, in arts or science, could be trained in the law.

- Business Times, Wednesday September 11 1991