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Regular version of the site

‘Project-Based Learning in Law Presents a Challenge in Itself, and It Is a Task That Is Yet to Be Solved’

Vadim Vinogradov discusses the structural changes and new challenges facing the Faculty of Law

© Daniil Prokofiev

The Faculty of Law is one of three faculties to be restructured this year. Vadim Vinogradov talked to HSE University Life about how the Faculty will soon change, how an interdisciplinary approach benefits students of law, and what the new schools will do. 

Vadim Vinogradov
Dean of the Faculty of Law

The Faculty of Law is one of the three faculties to be restructured this year. What problems do you believe need to be solved at the Faculty

First, one of the key problems that all law programmes in Russia suffer from to some extent is a lack of a clear goal. What skills should students gain during their studies? Why do students need to be taught certain subjects rather than others?

That’s why we are now conducting a complete audit of our law teaching programme and deciding what and how we should teach and why in the context of the new challenges and conditions.

Second, a serious problem is insufficient research and professional activity on the part of the faculty members. It is essential that teachers are more involved in expert work and participate in law making. HSE University is a research university and this implies certain responsibilities.

The teaching staff must conduct high-quality research, which is, among other things, in line with the research priorities defined by the demands of employers and the legal community.

Research is also important in the context of the quality of teaching, which means not only teachers conveying theoretical knowledge to students, but, at the end of the day, helping future lawyers gain the necessary skills for research and professional work.

Today, not all programmes offered by the faculty meet these requirements in terms of the syllabi and the teaching. The solution to this problem involves developing more practice-oriented courses by teachers as part of the academic programmes, developing communication between teachers and employers, and expanding project work that attracts all the interested stakeholders.

We also have to make sure that the Faculty of Law’s organizational structure meets the challenges we are facing, taking into account the HSE University Development Programme. To promote fruitful work, we should create conducive conditions for the implementation of creative and academic ideas, for the improvement of the study process. The teachers should combine teaching with research, and the structure of the Faculty—its centres, laboratories and administration—should be aimed at helping staff in their research, professional activities, and teaching.

Third, since HSE is a world-class university, the outcomes of our research should be recognizable internationally. That’s why the staff of the Faculty of Law faces the task of expanding their international network and publishing their research in journals that are indexed in leading international databases. The restructuring of the faculty, including its administrative arm, is aimed at helping the staff with this challenge. 

— What are the market requirements of lawyers today?

— The key trend on the market is the growing competition among lawyers. That’s why the best strategy for a graduate today is to be an expert in a narrow field, but with a good fundamental training. The staff recruitment process has become simpler and more transparent, which has led the market to become more specialized, with more specific specializations. Speaking of which, the demand over the last few years has been growing for lawyers in internet regulation, intellectual property, and technology at large. In many traditional fields (banking law, financial law, criminal law) there is a demand for experts who, so to say, do not follow the instructions, but create them: they know how to apply the existing norms to the new relations.

Undoubtedly, we also see a growing demand for interdisciplinary professionals, such as ‘law and finance’, ‘law and management’, and ‘law and IT’.

Such employees are more highly valued, and it’s much easier for them to find a job in the more transparent job market, than even a decade ago. We must provide opportunities to prepare for these professions at HSE University, in interdisciplinary master’s programmes.

— The university is switching to project-based learning. How will it be organized at the Faculty of Law?

— Project-based learning is aimed, on the one hand, at helping students develop analytical skills and practical skills for solving legal problems in their chosen field, and, on the other hand, helping teachers improve the curriculum, foster research and expert work, and create a kind of ‘expert school’ as part of the educational process.

As changes are made to the Faculty’s programmes, the Faculty will support the creation of project groups that involve students in research and applied work. Projects will gradually replace term papers, which usually involve students examining a given topic only once. In project-based learning, we are also creating a mechanism to financially support the students who demonstrate good performance in projects.

In the spring, the Faculty conducted a preliminary call for teacher initiatives. The outcomes demonstrated that the teachers still think narrowly, within the confines of their current activities. Most of the projects concerned research in areas that the authors are used to, without an interdisciplinary approach, without any relevance to any market tasks. The question is: who would need such a project?

My hypothesis is that we will be able to overcome this perspective barrier, if we push the teachers to take on interdisciplinary approach in their projects.

Today, law is experiencing explosive growth at intersections with other fields, but these areas remain unexplored in Russia. We would like to take advantage of this opportunity.

