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It is well known among Stellenbosch students that the University accepts an overwhelming majority of German students each year compared with students from other countries. However, what many don’t know is that most of the full-degree German students enrolled at Stellenbosch University (SU) study the LLM or Masters of Law course. What many don’t know either is the reason that Stellenbosch is such a popular destination for particularly postgraduate law students from Germany.
The Stellenbosch Law Faculty, best known for its picturesque building on Ryneveld Street, has a long and prestigious history. While the Faculty of Law has existed since 1921, it awarded its first postgraduate degrees only in 1976. The LLM degree, as it is known today, has been offered by the Faculty since 1994.
According to Karin Wiss, Faculty Manager and LLM Coordinator in the Faculty of Law: “International graduates include a comparatively large number of students from Germany who chose the Stellenbosch LLM for its excellent academic reputation.”
One reason for its reputation can be attributed to the fact that 75% of the academic staff in the Law Faculty have doctorates and that 35% are National Research Foundation-rated researchers. The courses offered are therefore taught by specialists.
“The majority of modules in the programme consider not only South African law but also applicable legislation, judgments and trends from other jurisdictions from a South African perspective,” says Wiss. “This, as well as the fact that South Africa has a mixed legal system, make these modules relevant and interesting for international students.”
The programme is a relatively small one, as it has had only just over 1 100 graduates since 1994. However, its graduates come from 44 different countries and approximately 49% of the current students in the programme are international students.
One such student, Leonie Springer (30), has been in Stellenbosch since June 2018. She completed her law degree at the University of Bayreuth in Bavaria, Germany. The German university system requires that you study for four to six years before completing your first state exam, which is equivalent to a master’s degree in law. Springer completed her articles and second state exam in Wiesbaden near Frankfurt, making her a fully accredited legal specialist.
Studying abroad has been a lifelong dream of hers, which is why she decided to study further. She opted for something more adventurous than following the more conventional path to the UK.
“I’m glad to get to know a different culture, people and food,” she says. While it’s not easy in terms of security and comfort, with the lack of central heating being a concern of hers, this is what she wanted and she is happy and, although she has found the transition to South Africa relatively smooth, she says that the biggest adjustment is learning to be more vigilant.
Many of the German postgraduate students enjoy the closer relationship that they are able to have with their lecturers. Springer says that, because the classes are a lot smaller than in Germany, with more discussions and examples, she has been enjoying her classes tremendously.
Springer hopes to become a judge or a prosecutor once she returns to Germany, although she has a job waiting for her at an international law firm if her first plan doesn’t pan out. She hopes that having the international qualification on her CV will count in her favour and demonstrate her commitment to other countries and jurisdictions.
Another student who finds himself in the LLM programme at SU is 27-year-old Fabian Schubach. He studied law at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany. After graduating, he wrote and passed his first state exam and, after completing his articles, he went on to do his second state exam, also in Hamburg.
Schubach chose to study at SU after hearing about the LLM from friends who had studied at the institution. The popularity of the course among German law students made the decision an easy one for him.
However, his choice was not an academic one. “From a German perspective, the LLM is almost exclusively about spending a year abroad and only very subsidiarily about the actual contents of the course,” he says. In Germany, few universities offer the course, as it is not required in the German system of legal education.
Schubach chose to sign up for the specialised programme in Intellectual Property, as this is the area of law that he enjoys most. He plans on returning to Germany and working as a lawyer in this field.
His transition to Stellenbosch has been fairly easy, although Schubach raises the same concerns over safety as Springer. Despite this, he finds Stellenbosch similar to small German student towns and says that even Cape Town is not that different from a big European city.
Author: Dalaine Krige