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Enterprise in Law project: EC law at Middlesex

The law school at Middlesex University, led by Penny English, was a participant in UKCLE’s Enterprise in Law project. Work focused on the development of materials for an EC law module, consisting of a case study where students advise a producer on the implications of exporting goods to other EU countries. See the overview below for full details and the documents outline for a summary of the materials, all of which are available as RTF files.

For further information on the Enterprise in Law project at Middlesex contact Penny on e-mail: p.english@mdx.ac.uk.


How does enterprise fit with the traditional law curriculum?

If the definition of enterprise is “about spotting opportunities, creating new ideas and having the confidence and capabilities to turn these ideas into working realities” (Nixon, 2004) or “involves measures to encourage individuals to become entrepreneurs and equip them with the necessary skills to make a business successful” (Mason, 2000), then this does not immediately resonate with the traditional focus of the law curriculum.

However, the Higher Education Academy has used a broader definition of the concept:

Enterprise is an inclusive concept…both the context in which subject disciplines can be explored, as well as an approach, through skill development, which can be taken to the exploration and discovery of a discipline…a dimension to learning, that of developing the skills of being enterprising, which provides students with an attitude towards learning, which rewards and supports innovation, change and development.

This fits precisely with the aims of a new module we introduced in 2005. This module is a level 2 undergraduate module concerned with the free movement of goods and persons within the single European market. It is designed for students on joint honours programmes within the Middlesex University Business School, and requires no previous background in the study of law, although most of the students taking it will be on a law major or minor programme.

It is founded on the belief that law is not just for lawyers, and that anyone studying in a business school ought to have an appreciation of the legal framework within which business operates. The objective of the module is to enable students to gain an understanding of the legal framework within which business operates in Europe and so to be able to make informed decisions about the effect this has on business.

Materials and the sessions at Middlesex

The materials developed for the pilot project were used in seminars running over three weeks of the one semester module. Lectures covered the essential framework of the free movement of goods provisions, and the materials here were used in three one hour seminars. The earlier part of the module covered an introduction to the origins, purpose, institutions and legislation of the European Union, as well as the free movement of persons. The subject matter was the law relating to the free movement of goods.

The tasks set for the students are based on materials which attempt to simulate the problems that might be faced by a company with plans to expand by exporting to three, in this case, fictional European countries.

A problem-based learning approach was taken. While using problems as the basis for teaching law is nothing new at Middlesex, there was a subtle but significant difference in the way the problems were used in the project materials – the students have not merely to extract the answer, but must identify the actual problem from the materials. This should enable students to develop skills expressed in the definitions of enterprise and entrepreneurship above – the skills to make a business successful, and to develop the confidence and capabilities to turn ideas into working realities through the exploration and discovery of a discipline. The end result should be similar to that in more traditional use of problems, but the process is quite different.

Students were provided with a number of fictional documents which contained problems that might hinder the export plans of a company, together with some specific direction to decided EC cases – see the documents outline for further details. Students were assigned the role of the legal team of a company, NewFoods plc, a producer of specialist food products. Their task was to identify the problems and evaluate how the situation was compatible with EC law. The materials contain facts about the company, its expansion plans, and the countries to which is it seeking to export.

The objectives of the exercise are that students will be able to:

  • identify the issues of European law in the situations they have been given
  • relate these problems to the relevant treaty and case law of the EC, and increase skill in using legal materials
  • evaluate the relevance of the associated materials
  • be able to reach a reasoned conclusion whether these situations are compatible with EC law
  • have gained a practical appreciation of the rules underpinning the internal market, which will enable students to make informed judgments within a business context

Materials were initially made available to students through WebCT, beginning with extracts from the report to the fictional company, NewFoods, setting out proposals for expanding sales of their products to three fictitious EU countries, Dextra, Media and Sinistra.

The task over the three weeks of the module was to examine the potential hindrances the company might encounter in its quest to make its dream of expansion a reality. The task is set out in an internal memo responding to the report on expansion and asking the legal team to look into any potential pitfalls before the company embarks on the venture.

The rest of the materials are a mixture of documents, in the form of newspaper articles, government circulars and press releases, giving the political and economic background to and details of a series of measures introduced by the three countries.

The three countries are quite different from each other:

  • Dextra is a rural country with a traditional dairy industry based on small family farms. The agricultural lobby is vociferous, in the face of declining fortunes for these family farms. Therefore measures introduced by the Kingdom of Dextra are in response to the lobby, such as a sales tax which favours the traditional full fat local cheese and dairy products, and a measure defining ‘cheese’, so that only products produced in the traditional manner can be marketed as cheese.
  • Sinistra is a former Eastern bloc country, with a tendency to be bureaucratic and over-regulatory, putting in place complex regimes for testing additives and controlling the marketing of products
  • Media is prosperous and proud of its high levels of consumer protection, which was the justification behind the measures it has introduced, such as restrictions on advertising which might mislead the customer

Reflections on how it went

On the whole the students were engaged with the materials. The best reports submitted as the assessed coursework for the module were excellent. Informal feedback was positive – the practical approach was appreciated and students felt they had acquired skills which were relevant and useful.

Developments for the future:

  • expanding the scenario to cover a second area of the syllabus (free movement of people
  • developing the fictional world, for example factfiles on the countries
  • deeper engagement with the problem by using WebCT, dividing students into ‘legal teams’ and including the use of discussion between teams

Last Modified: 4 June 2010