Welcome to SARFaL

On this webpage you will be able to find information about the goals of SARFaL, the organisational structure of SARFaL and its target group.

About SARFaL

SARFaL (the Strategic Alliance of Research Faculties of Law) is a group of research-intensive law faculties committed to facilitate and enhance international research co-operation. This includes joint research projects by senior researchers and PhD candidates, participation in joint conferences, cross-border reviews of written material, research visits abroad by senior researchers and PhD candidates, and exchange of research-oriented and talented students. At present, SARFaL consists of the Universities of Aarhus, Barcelona, Bologna, Galway, Geneva, Leiden, Leuven, Oslo, Oxford, Poitiers, Prague and Vienna.  

The importance of a research network

Many European and non-European law faculties have successful exchange programmes for international education. The various Socrates networks offer good opportunities for undergraduates to study abroad for some time. In addition, many faculties have so-called LL.M. programmes for foreign law graduates.

Structural Ties

Nevertheless there is indeed a great need for structural ties:

  • For various reasons publishing in international journals becomes ever more important for lawyers. In this respect the law faculties are far behind almost all other scientific disciplines. Other disciplines reproach the science of law that the border between scientific and professional publications is unclear, which is also due to the absence of refereed journals. Publishing in international scientific journals can be fostered by a better cross-border collaboration between top researchers, on the one hand, and by the preparedness to be each other's referee before an article is submitted for publication, on the other hand.
    A second reproach to the science of law is that it tends to operate on a national scale rather than seek the international debate.
    A third point of criticism against the science of law is that researchers of various, in particular also foreign, faculties collaborate too little within a programmatic framework. Due to this the science of law is in danger of becoming (or remaining) the little brother within the community of university disciplines (if only in the eyes of the sciences) who in many cases will be ignored when it comes to distributing national and international research funds. Already now it is manifest for instance that Dutch legal research gets much less funds than for instance the sciences.


  • Universities in general seem to become more and more aware of the fact that they can and must exercise direct influence on the national and international distribution of money for scientific fundamental research. University funding never seems to be taken for granted neither on the national, nor on the international level. In order to give the universities' interest a voice, a network of European universities is now being set up, the League of European Research Universities (LERU)). Heidelberg, Louvain, Leiden, Oxford, Vienna (a.o.) participate at university level in the LERU. SARFaL's research network for legal research does not completely coincide with the LERU, but for those faculties which are also members of LERU there is an excellent opportunity to use the LERU to give a voice to the interests of fundamental legal research. That opportunity must be seized.

Comparative Law

  • In their research our faculties attach great importance to comparative law. Comparative law is paramount for legal research. In some research schools, such as Ius Commune, intensive research in comparative law is indeed carried out, but that certainly does not apply to all faculties and to all disciplines within a faculty.


For top-class students being given the opportunity of a stay abroad can be highly stimulating. Particularly now that the new Bachelors/masters structure has been implemented, which provides for the set-up in various countries of research masters with a view to the further scientific development of students. Such a stay abroad will confront students already at an early stage with the cross-border nature of learning.

Scientific Value

  • Except for the added scientific value of the network, there can also be added value at the administrative level. Deans of the faculty, those responsible for the PhD programme (sometimes called PhD-student deans), can use the network for scientific research, but if desired also for educational purposes, to exchange ideas and to formulate new policies. Since the Declaration of Bologna precisely intends courses to be exchangeable at the international level, it goes without saying that also at the administrative level efforts should be made to accomplish this. Although there are already many opportunities for collaboration � certainly for the more internationally oriented disciplines and faculties �, there are few structural contacts between faculties. Barring exceptions, collaboration still tends to be of a personal, accidental, rather than structural nature. Without pretending to underestimate the value of these contacts, there still is a need for a broader form of operational co-operation for the whole faculty.
  • For fellows and PhD students a foreign placement (research) is important, even if the placement is of short duration;
  • In the national (Dutch) context, applications for indirect government funding of research must almost always mention the (associated) research group; being able to benefit from an existing international network can then be especially useful.
  • The same applies for externally funded research, which often demands research in comparative law (to be carried out within a short period of time).
  • Conferences will become ever more international in the future.
  • In most cases EU funds for scientific research require co-operation between faculties from various EU countries.

