Faculty wins top marks in the eyes of the law

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University of the West of England Law Faculty

Higher Education Funding Council rating: Excellent

Tim Angell faces his audience at the University of the West of England. The small lecture hall is two-thirds full, mostly women. It is not a bad turnout for a Wednesday afternoon, when most undergraduates play sport or attend student union meetings.

He rolls back his shirtsleeves and scrawls in fluorescent green felt- tip pen on a white board: "A trade union is: an organisation which consists wholly or mainly of workers of one or more descriptions and is an organisation whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers of that description and employers or employers association.

"Students are not `workers' because they are not obliged to provide services to anyone,'' he adds. From the rows of bent heads taking long-hand notes on trade union law, there is polite laughter.

"To do a degree here you have to be prepared to work very hard. The workload is heavy and you are warned in advance that it will be,'' says Sarah Fricker, 22, a graduate with a first-class Bachelor of Law with honours degree (LLB), who has stayed on to take a year-long legal practice course.

"It can be intimidating, but if you find any aspect particularly difficult, the lecturers will spend time explaining it to you. There is a great deal of backup.''

The University of the West of England, formerly Bristol Polytechnic, has one of the widest portfolios of courses of any law school, teaching 50 different subjects, for full-time, part-time and post-graduate study.

There are 330 students on the LLB, 250 taking a European Law and Languages degree, 220 on the legal practice course and 15 preparing for their Bars finals at the faculty, which has 58 full-time staff, including two professors.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England gave the faculty an excellent rating in April 1993. It has also been given the Law Society's highest rating, a commendation.

This success, says Professor Alan Benstead, dean of faculty, is a direct result of the "value-added'' element the institution provides.

"We take students with a wide range of abilities and academic backgrounds. The proportion of mature students, 35 per cent, is high. To provide high- quality teaching to such a range, your staff need special skills to give every student the encouragement and coaching they need. We have first- rate staff with a commitment to teaching.''