NUS Law School to give out more first class honours to reflect rising quality of students

Commencement ceremony of National University of Singapore (NUS) Law Faculty graduates at the University Cultural Centre.
Commencement ceremony of National University of Singapore (NUS) Law Faculty graduates at the University Cultural Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE
NUS Law Faculty dean, Professor Simon Chesterman.
NUS Law Faculty dean, Professor Simon Chesterman.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) Law School is doubling the number of students eligible for a first class honours degree from the present top 5 per cent of each graduating law class to the top 10 per cent.

The landmark policy revision, the first in a decade, will start with students graduating in June this year.

The review will also see more students awarded the second class (upper division) honours degree - an expected range of between 65 per cent and 68 per cent compared to the current 50 per cent.

With the latest revision, in a cohort of 240 students, for example, up to 24 students could be awarded first class honours, while the next 156 students at 65 per cent could attain the second class (upper division) honours degree.

NUS Law Faculty dean, Professor Simon Chesterman, said in a letter to the students on Monday (March 7) that the honours policy revision will bring the university closer to comparable universities in the United Kingdom and Australia.

He wrote: "Other top law schools with a comparable cohort size, such as Oxford, London School of Economics, and University College London are awarding first class honours in the range of 12 per cent to 24 per cent, and second class (upper division) honours degree in the range of 67 per cent to 82 per cent.

"In view of the high quality of our students, NUS finds it timely to bring its honours awards closer to its peers."

The NUS policy revision caps the latest milestone by Prof Chesterman in his four years as dean in leading the NUS Faculty of Law as Asia's top law school.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, he clarified that the marking system will remain "exactly the same; (the students) still get As, Bs, Cs and so on".

He added: "If you get an average grade of A minus or higher across all of your degree modules, or if you are in the top 10 per cent, then you get first class honours.

"If you get a B average or above and you are not in the first class honours, then you are in the upper second."

He explained the move will, among other things, "make it a lot easier for our students to see how they are doing, so it is much more transparent for our students".

It also means that the 10 per cent figure is linked partly to the Dean's List, which is a list of students who are in the top 10 per cent of their cohort year by year.

"So what it means is that if, in your first year, you get a letter saying that you are on the Dean's List, that means you are in the top 10 per cent and you know that you are on track to first class honours if you keep that up," he explained.

Acknowledging that NUS is a very tough place to get into and that students work very hard, Prof Chesterman said the revision followed a review of the honours class which included an analysis of the percentage of students who obtained first class honours in peer institutions, such as Oxford, Cambridge, and London School of Economics.

"After speaking with the alumni, the profession, the judiciary and our advisory council as well as consulting within the faculty, we have decided that 5 per cent is too few," he said.

The increase to 10 per cent, however, was still seen by some people in the profession and within the faculty as "still too small and still not enough", he said, adding that the five percentage point increase " is a good first step".

He made clear the increase was still marginal when compared with peer institutions Oxford, Cambridge, King's College, and London School of Economics - all of which were giving far more first class honours.

The gap is even more glaring for the upper second class honours degree.

He noted that in some law schools in England, "basically everyone gets upper second, and we only give it to the next 50 per cent".

"The market suggests that we are too stingy... I think it is important that people understand that we will still be giving far fewer first class honours than our peer institutions," said Prof Chesterman.

"We are trying to reflect the increasing quality of our graduates."