Bristol is the largest city in the South West of England and has always had strong international links; during the Middle Ages it was the second largest port in England, only London was bigger. It was from Bristol that John Cabot, a Genoese, sailed in 1497 and discovered the mainland of North America (five years earlier, Christopher Columbus had reached the Bahamas). The University of Bristol is the largest independent employer in Bristol, and receives more student applications per place than any other UK University. Its predecessor, the University College, was the first such institution in the country to admit women on the same basis as men. It does not have a campus, although most of its activities are concentrated in the area of the city centre referred to as the "University Precinct".
Located in the lower Yangtze River drainage basin and Yangtze River Delta economic zone, Nanjing was the ancient capital of six dynasties, and is listed as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. Today, it is the second largest commercial center in the East China region, after Shanghai, with a population of about 8 million. Nanjing University is one of China's key comprehensive universities and it functions directly under the Ministry of Education. It consists of three campuses at Gulou, Pukou and Xian Lin. Nanjing University has been at the forefront of developments in teaching and research in China. It was the first institution in the country to adopt student-centred teaching methods, the first co-educational Chinese university, and the first Chinese university to provide doctoral education. It is one of the top universities in China, with beautiful campuses and modern teaching and research facilities.
The two universities and their Law Schools are each among the leaders in their respective countries. In each case the university itself has a history which goes back beyond the date of its formal foundation or re-foundation. Bristol University received its Royal Charter in 1909, and so 2009 is its centenary year. Nanjing University is seven years older.
Denis Chang QC, a leading barrister in Hong Kong, and Honorary Doctor of Laws at Bristol University, has provided generous funding to encourage links between the University of Bristol, of which he is a graduate, and universities in China. A number of schemes are under discussion, but the first formal university link is an agreement for the exchange of students between the University of Bristol and the University of Nanjing. Both the University of Bristol and the University of Nanjing are members of the Worldwide Universities Network and there are already a number of other ties between organisations within the two universities.
The link which has now been created between the two Law Schools provides for the exchange of an average of two students per year over the course of the agreement. Students taking part in the exchange will pay no fees to the university they are visiting, the only fees they pay will be to their home university.
The essence of the exchanges is that students will study of the law of the country they are visiting in the language of the country they are visiting. So Bristol students in Nanjing will study Chinese law in Chinese, and Nanjing students in Bristol will study English law in English. In each case, the students may be able to substitute some language courses for their law courses, so that Nanjing students in Bristol may take some courses in English language, rather than English law, and Bristol students in Nanjing may take some courses in Chinese language, rather than Chinese law, but the central expectation is that the students will be studying the law of the country they are visiting.
One year in another country will never provide the visiting student with a profound knowledge of the legal system in that country, but it should provide him or her with a reasonable knowledge of the language and a basic understanding of the legal system - things which will be hugely useful in later life, both on a personal and on a professional level. Bristol already exchanges students with almost every major country in Europe, and with Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan; and the addition of a university in the Peoples Republic of China to the list of universities with which the University of Bristol is able to conduct exchanges is another significant step towards offering students major choices which will impact on their futures.
Because this is a new development, it has not yet been possible to incorporate the Nanjing exchange into the Bristol degree structure. That is to say that a student from Bristol who spends a year in Nanjing will end up with a Bristol law degree, not a degree with a special title. He or she will be granted a year’s leave of absence from Bristol to visit Nanjing and recognition of this year will be by way of references given to the student by the Director of Anglo-Chinese Legal Studies who, at the present time, is Professor Roger Kerridge. Once the scheme has been in place for a few years, it is hoped to incorporate the year in China into a special degree structure - but that is for the future.
Any potential law student who has a good knowledge of Chinese (Putonghua) and who would like to spend a year studying Chinese law in China is invited to contact Professor Roger Kerridge. It may not be possible to guarantee a place in China to students before they come to Bristol, but is should be possible to give them a fair idea of the likelihood of their being able to go to China on an exchange. If the demand for places in China appears to be growing, it may well be that the University of Bristol will expand the programme with Nanjing. This is very much a venture with the future in mind.