UNE Law School at 25: when the local option is the best option

Published 14 November 2018

Most global careers are conducted from big cities, but Phil Hess is an exception. Phil grew up in Armidale and has had only temporary absences from his home city on his way to becoming the Global Head of Capital Markets Operations at Macquarie Group.

The first absence was his gap year. Before leaving for Europe, he signed up for a deferred Arts-Law degree at the Australian National University. While overseas, he learned that the University of New England was forming a new Law School.

“I’d put down strong roots here, socially and with sports, and I thought it would be fantastic to be part of this new school in my hometown university,” Phil says. “I pulled out of ANU, and was in the UNE Law School’s first intake in 1993.”

Part of his calculation was that a new school would be high on energy and goodwill, and low on student numbers.

“It certainly fulfilled that promise. The access we had to tutors was extraordinary. I remember talking to students who had joined the school after being part of another university. They couldn’t believe how effective they could be — not just in working with staff, but in the ease of moving around the University and Armidale. Elsewhere they had just been a number: here they had a name.”

During his five-year Arts-Law degree, he recalls a learning environment in which staff commitment was high, and students responded in kind. The friends he made in the school (and at Earle Page College, where he resided despite his parents living in Armidale) are still part of his peer group. He met his wife at college.

Along with the learning environment, Phil believes the curriculum linkages allowed by a UNE Law degree have been advantageous to generations of students.

“Especially when people bring Law together with subjects like Agricultural Economics or Natural Resources, UNE has special capability to qualify people for roles in rural and regional Australia.”

Phil’s career — which has enabled him to become an executive with a global role while working from his Armidale home and commuting to Sydney for part of the week — is an argument against the notion that a degree from a regional university has less value than one from a sandstone institution.

And that prejudice is breaking down altogether, he observes. “The big corporates now have a diversity and inclusion agenda. They recognise that if you recruit all your talent from one school, you will miss out on diverse worldviews that would be valuable to the organisation.”

“There’s plenty of UNE graduates in Macquarie. When I bump into other UNE alumni, there’s some pride there about that shared experience and how we’ve used it.”

UNE School of Law is celebrating its 25th Anniversary at a special dinner on Saturday 17 November. The dinner will be addressed by guest speakers Associate Professor Michael Eburn from ANU and Mr Robert French, a former Chief Justice of the High Court.