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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Research environment - general orientation

Kent Law School (KLS) has long been known for its distinctive approach to legal education, embracing contextual, interdisciplinary and other non-traditional perspectives. Since 1992, it has sought to build upon this tradition by promoting innovative and high quality research efforts in critical and socio-legal scholarship. In the period until 1996 this strategy bore fruit in a substantially improved research and publications record. Since then, KLS has worked to consolidate and develop its existing research strengths and add further weight to its claim to be a leader in its field. At the same time, it has sought to broaden its research base by nurturing new areas of research expertise, reflecting the school’s changing teaching activities, especially at postgraduate level.

The broad research orientation of KLS embraces contextual and interdisciplinary approaches to law and critical, theoretical, and socio-legal scholarship, an approach which meshes with many of the most distinctive characteristics of the school’s undergraduate programmes. Within this general orientation, a number of overlapping research clusters can be identified, including critical and contextual perspectives on the mainstream curriculum, feminist legal scholarship, contextual and strategic engagements within the fields of criminal justice and environmental law, and diverse approaches to legal theory. Following the development of its LLM teaching programmes, KLS has encouraged research and made a number of staff appointments in new areas, particularly international and commercial law, European, and European comparative law, where a socio-legal dimension is present but less dominant.

Arrangements for promoting and supporting research

Departmental level

During the 1992-1996 period, KLS introduced a broad range of policies designed to promote a healthy research environment. These included: establishing a Research Committee to develop and oversee the implementation of research policy; introducing a work-credit system to take account of research activity in the context of allocating teaching and other responsibilities; close monitoring of individual research activity and the encouragement of mentoring relationships; stimulating the development of a strong research culture by reviving the staff-graduate seminar programme, and encouraging wider conference attendance and participation though substantially increased conference allowances; fostering the regular exchange of work and ideas (always a characteristic of the school); supporting inexperienced staff, e.g., through reduced teaching loads and the provision of individual advice and assistance; and, finally, developing a postgraduate research community within KLS.

In 1996, many of these strategies were still in the early stages of implementation. Since then their effects have been closely monitored and, where appropriate, additional steps have been taken to cultivate a work environment in which high quality and innovative research can flourish. These include:

A. Significant expansion of IT resources. Since 1996, KLS has appointed an IT support officer as part of a policy of facilitating and encouraging staff (and student) access to and use of online research tools and other internet sources. The school’s multiple award-winning gateway Lawlinks (developed by the law librarian, Sarah Carter, in association with KLS members) reflects a research and teaching culture in which maximum use is made of IT facilities. The school has ensured the maintenance of a healthy library budget and its online holdings in particular compare very favourably with institutions of much greater financial weight, creating a 'virtual' library with no walls, easily accessible from staff offices and student computer terminals.

B. Further development of the postgraduate research community within the school. In the period before 1996, KLS introduced a teaching assistantship scheme with a view to attracting and funding high-quality postgraduate research students. The scheme has proved a success, boosting both the quality and quantity of postgraduate research applications and improving completion rates. Currently, the school funds 9 teaching assistants at varying stages of their research projects. Since 1996, 6 have graduated and a number have gone on to assume academic positions in UK universities. More generally, the number of research students has steadily increased since 1996, as have completions. Although there is still room for improvement, both in recruitment and completion rates, the strenuous efforts the school has made to provide students with a stimulating research environment have paid off and a lively and engaged postgraduate research community now flourishes. KLS research students have their own common room, access to the school's own postgraduate study area (many also have shared office provision), regular lunchtime seminars, well attended upgrading presentations, a weekly bulletin, and representation on the research committee and in departmental meetings. KLS has revised its procedures for monitoring student progress, made better provision for research training (since 1997 all KLS research students have been required to take a research methods module), and has offered students additional facilities such as IT provision and funding for conferences (KLS research students now regularly deliver papers at academic conferences, e.g., 3 presentations at the SLSA 2001). The postgraduate research community has become an integral, vibrant, and highly valued aspect of law school life.