For which researchers is the research network meant?

By and large one can think of three categories of researchers.

(i) Placement abroad for top-class (research) students(ii) Short stay abroad by PhD candidates(iii) Senior researchers: international research projects

(i) Placement abroad for top-class (research) students

The first category are the students and the direct reason to start a research network is the development of the Bachelors-masters programme (Declaration of Bologna). At most universities in the Netherlands this new programme started in the academic year 2002-2003. In short the programme involves a three-year bachelors and a one-year masters. After these four years a student graduates in law and can be admitted to the bar or the judiciary (the so-called effectus civilis). Most students will then leave university.

But not all will do so. The Leiden law faculty is working on the introduction of a so-called fifth year: the research masters. This masters course trains first-class students, who have shown scientific interest, for an additional masters degree. For the research masters an annual intake of about 20 of our top-class students is expected. They will be trained to become junior researchers. One can think of students who consider writing a PhD thesis and possibly even aspire to a university career, but also students who consider a job as a lawyer at the Supreme Court or a job at the legislative department of a ministry. Before the start of the fifth year, at least as far as the Dutch set-up of BaMa is concerned, the exact content of the training will be agreed with the student. In particular, which legal discipline the student will study (e.g. international penal law, civil liability, constitutional law, human rights). This choice will determine to a large extent the subject of his or her research thesis.The research masters of the law faculty will be divided into three parts: in the first trimester the student will be made familiar with subjects on research methods, scientific ethics and the writing of scientific texts. This training will take place at the faculty itself and will be more or less the same for all students.

The second trimester, or at any rate part of it, will be spent abroad. The student chooses a faculty and a tutor within that faculty who is prepared and able to give the student a certain amount of supervision. The student may follow certain subjects at the foreign faculty, but it is also possible that he or she focuses especially on library research, discussions with the supervisor or with others, e.g. young researchers at the faculty in question. After this foreign placement the third trimester will round off the year: under the supervision of a senior researcher the student will write his or her thesis. This thesis can be the basis for a scientific article, for a further PhD programme or for an externally funded research proposal. The idea is that the student will be actively involved in the programme and that he or she will work closely with both junior and senior researchers from that programme. In this way, the student will get a good impression of what scientific research amounts to; and the contribution of a top-class student will give an extra impulse to the research of the tutor.

(ii) Short stay abroad by PhD candidates

Also PhD candidates have a great need for international research contacts, in particular at the start of their research. The research network can help them with this. One does not necessarily have to think of supervision by senior researchers, but for instance also of fellow PhD candidates at the host faculty. In this way, these young researchers can build up their own research networks around the specific subject of their thesis. Typically, a stay abroad may last from e.g. one week to one month. Most of the time will be spent on discussing the subject of research, and on library research.

(iii) Senior researchers: international research projects

Of course, more senior researchers can also make use of a successful research network. A well-tried possibility is to work with so-called country reports. Around a certain legal issue a questionnaire is written which forms the basis for these country reports. Country reports are submitted to a co-ordinator, who subsequently sets to work with them and may use them to write opinions for European harmonisation. By involving local researchers a reliable overview of the state of the art can in this way be formulated fairly quickly. In practice these books turn out to be of great value, and often lead to further, more in-depth research.

Stays abroad are not in all cases absolutely necessary. Contacts by e-mail, with exchange of information, may be sufficient. Moreover, research co-operation on a European level can make it easier to participate in European research funds. For, as noted, one of the conditions for funding is mostly that there is a consortium of faculties from various EU countries.

Last Modified: 25-09-2012