A legal passion for Human rights
Li Jun Lai was awarded the Undergraduate Laws Scholarship to study on campus at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL).
We spoke with Li Jun after he completed his degree this summer to talk about his experience on the programme and his plans for the future.
Li Jun hails from the Royal town of Klang, about an hour by train from Kuala Lumpur. His first year was spent studying the Undergraduate Laws programme (LLB) at the affiliated teaching centre, Advance Tertiary College (ATC), in the capital.
What influenced you to study the LLB and why did you choose the University of London? When I finished high school, I went straight to ATC for my A Levels. Law was the primary subject I was the most interested in. Since ATC also provided lectures as part of University of London’s distance learning LLB programme, it naturally felt like the next milestone in my journey. I was familiar with the setting, and was confident in ATC's ability to educate, taking on the programme was the right way to go.
What did you enjoy about studying at the Queen Mary campus? I liked its welcoming nature and cultural inclusivity. Every month you could see activities being planned on campus to combat exclusivity or prejudice, ranging from supporting minority rights to combating racial discriminations.
It was a good opportunity to meet many people from different backgrounds, to learn about their cultures and get along, all the while having a zero-tolerance policy to keep prejudicial treatments to a minimum. The entire environment felt more positive and less exclusive, and this energy really carried over everywhere, from studying in a lecture hall, to relaxing at the Library Square, to living in the residence halls!
What were the differences between studying in Malaysia and London? London felt less straightforward compared to studying in Malaysia. Being in London made me rethink and reconsider my strategies when it came to my studies. Probably due to the difference in culture and education, I felt less spoon-fed, and I had to actively do more independent research because it always occurred to me that what I had known or learned wasn't the ‘whole picture’. It helped me develop my research skills as much as my analytical skills. I think many Malaysians might find this difficult, as I felt our education system emphasised more memorisation over active self-learning. Outside of academics, the differences weren't that noticeable.
Which modules did you enjoy the most and have you decided to specialise yet? Of all the modules I took in my second and final years, I enjoyed UK Human Rights Law the most! I got to know it because it was touched upon by other modules such as Tort, Contract, Public Law etc. This module gave me a new-found appreciation in relation to all the other modules I learnt. I could relate back to and see things from a different perspective, and it added another layer of depth that I wasn’t able to appreciate before.
The human rights jurisdiction is so engraved in modern legal thinking now that almost every aspect of law making has some form of concession or consideration to human rights, and I just found it to be so useful and enjoyable to learn. I also enjoy intellectual property a lot even though it's one of my weaker modules. I might pursue it in the future. I haven’t yet decided on what to specialise in, I’ll consider that after my completing my CLP.
Due to the pandemic, you were unable to attend a graduation ceremony, how did you celebrate to mark the occasion? I finished my exams in June 2020 and officially graduated in July 2020. The graduation ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic, and it’s still not clear when it will take place. In place, Queen Mary provided an online celebration where lecturers and QMUL students alike posted their speeches and congratulations via video! My personal celebration was small and simple. I had a nice dinner at home with my family, not all celebrations have to be grand to count!
Did the pandemic change how you did your exams? It was necessary for adjustments to be made in order to balance the need to give students and staff alike more accessibility and freedom in facing the pandemic, and on the other, the need to guarantee superior quality of education and competence. Quite frankly, QMUL made many such accommodating adjustments to the exams in response to the pandemic. Whether a right balance was struck or not was subjective.
The change to open-book online exams with a 24-hour window did make studying a lot less stressful. Although it was expected that I would take a similar amount of time as previous exams, I could still refer to books or materials during the exam itself. This meant I only needed to study and understand the subject matter without committing all tiny details to memory, since those were accessible during the exams. I also didn’t need to practice speed-writing as the pressure of fast thinking and fast writing was no longer present in this year's exams.
Would you recommend the LLB through the University of London to others? For those who are interested in becoming a lawyer, legal advisor or just generally to have a career in law or a law degree in hand, I absolutely recommend studying the LLB through the University of London. The degree is very versatile, flexibly accepted by many legal boards and authorities as a qualifying degree since it includes fundamentally important modules like contract, tort and criminal law etc. Also, the skills you can learn during the degree are genuinely helpful, not just from an academic perspective but also to your growth as a person.
How has the experience in London changed you, and what did you most enjoy most about living here? London allowed me to see things in a different perspective. I recognised locations in London that I had seen or learned about in books in Malaysia, and suddenly seeing them here with my own eyes was a different experience altogether.
I even had the chance to attend one of Baroness Hale's lectures too. Meeting her in real life felt like a surreal experience!
Studying in London also brought out another level of independence and growth I never knew I had in me. I had to do more independent research, learn to live on my own, and learn to mix well with my lecturers, classmates and society friends. Since I no longer had my family to help me with matters in London I had to rely on myself more. Living here helped substantially in developing my own skills and independence. It was a good opportunity and I was extremely proud of what I achieved, being in such a foreign environment on my own.
You will soon be starting your Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP), which is required to qualify as a lawyer in Malaysia. Where do you see yourself in five years time? I've always been interested in teaching so I do see myself becoming a lecturer in law. I would love to aspire to educating a new generation of lawyers in the future! Of course, it is always possible that my upcoming CLP and pupillage experience may change my view and give me an interest in practice more than what I have now.
Find out more about the Undergraduate Laws programme through University of London.