The Admission Interviews, are meant to provide insights into LL.M. admissions right from the law school itself. The primary idea behind this series is to provide that little bit of extra information that may not be available on the law school’s website.

Andrea McLeod-Karim, who is the International Regional Manager at the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW)
Andrea McLeod-Karim

In this edition, we speak with Andrea McLeod-Karim, who is the International Regional Manager at the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). Universities such as VUW have seen renewed interest amongst LL.M. applicants in recent times, interest that no doubt has been spurred by the way New Zealand has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand could also be an ideal destination for Indian lawyers looking to immigrate as pointed out by VUW LLM candidate, Sanket Palshikar.

Let’s start with the most important question – how are you? How have you gone about adapting to these circumstances that we find ourselves in?

Thank you for asking, I’ve been doing quite well considering the circumstances. It’s helped that my work still keeps me busy during this period, and having a young son also helps as it means you need to remain as positive as possible.

It’s been quite different not travelling for work which is a major part of this job but luckily in this age of internet connectivity it’s still easy to reach students.

When it comes to VUW, are foreign students on campus at the moment, or have they all gone back to their home countries?

Most of our students chose to remain in New Zealand and were welcome to do so. Students who preferred to be with their families at this time did return home, as did some of our exchange students who were recalled by their universities.

The university ensured that students staying in our hostels would be well looked after and protected during this time and there’s been a number of online initiatives to look after mental health and encourage them to keep busy until online learning officially starts on the 28th April.

Students who have part time jobs were also eligible for the government wage subsidy so that they could keep their incomes while they’re unable to work.

Looking ahead, for those applicants interested in an LLM for the next academic year, what are things that they need to keep in mind in terms of possible changes to the programme? Do you foresee a part of the next academic year of the LLM programme being shifted completely online?

We usually have two intakes to our LLM every year, one in February and one in July. Unfortunately given the current scenario it seems unlikely that students will be able to arrive on campus in July to study with us.

“I would not encourage students to begin online as it means they will miss out on a sizable time of their overseas experience.”

As the LLM programme is short, only a year in duration, I would not encourage students to begin online as it means they will miss out on a sizable time of their overseas experience, and it may compromise their right to a post study work visa if they’re not physically in New Zealand for their studies.

A lot of Indian LLM applicants are now finding it difficult to get their documents, recommendation letters etc in place – is VUW considering granting any lee way in this regard?

We  have not relaxed our requirements as yet, however we will keep applications open until students can provide pending documents for their applications. We will also accept the online TOEFL test for English requirements.

Some Indian LLM applicants are also considering deferring admissions to next year – thoughts? 

It is an option that I am actively encouraging our students to consider. Online learning does not suit all students, and it can be more difficult than studying in a classroom session, particularly when there are other priorities competing for attention.

While it is always disappointing to need to delay plans, students should remember that they’re not alone, there are thousands of students worldwide in a similar situation. They should choose the best option for them as per their safety, learning outcomes and the experience they’ll receive.

When it comes to the faculty at VUW, how do you see them coping with the pandemic? Any suggestions for universities who may also be grappling with similar problems? 

I think it’s been a learning experience for our faculty as well as our students! As a university we have never previously offered a distance learning option, so a great deal of work is being put in by the faculty to adapt their teaching materials and methods to an online setting to ensure that students can still have the best learning experience possible.

“I think that an important component to this is the need for empathy.”

I think that an important component to this is the need for empathy: for faculty to understand that many students may be disappointed with the need to study online or that they may need assistance in adjusting; and for students to understand that this is also an adjustment for their faculty who had also not planned on this being how the semester went ahead!

Lastly, how do you see VUW shaping its policies to negate the effects of the pandemic? And how long do you think it will take for the number of foreign applications to return to pre-COVID levels? 

I believe that all universities are currently in a similar state worldwide and that we need to accept that there will be a drop in enrolling student numbers this year. How soon it will come back to normal will depend on how both universities and governments support students throughout this crisis.

At this point in time I would tentatively estimate that we should see numbers return to normal by February next year if all goes well.

We are lucky in New Zealand in that we have a Prime Minister who has shown strong leadership skills and guided us through the crisis and I believe that this has been recognised internationally as well. There have also been a number of initiatives put into place to ensure that unemployment levels remain low and that the economy can recover once we exit lockdown.

“There have also been a number of initiatives put into place to ensure that unemployment levels remain low and that the economy can recover once we exit lockdown.”

I believe that the care we have shown for all of our people, including our international students, and how well the crisis has been managed overall, has made New Zealand a very attractive study destination once students can again travel.

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