One of the great institutions of Oxford is the Oxford Union. And we are not talking about an institution that organises labour but the world’s most famous debating society. Although independent from the University, the Union claims students as the overwhelming majority of its members. For the amount of around 230 pounds (!) one can become a lifetime member. That is obviously a huge amount, especially for MJur/BCLs who stay for only a year. Judging from my experience so far, it may be worth it though.
Founded in 1823, the Union’s magnificent facilities are centrally located in Oxford. These include a bar for members, a beautiful library, pool tables and – of course – debating chambers. Main events are either debates or talks with distinguished guests.
Debates take place every Thursday and are fought between one side of three debaters proposing a motion (e.g. „This House Believes the State Should Not Recognise Marriage“ or „This House Believes the UK Has Surrendered Too Much Liberty in Pursuit of Greater Security“) and an opposition comprising an equal number of speakers. Eventually, the audience decides whether the motion will be accepted by leaving the chamber through a YEA or NAY door.
Talks are less contentious, although some speakers have have indeed stirred controversy in the past (e.g. Marine Le Pen). Notable guests include big names like the Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, Shakira and Kermit the Frog. This term brings us a speaker who would probably love to be mentioned in the same breath as these. Being German I will only reluctantly do him this favour: Yanis Varoufakis.
For more about the MJur program, please see Oxford’s Full Profile on LLM GUIDE
I am finally an official member of the University of Oxford. In other words: Matriculation took place last weekend. Matriculation is another peculiar event from the perspective of a continental European law student that produces plenty of opportunities to take Facebook-suitable photos. The event’s idiosyncracy bascially draws on the „subfusc“ dress, that is mandatory and consists of the following elements:
- One of
- Dark suit with dark socks, or
- Dark skirt with black tights or stockings, or
- Dark trousers with dark socks
- Dark coat if required
- Black shoes
- Plain white collared shirt or blouse
- White bow tie, black bow tie, black full-length tie, or black ribbon.
On top, you have to wear a gown and are supposed to carry your mortarboard (= academic hat). But beware, you are not allowed to actually wear that hat. For that, you have to graduate first!
The procedure seems not to have changed over the past centuries. Students meet in their respective colleges and walk in procession to the Bodleian. Here, the president of the university gives a speech in Latin (in our case at least for some minutes) before joking aroun d. This is something that strikes me as emblematic of Oxford life: tradition is valued highly in form but mostly not taken too seriously in content (typically British, one might say).
After the speech (and even more photos), students march back to their colleges, where they take group photos: the kinds of photos they may someday have framed and hung up on the wooden walls in their private libraries.
For more about the MJur program, please see Oxford’s Full Profile on LLM GUIDE.
After some weeks of settling in (read: having beers with new friends, organising myself and attending several induction lectures), classes have finally started. There are a great variety of classes, ranging from „International Law of the Sea“ and „Company Law“ to „Law and Medieval Society“. The faculty often recommend attending an undergraduate option (though only MJurs are allowed to, BCLs not) to get a firsthand-look at the „real“ common law. I am more intrigued, for my extra options, by the rather specialist courses of „Corporate Finance Law“, „Comparative Corporate Law“ and „Principles of Financial Regulation“ and „International Law and the Use of Force“.
“The Cube” is arguably our nicest class room.
While lectures will introduce the topic and alert students to which topics are important, seminars are where actual participation and discussion take place. Students receive reading lists, which they ought to prepare for seminars. Likewise, debates revolve around a list of questions given to students beforehand. Also, each class will have four tutorials. In those, a professor will meet up with groups of two to four students and discuss a particular topic in detail.
I have to admit: This seems to be a very tough and time consuming schedule. This holds even more true, if you consider that you constantly get bombarded by interesting events and activities to attend and participate in Oxford. I will keep you posted on how this actually works out!