“One of the great things about studying law is … you can't really predict what you're going to be exposed to on any given week in any given course.”
An intellectual inquisitiveness that turns heads and minds is what first made Matthew Bunten stand out from the crowd in his legal theory course at The Australian National University (ANU).
Associate Professor Joshua Neoh vividly remembers his tutorials with Matthew.
“He sat in the front row to my right,” Dr Neoh said.
“I usually look straight ahead when I teach. Every time Matthew asked a question, it would make my head turn.
“After listening to his question, it would make my mind turn. His questions were always sharp, and often mind-bending.”
Matthew is a third-year Juris Doctor (JD) candidate at the ANU College of Law.
He is also the first student to be accepted to complete a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at the University of Oxford, as part of a joint program between the two universities.
The structure of this international study program allows students to complete the equivalent of two-and-a-half years of study at ANU and undertake one year of study at Oxford, graduating with both the ANU JD and the BCL from Oxford.
In recongition of his academic excellence and aptitude, Matthew has also been awarded the Oxford-Hackney BCL Scholarship. This postgraduate scholarship is awarded to a candidate of exceptional academic merit studying for the BCL program.
The BCL is a coursework masters designed for high-achieving students, taught by outstanding scholars through a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials.
Impressed by the quality of Matthew’s work in his torts course last year, Professor Jolyon Ford SFHEA is confident that Matthew has the talent and skills to hold his own among the high-flying cohort studying the BCL at Oxford.
“Matthew’s legal analytical and argumentation skills were of the highest order and make him entirely capable of meeting the demanding standards of the Oxford BCL,” Professor Ford said.
“His work was excellent, error-free, distinctive and persuasive in all assessment tasks.”
For Matthew, the opportunity to travel over to the UK and gain a different common law perspective on the legal issues he’d been introduced to at ANU were key motivators to apply for the program.
“I've had a great time studying law at ANU, and wanted to spend more time at university doing that,” Matthew said.
“I’m looking forward to further study in the areas I've most enjoyed over here—private law subjects, like property, equity, torts, etc.”
Matthew originally enrolled in the ANU JD program when he found himself at a loose end after finishing his undergraduate degree.
“I was uncertain if I wanted to start a career in my area of undergraduate study,” Matthew said.
“A few of my friends and family encouraged me to try a law degree.
“I did my undergrad at ANU, and love university life here and the campus as a whole, so I didn't need much convincing to come back for another degree.”
Fast-forward a few years and Matthew has not only shown a clear aptitude for his studies, he enjoys it too.
“One of the great things about studying law is that, because it occupies such a central place in our society and affects it in so many different ways, you can't really predict what you're going to be exposed to on any given week in any given course,” he said.
“ANU academics tend to read widely and like to draw connections between their subjects and wider society.
“As a result, what you get out of a course might not be at all what you expect going in.
“I still think about some of the readings assigned back in my first semester that had nothing to do with any assessable content in the course, but had a big impact on how I have thought about law and society throughout my studies.”
One of the most memorable experiences of Matthew’s time at the ANU College of Law was the rapid, pandemic-triggered move to online learning last year.
“The way everyone seemed to pull together when on-campus learning stopped was great,” he said.
“I felt a real sense of solidarity between staff and students that, for me at least, helped minimise the educational damage as we switched to online only.”
Matthew will graduate upon his return to Australia in mid-2022 and aspires to become a legal practitioner.
“We hope Matthew’s experience will encourage other ANU students to explore this scheme,” Dr Ford said.