In recent years ‘Juris Doctor’ (JD) programs have proliferated around the country (eg U of M, UNSW, Monash, Sydney). JDs are initial professional entry qualifications for legal practice, but in theory at least taught at Masters level.
But now a team from the Australian Qualifications Framework Council – led by the great crusher of educational diversity, John Dawkins – has effectively recommended prohibiting the JD terminology. A report to education ministers issued late last week recommends that all qualifications taught at the various levels set out in the report be exclusively known by the names provided in the AQF. So all JDs would have to be renamed ‘Master of [Legal Something]’.
To date, degree titles have been a matter of self-regulation for universities. The current qualifications framework describes higher education qualifications, but does not prescribe them for self-accrediting institutions.
This system of self-regulation seems to have worked pretty well. The main criticism has been that some masters degrees are too light – really just undergraduate subjects, or too short, or both. Intellectually, some honours bachelor degrees are superior to some masters degrees. But there is little evidence that this has caused significant ‘real world’ problems. Employers know what is what.
JDs spread partly because they were a way of getting around the crippling regulation of undergraduate course finances. But at some universities at least there was genuine product innovation, with smaller classes, different teaching styles, and year-round teaching to finish in less time.
The JD nomenclature was a useful way of distinguishing an intial professional entry qualification from the traditional LLM programs, which are more specialist qualifications. A JD is the standard term for a legal qualification in North America. There may be risks in using non-traditional titles, but that should be something the institutions and students weigh up, rather than regulators imposing standardised titles.
Now that there are many JD graduates in the workforce, they are likely to be displeased that their qualification is being banned. Fortunately law firms more than most employers know that regulators are not sources of wisdom.
I am hoping that this and other aspects of the Dawkins report will be rejected. The old describe but don’t prescribe approach is the best one. But with Labor returned to power, I doubt they will want to reject their man’s advice.