C. Enhanced support for inexperienced staff. There are a number of formal mechanisms for supporting and encouraging research activity among inexperienced staff. All new (i.e. first appointment) academics are given automatic research credits for the first two years of their appointment. During the same period they are also entitled to a 25% discount in their overall teaching load. Their research progress is regularly assessed and formal advice and assistance offered through both the appraisal and probationary procedures. In addition, new staff are encouraged to participate in research-related activities e.g., staff-graduate seminars and conferences. KLS also seeks to foster informal mentoring relationships with more experienced colleagues although it has not found it productive to introduce a formal mentoring system, first, because it leads to monitoring ‘overload’ (i.e., on top of the appraisal and probationary systems) and, secondly, because experience has shown that mentoring relationships work better when they are informal, voluntarily instigated, and between those with common research interests. The KLS director of research takes an active role in encouraging the research efforts of inexperienced staff, placing an emphasis on nurturing individual capacity rather than demanding immediate results.

D. Increased funding for conference attendance and participation. This is a high priority within KLS as it has clearly stimulated greater participation by staff (and postgraduate research students) in national and international conferences, with obvious benefits in terms of research quality and output. All staff are currently entitled to £800 p.a. with additional funding available from the Research Committee (e.g., for overseas conferences). Postgraduate research students receive a conference allowance of £230-270 per annum.

E. The enhancement of the staff-graduate seminar programme. This is now a permanent and highly successful feature of KLS academic life, comprising an annual programme of internal and external speakers. A regular Criminal Justice seminar series also runs and, in 1999-2000, a Feminist Legal Studies seminar series was introduced. The seminar series constitute an important vehicle for the exchange of work and ideas within the school as well as externally.

F. Reform of the departmental committee structure and procedures. Since 1999, the research committee has assumed full responsibility for postgraduate research students (formerly under the auspices of the Graduate Studies Committee) as well as for staff research matters. Apart from the administrative advantages this brings, it has effected the greater integration of postgraduate research students into the school’s research activities. In addition, KLS continues to operate a research credit system in allocating teaching and other responsibilities although there has been a reluctance to withdraw credit where individual research progress is slow but not without promise. The school has striven hard to strike the right balance between conflicting demands here. Finally, KLS has recently revised its internal criteria and procedures governing study leave applications to encourage the productive use of individual relief from teaching and administrative responsibilities.

University level

The university is committed to research excellence and the promotion of a strong research culture. It is actively involved in encouraging research within and across departments, providing a range of support services to assist departments, including the dissemination of information about funding opportunities, advice and assistance in relation to funding applications, and seminars, workshops, and training programmes on different aspects of research activity. The university has worked to develop an effective management structure, addressing matters of policy development and implementation at departmental, faculty, and central levels through a University Board for Research, thus ensuring a desirable degree of co-ordination and beneficial mutual exchange. Moreover, it has introduced a range of measures to encourage the better integration of postgraduate research students into the university research community as well as their more effective supervision and training. Finally, in terms of library provision, the university has adopted a policy of expanding, where possible, online resources, particularly, electronic journal access. This strategy matches the school's own emphasis on developing electronic sources for research purposes.

Staffing Policy

KLS staffing policy reflects its desire to ensure a productive synergy between teaching and research. For this reason, many of the appointments made during the current RAE period have matched the development of the school's LLM teaching programmes. These include SCHEPEL and SHAH (European), STORY (intellectual property) and, at senior level, CARR (Reader in International and Commercial Law) and SAMUEL (Chair in Law). KLS has also recently appointed a new Chair in Law and International Business, Professor Peter Muchlinski (currently at Queen Mary College, London), from April 2001. The school's research expertise in feminist/gender issues has been further strengthened by the appointments of BIGGS, MILLNS, SLAUGHTER, and WONG while DICKSON has joined research efforts in the criminal justice area. Finally, in environmental law, a new Chair in Wildlife Management Law (HARROP) has greatly enhanced the school's research base in this field, particularly since the departure of MCGILLIVRAY. In fact, there have been very few staff departures during this RAE period which has been, for KLS, one of stability and expansion.

Research strengths and achievements

The school’s claim to research excellence in the field of socio-legal/critical legal studies is evidenced by the range and quality of publications it has produced within these (broadly defined) intellectual traditions. In this context, a number of research clusters or common themes can be identified in which the KLS research contribution has been particularly innovative and/or sustained.

