LLM GUIDE Focus on Student Life: Australia

A whirlwind tour of some of Australia’'s LL.M. locations

If you have never visited Australia, you might have an impression of an arid, scrubby bushland roamed only by kangaroos and eccentric wildlife wranglers. In fact, the vast majority of Australians (89%) live in urban areas, and around three quarters of the population live in one of a handful of coastal cities. These modern cities are host to universities with solid international reputations, and they also offer hospitable climates, friendly locals, a vibrant food and cultural scene, and easy access to nature. 

Sydney is the biggest city in Australia, with a population of 4.5 million people. It is the country’s most global city, and stands as Australia’s finance and media capital and number-one tourist destination. The city is built around Sydney Harbour – the site of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge – and is surrounded by beaches and national parks. The climate is pleasant, rarely dropping below 10ºC (50°F) at night and with average summer temperatures of around 25ºC (77°F).

Sydneysiders – as the locals are called – are a culturally diverse bunch enjoying a lively food and arts scene. The nightlife in the city leaves something to be desired since large hotels have had a virtual monopoly for some time, but things are looking up, with a number of smaller bars popping up under new liquor licensing laws.

Students tend to congregate in the bohemian inner west suburbs of Newtown and Glebe, the beach suburbs of Coogee and Bondi, or the hip inner east suburbs of Surry Hills and Redfern. Keep in mind, though, that the virtues of Sydney come with a hefty price tag and housing in inner city suburbs will be expensive – between $180 and $300 per week for a single room and between $350 and $500 per week for a small apartment. Prices fall as you move further from the city centre.

Check out the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University of Sydney. These law schools have a long rivalry and both offer prestige and high-quality education.

Melbourne, on the South East coast, is Australia’s second-largest city, and is a major hub for finance, manufacturing, and trade. It is generally regarded as being the most culturally vibrant city in Australia, with a large selection of live music venues, galleries, cafes, and bars. Melbourne has a more relaxed and European feel than the brash Sydney, and it is also a cheaper place to live.

Students have gathered in the centrally located suburb of Carlton, the bohemian suburbs of Brunswick and Fitzroy, or the cheaper Collingwood. You can expect to pay between $150 and $200 per week for a single room in a share house near the city and between $250 and $350 per week for a small apartment.

The trade-off is that Melbourne is often hotter in summer and colder and wetter in winter than the temperate Sydney, and does not have the same easy access to beaches. Take a look at the LL.M. programs at the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and La Trobe University.

The capital city of Australia is Canberra, a small inland city of just 350,000 people. Canberra doesn’t have the hustle of some of the other Australian cities, and while it boasts a number of impressive cultural institutions, the street-level culture is fairly unexciting. Wildlife admirers will appreciate beautiful parks and reserves surrounding the city, and the rugged mountain ranges to the south and west. Canberra’s chief attraction for students, however, is the prestigious and well-funded Australian National University (ANU), as well as access to the institutions of government.

Brisbane, situated on the northeast coast of Australia, is a relaxed and friendly city with more of a “country town” feel than Sydney or Melbourne. The quieter pace may suit those who want to avoid the distractions of the larger cities, and the sub-tropical climate is perfect for a little beach time. Brisbanes LL.M. programs include the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology.

Or you could try Perth, way over on the west coast of Australia. Perth is the most isolated mainland city on earth, which means that when you aren’t studying at the University of Western Australia, you can set out to explore one of the most rugged and spectacular landscapes on the planet. The city is at the center of a huge oil boom, and those interested in the energy and resources sector might therefore consider it a good place to launch their careers.

And keep in mind that Perth has the added bonus of being the only major Australian city where you can watch the sun set over the ocean. Beautiful!

Perth and another Australian city, Adelaide, also share the number-eight spot on the The Economist's Top-10 "Most Liveable Cities" in the world survey in 2010. The annual survey, which compares stability, health care, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure in the world's major urban areas, also gave high marks to Melbourne (#3 globally) and Sydney (#7).

Adelaide is situated near the coast, and is home to the University of Adelaide, one of the "Group of Eight" Australian universities (with ANU, University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, Monash, UNSW, and the University of Western Australia).

Some other practical matters:

- An LL.M. from an Australian university is a useful addition to your curriculum vitae and can give you specialist knowledge in a particular area of the law, but it will not qualify you to practice as a solicitor in Australia. In order to be admitted as a solicitor you will need to apply to the relevant state body for an assessment of the qualifications you have gained, and complete further study and training in accordance with their advice. This process can take anywhere from two months (usually for applicants with considerable practical legal experience from England or Wales) to four years (applicants from civil law jurisdictions who are required to undertake a JD or LLB and a Practical Legal Training course).

- Evidence of English language proficiency is required when applying for a student visa, but the different universities set their own English language requirements. Check to make sure that you meet the standard for your course.

- To qualify for a student visa, you will need to demonstrate that you are able to pay for travel, course tuition, and living costs during your stay in Australia. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship wants to see that you will have access to $18,000 a year to fund living costs, and may look into your financial and employment history and that of any person providing you with financial support.

- You will also be required to maintain Overseas Student Health Cover for the duration of your student visa, at a cost of around $420 for 12 months.

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