I also want to mention that project-based learning in law presents a challenge in itself, and it is a task that has yet to be solved. No law department in Russia has done this on such a big scale. And we wouldn’t like project-based learning to be introduced in name only, just to ‘check the box’. That’s why we are still looking at the existing models and holding discussions with colleagues. We want to implement a concept that will work, even if it doesn’t happen at once.

— The restructuring includes creating several new institutes and centres in the Faculty. Why was it decided to create new structures?

— The Institute of Law Education Transformation is being created to support the current and all future reforms in terms of methods. It will be headed by Roman Yankovsky, Adviser to Rector. The Institute will collect data from the graduates, students, and employers; analyse our curricula, and come up with suggestions for restructuring it and putting ideas into practice. This is a big project, which hasn’t been implemented in Russia by anyone before, and to do this, Professor Yankovsky has also been appointed Deputy Dean for Development at the Faculty of Law.

We are creating new schools (of international law, court system, criminal law, and legal regulation of businesses). As you know, the Faculty used to have three huge schools (one of which listed almost a hundred staff members). As a result, representatives of very different fields worked under the same roof.

Making international law, or, for example, legal regulation of business, into a separate division is a reasonable step towards improving the manageability of these departments and creating effective research and teaching teams. The new schools will be led by the heads of these teams. Such transparent and reasonable staff decisions will be announced in the near future and, hopefully, will receive the support of our colleagues.

The Centre for Business and Law Relations will develop the students’ soft skills, career skills, organize competitions in legal skills, including those involving graduates. It will be headed by Dmitry Grits, who has headed the MSAL Institute of Business Law until recently. We want him to develop the same kind of work with our students.

— Three institutes will be joining the Faculty: the HSE – Skolkovo Institute for Law and Development, the Institute of Administrative Law and Enforcement, and the Institute for Law in the Digital Environment. Why has this decision been made? How will this change affect the institutes

— The decision to merge the associated and independent institutes that work in law with the Faculty of Law aligns with HSE University’s policy over the recent years. It will help engage institute staff more actively in teaching as well as in research teams. The internal structure of the institutes, their staff, the principles of management and funding will not change: we do not want to be an obstacle to our colleagues in their work. This is mostly about formal confirmation of the institutes’ status as parts of the Faculty of Law.

During the restructuring, you are going to create departments that will be in charge of the Faculty’s relations with government and businesses. What kind of projects are envisioned?

— To boost the Faculty’s standing at the national level, it is important to turn it into an institution that systematically provides cross-sectoral legal expertise and staff for state institutions (including the Russian Government, the Federal Assembly, and the courts), public companies, and other companies (not only legal ones). There is a demand for HSE University graduates today both in the private and public sectors. This requires us to support and develop our relations with state authorities and businesses.

A good example is the creation of the Centre of Business and Law Relations, which I’ve already mentioned.

We will have several new research and education departments. For example, we have agreed to create a joint department of law-making and regulation in telecommunications with Rostelecom. We are also negotiating other joint departments with government and business entities. Their staff will be able to supervise our projects and expert work, as well as teach courses in their respective fields.

Restructuring is usually accompanied by staff changes. What kinds of changes in this regard will there be?

— As we introduce the five-year-long bachelor’s programme, the workload will gradually grow by about 25%.  This workload will mostly include the new courses taught as part of educational tracks starting from the second year of bachelor’s studies. Of course, this will require us to recruit new professionals on the job market, including from other universities.

In addition, we will probably create new positions for the staff of the institutes who will teach courses at the Faculty of Law along with conducting project work and research. We are also going to actively implement project learning and strengthen students’ soft-skill development, which will also impact our staff.

The HSE Faculty of Law is obviously facing very ambitious tasks: reforming our academic programmes in line with the current demands of the job market, increasing our publication activity, and improving our position in international rankings. These tasks will impact the Faculty’s personnel policies, since they require the teaching staff to be ready to pursue professional development opportunities, intensify their research work, learn and implement project-based learning, as well as develop their own effective communication with external public and private institutions.

The Centre for Lawyer Education and Career Guidance will be re-named the Centre for Alumni Relations. Is this just a name change, or is the faculty going to change the way it maintains alumni relations? How will alumni be able to participate in the life of the Faculty?

— Developing lawyers’ education and careers seems like too big a task for one centre. We split this work among several teams. The Centre for Alumni Relations will manage alumni relations as before, collect data from the legal market, and organize various events with alumni. Career guidance services will be provided by the Centre of Business and Law Relations.

The newly created Institute of Law Education Transformation, as I’ve mentioned above, will deal with the tasks of developing legal education, both at the Faculty, and in the country at large. For the first time in Russia, this process will follow a clear methodical framework, for which the Institute will have all the necessary resources.

July 14