Ine van den Heuvel, Administrative Director, and Christian Korbeld, secretary
“The faculty contributes to a stable rule of law in many ways”
“We do well in education surveys”, Christian Korbeld, secretary of the Faculty of Law, remarks. "Students give us positive ratings.” As nice as that is, it did lead to student intake being on the high side until recently. Ine van den Heuvel, Administrative Director, continues: “Before the pandemic, we had about 750 first-year students. That was not manageable for the faculty and not desirable for the quality of education. So we aimed to reduce that number to 550, and we succeeded. Now we have a stable inflow of students, despite the pandemic.”
The conversation immediately turns to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Like other faculties, the Faculty of Law is also still dealing with the repercussions every day, Korbeld says. “We learned a lot from education during the lockdown. The lecturers – and students – did a fantastic job with teaching and student guidance during that period. There are several things from that time that we want to continue, like digital exams and mentor groups.”
But as quickly as they could, lecturers returned to in-person lectures and work groups, Van den Heuvel adds. “That went well with the work groups, but when it came to lectures, the students’ routines had changed a bit. It is only since the start of the new academic year that we have seen that the lecture halls are full again and the faculty is lively again.
“Of course, it is easier to pull first-year students into that routine than second- and third-year students who are now used to watching lectures from home. As a faculty, we therefore decided to discontinue the livestream after consulting with the participational bodies and the programme committee. We want to keep students in the rhythm so they keep coming to campus. Because we believe group discussions are an important part of the learning process. We want students to be engaged in their studies together. Now we only post the web lectures online for everyone in the week before exams.”
“We’ve been closely monitoring the pass rates, and we are happy with them”
“We are always looking for ways to further encourage student presence in the Grotius building. We’re very happy with our active study associations”, Korbeld adds. “They organise all sorts of things, and where possible, we would like to support that. The Law Faculty Association has installed extra couches and a coffee machine, and that too has a positive effect on keeping students in the building.”
Fortunately, the recent period does not seem to have had too great an impact on students’ results. Korbeld: “We’ve been closely monitoring the pass rates, and we are happy with them. The fact that our students have experienced few study delays is also welcome news.”
“We were happy to be able to end the academic year in June with an old-fashioned faculty reception for students and staff”, says Van den Heuvel. “We hadn’t had one for two years.”
In more good news, the pandemic changed some educational processes for the better. Van den Heuvel: “We transitioned to 100% digital assessment, at a pace we would never have achieved otherwise. We simply had to do that. And even after in-person education was allowed again, digital assessment – on site – has remained. Overall, the use of digital resources has increased. Copying exams for 600 first-year students takes some time, and that is no longer necessary. Entering grades is also much easier. And where answers to open questions used to entail handwriting that was not always legible, this is no longer an issue.”
“Lecturers now also have more information at their disposal, for example on how a question is doing”, Korbeld says. “In this way, the pandemic period has had a lasting positive effect on our faculty in certain areas.”
According to Korbeld, Law is a true teaching faculty. “Our students are enthusiastic about that teaching, and they are generally engaged as well. We have a student section in the participational bodies that really thinks critically and comes up with its own initiatives. That’s extremely valuable.”
“You also see that alumni stay involved and like to give something back to the faculty”, Van den Heuvel says approvingly. “On information days, for example.” That is important because it gives students a good idea of how the study programme connects to legal practice. The faculty would like to intensify communication with (prospective) students, she adds. “Research has shown that our students mainly choose based on region. Yet we want to show more of our face on social media, so prospective students get a sense of what we are good at and consciously choose the Nijmegen curriculum. We have a strong, positive legal face of our own.”
“We do our best to keep people connected to us. The link to practice helps with that.”
“Research seems to have been relatively unaffected by the pandemic, and it continued at full speed last year”, Korbeld asserts. There were several great things to celebrate. “Jasper Krommendijk now holds a Jean Monnet Chair, and some significant grants were secured, for example from Horizon Europe. Migration law had a good year in that respect.”
The faculty has two major research centres: State and Law (STeR) and Business and Law (OO&R). “Both research centres have a strong focus on certain themes, and that works to our advantage”, Korbeld says.
“At OO&R, sustainability had been a focal point for a bit longer, and now it is also one at STeR”, says Van den Heuvel. “They organised a Sustainability and Law theme day last year. Themes such as the sustainable rule of law, liability for climate change and renewable energy and environmental law played a role.”
Other themes also receive attention, of course. “In October, Professor Danny Busch published a comparative law book on the liability of financial supervisors and resolution authorities. A conference on that topic will follow.”
“There is increasing collaboration”, Korbeld asserts, “both within the faculty and with outside parties. That’s another reason why it’s so important to get everyone – staff and students – back to the faculty. We try to create an interesting environment, build a community and encourage encounters. Something always comes out of that, although it cannot always be measured. Both our research centres have a good relationship with legal practice, and that too is very important for initiating new research that is useful for practice.”
“The themes in the sector plans are stirring things up. That is refreshing”
Van den Heuvel also mentions the links with other universities. “The Sector Plan for Law features two themes on which we cooperate with two other universities: digital legal studies and conflict resolution institutions. Because of the Sector Plan and the collaboration within it on the same themes, PhD candidates from different universities can now interact and discuss topics with each other. That is enriching. The themes are stirring things up. Here, people still generally work alone; for our discipline, this broader collaboration on themes is new.”
“The sector plan identified five major social themes, from which you could choose two or three as a faculty”, Korbeld explains. “Sometimes, the themes intersect. Normally, public and private law meet mainly at the coffee machine. These kinds of themes, which all lawyers have to deal with, create new forms of cooperation.”
Naturally, the faculty exerts social influence first and foremost through the positions held by graduates. Properly trained lawyers are important for a well-functioning rule of law. “But the faculty contributes to a stable rule of law in many other ways as well. Staff members make regular media appearances or publish pieces in the press”, Van den Heuvel says. “In addition, participation in government committees is of course a way to contribute. For example, Professor Ashley Terlouw was appointed a member of the State Commission against Discrimination and Racism, and Professor Femke Laagland is a member of the Social and Economic Council (SER).” The new strategy adopted at the end of 2022 clarifies what the faculty that is so strongly focused on the practice of law is doing it for: a sustainable and learning rule of law.