Critical and/or contextual perspectives on the mainstream law curriculum

A number of KLS staff have published books, book chapters and/or journal articles applying critical or contextual approaches to mainstream, particularly private law subjects. A strong feature of this work is its direct and distinctive engagement with legal doctrine and the ‘black-letter’ tradition. It includes work on contract (WIGHTMAN); tort (CONAGHAN and MANSELL); property, where KLS staff have deployed a range of diverse and highly original approaches (BOTTOMLEY, HOWARTH, IRELAND, MACKENZIE, SAMUEL, STORY); and also equity (BOTTOMLEY, DRAKOPOULOU, MACKENZIE, WONG).

Outside the traditional boundaries of private law, KLS staff have deployed critical and/or contextual approaches to other mainstream subjects including company law (IRELAND); family law (SLAUGHTER), international law (MANSELL), labour law (CONAGHAN, RYAN), European Law (SCHEPEL), and criminal justice/penal issues (CHENEY, DICKSON, UGLOW). They have brought similar perspectives to bear on less traditional, more interdisciplinary fields such as medical law (BIGGS, MILLNS), legal history (IRELAND, RUBIN), immigration and asylum (CHENEY, SHAH), environmental law (HARROP, HOWARTH), and military law (RUBIN). Diversity of approach here belies a shared preoccupation with the boundaries of legal concepts and their interplay with historical, social, cultural, political and economic factors. The KLS critical tradition is further evidenced by a strong Kent presence in Pluto Press’s innovative Law and Social Theory series (CONAGHAN AND MANSELL, IRELAND, WIGHTMAN).

Feminist perspectives on law

KLS, home to the international journal, Feminist Legal Studies (Kluwer), can justifiably claim to have made a significant contribution to the development of feminist perspectives on law both nationally and internationally. BIGGS, BOTTOMLEY, CONAGHAN, DRAKOPOULOU, MACKENZIE, MILLNS, SLAUGHTER, WIGHTMAN, and WONG have all published on law and gender and, taken collectively, their work constitutes a formidable achievement in this field. Again, while approaches diverge and draw upon a range of intellectual traditions - from empirical to psychoanalytical - they demonstrate a common preoccupation with legal representations of women and their consequences. Moreover, much of this research seeks to apply feminist perspectives to ‘foundational’ subjects, and to explore the boundaries of legal doctrine (see, in particular, the work of BOTTOMLEY, CONAGHAN, MILLNS and WIGHTMAN as well as the Cavendish Feminist Perspectives series of which BOTTOMLEY is a co-editor and BIGGS, BOTTOMLEY, CONAGHAN, MACKENZIE, MILLNS, and WONG are contributors). In the area of postgraduate research, Kent’s reputation for feminist work is attracting postgraduate applications, and it is undoubtedly an area where the department can boast a high research profile and significant expertise.

Environmental law

The development of research in environmental law has been undertaken primarily by HARROP and HOWARTH and, until his departure, McGILLIVRAY. Some of the private law scholarship of CONAGHAN, MANSELL, and WIGHTMAN also engages with environmental issues. The combined output of HARROP and HOWARTH is prodigious, spanning articles in leading journals, interdisciplinary collections, and externally funded reports on areas falling within their areas of expertise. Both scholars can be described as engaging in pioneering construction work, i.e., in building the intellectual and conceptual infrastructures in the fields of wildlife management and water law respectively, as well as engaging with key strategic and policy issues in these fields. Thus, although specialised and involving relatively few staff, environmental law is an area of research in which KLS can claim excellence.

Criminal Justice

In 1996 the Kent Criminal Justice Centre (currently directed by UGLOW) was launched as a joint interdisciplinary venture comprising KLS and other social science departments at Kent. The RAE 1996 already evidenced an existing tradition of research in this area but KCJC has further contributed to its development. CHENEY, DICKSON and UGLOW have engaged in both individual and collaborative work (including work with staff in other departments, e.g., Professsor Chris Hale) relating to criminal justice and/or penal issues, producing a number of books, journal articles, and externally funded reports. CHENEY's work on penal issues has been particularly influential in the context of government penal policy and prisoners’ rights while UGLOW has written extensively on policing matters. KCJC has also contributed to the creation of a vibrant research culture, both through its highly topical and well-attended seminar programme and its ability to attract high quality postgraduate research students.

