Bridging the education-industry gap

28 November 2017
Engaging with industry and the wider community

Professor Simon Rice joined Sydney Law School in July 2017 as Director of Professional and Community Engagement. He shares his insights into the school’s engagement with industry and the wider community.

Professor Simon Rice

There is often a too-easy characterisation of different law schools, and Sydney is at times pigeonholed as the conventional one, with a limited world view. The perception is compounded by factors such as the University’s historic ‘sandstone’ identity, and Sydney Law School’s long association with its city premises and the private legal profession, and its expertise in private and commercial law.

Of course, perceptions are just that, and a better understanding reveals a much richer and more complex truth. One of the privileges of my appointment at Sydney Law School is that I need to understand the ways in which my academic colleagues, and the students, engage with the world, in their research and in the classroom. To that end I have been spending my early days in this role talking to colleagues about engagement in their research and teaching.

The idea of ‘engagement’ in tertiary teaching and research is a popular and important one, flowing down to the daily work of academic staff from its source in terms of the Commonwealth Government’s funding of universities.

The focus is on the extent to which academic research is done with what is broadly called ‘industry’, on outcomes that are valued by industry, and on the extent to which academic teaching gives students the chance to develop graduate qualities through experience.

The ‘industry’ we engage with is very diverse. Challenging issues of justice – law, policy and regulation – arise in international agencies, multinational corporations, public and community sector service provision, non-profit advocacy, and commercial and industrial activity. Law ‘engages’ with, and helps resolve, justice issues in health, business, design, technology, arts, social policy, and much more.

Sydney Law School’s research engages with vital contemporary issues, and is sought out and valued by national and international institutions to help pursue a more just world. A few examples are:

  1. Professor Barbara McDonald, appointed to lead the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Privacy inquiry
  2. Professors Patrick Parkinson and Professor Judy Cashmore, engaged by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to establish a means of differentiating between types of institutions, in terms of level of risk of child sexual abuse
  3. Professor David Hamer, engaged by the same commission to examine how evidence of a pattern of behaviour is used in the prosecution of sexual assault in several foreign jurisdictions
  4. Professor Roger Magnusson, engaged by the World Health Organization to report on the role of public health laws in advancing the right to health and creating the conditions for healthy living.

At the same time, the engaged, experiential learning opportunities for our students range from clinical placements with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and a host of public and community legal agencies to studying in the Shanghai Winter School. There is an exciting story that will emerge from the humility and pragmatism with which my colleagues go about research and teaching that engages with important contemporary issues of justice.