Legal Theory

There is and always has been a strong theoretical tradition within KLS and this is borne out in its research output, much of which comprises interrogations and explorations of a range of different approaches to the theorisation of law. Such work includes engagement with traditional theoretical perspectives, e.g., theories of legal reasoning and epistemology (SAMUEL), as well as more diverse approaches deriving from social and political theory (IRELAND, MANSELL, STORY), sociology of law (SCHEPEL), critical legal theory (BOTTOMLEY, CONAGHAN, WIGHTMAN), feminism (see above), and post-modernism (DRAKOPOULOU, SLAUGHTER). The bulk of this scholarship is self-consciously eclectic and interdisciplinary and the diverse range of positions represented evidences a healthy and thriving intellectual climate in which ideas are readily challenged and exchanged. The theoretical dimension of much of the school’s work not only broadens its appeal but also adds further weight to the claim of research leadership in the fields of critical legal /socio-legal studies.

Developing areas of research expertise

The steady growth of the LLMs in European, international and commercial law has resulted in the emergence of new research clusters not necessarily within the critical/socio-legal tradition, although some of the work here continues to draw from these traditions.

International and Commercial law

CARR and MANIRUZZAMAN are producing a steady stream of quality publications in this area, reflecting the dominant teaching orientation of the LLM programmes. In addition, critical/contextual approaches have been been deployed in the areas of banking and finance law (MACKENZIE, WONG) and intellectual property law (MACKENZIE, STORY). The recent appointment of Professor Muchlinski reflects the school's commitment to further developing a research profile in this field.

European law and European Comparative Law

The research of a number of KLS staff, most notably RYAN, and to some extent, CARR and CONAGHAN encompasses European law perspectives. However, the recent appointments of SCHEPEL and SHAH have greatly enhanced the European law content of the school's research profile. Similarly, the post-1996 appointments of MILLNS and SAMUEL have brought a welcome European comparative dimension as well as greater research links with Europe. The welter of new appointments here is demonstrative of the school's policy of encouraging research in conjunction with its developing teaching needs.

Summary of research achievements since 1996

KLS considers that its claim to excellence in critical and socio-legal scholarship has been strengthened by the range, quality, and quantity of its research output during the current RAE period. Many of the research plans outlined in 1996 have been realised, e.g., CONAGHAN (RA2, output 1), IRELAND (1 & 3), MACKENZIE (2), RUBIN (1-3), UGLOW (1 & 4), WIGHTMAN (3), See also IRELAND and Laleng Critical Lawyers Handbook 2 (Pluto Press, 1997) and HOWARTH and MCGILLIVRAY (eds) Land Drainage Responsibilities (3rd ed., Thomas Telford, 1996). Research plans have not always taken the form anticipated in 1996; e.g., a number of the book projections have come to fruition as series of journal articles or book contributions as with the work of BOTTOMLEY on feminist theory, CONAGHAN on labour law, and IRELAND on company law. In some cases, particular research plans have been set aside in favour of other more timely projects, as with HOWARTH on conservation law.

In the key areas of research strength identified in the 1996 submission – critical legal theory, law and gender, criminal justice, and environmental law – KLS has significantly enhanced its research status through increased, higher quality research output and successful new appointments. At the same time, the school has made progress in developing new areas of research through senior appointments in international and commercial law and European comparative law and new junior appointments in European law (see above, staffing policy). The school has continued to foster and entrench a healthy research culture and the climate for postgraduate research students, in particular, has been transformed. Finally, KLS has kept pace with and makes full use of IT research resources, in which context it is amongst the leaders in the field.

Research income

Much of the research activity in the school is not of a kind likely to attract external funding and/or does not require additional financial support. However, research in the areas of criminal justice (UGLOW) and environmental law (HARROP, HOWARTH) continues to attract a steady stream of income. The bulk of the criminal justice work is government funded and generally the outcome of a highly competitive tendering process. Thus, UGLOW is currently involved in research for the Home Office (evaluating targeted policing initiatives) and the Youth Justice Board (investigating parenting orders and restorative justice schemes).The research project on Bulgaria carried out by HOWARTH and McGILLIVRAY was specially commissioned by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations who chose them because they were regarded as experts in the field. (The FAO does not generally invite competitive tenders). HARROP has attracted some funding by competitive tendering and the rest via commissions or charitable donations. Finally, RUBIN has recently secured a grant from the British Academy in relation to his historical work on military law.


Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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