Universities are rushing against time to meet the Council for Higher Education (CHE)’s new stringent requirements to offer LLB programme. Last week the council issued warnings to four universities, which included Walter Sisulu, Free State, North West and Unisa. The universities of the Free State and North West have since complied and re-accredited.
Failure to meet the requirements means the universities face the risk and humiliation of losing their accreditation to offer the LLB degree.
The standards were the outcome of the council’s “standard setting” process that followed a legal summit where a national review of the programme was done four years ago. There has been a general outcry about the calibre and the quality of LLB graduates and this was blamed on the duration of the current four-year programme. This has since been increased to five years in line with the national review.
The summit was initiated by the country’s prominent legal structures, namely, South African Law Deans’ Association (SALDA), the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) and the General Council of the Bar (GCB).
Although the institutions are still accredited, they will be barred from offering the programme if they do not make the required changes.
Olivia Mokgatle, CHE’s director of national standards and review unit, said for now what it essentially means is “if the issues are not fixed, you cannot study law there.” She said this is a warning to the universities to get things in order, adding that some of these issues require minor corrections while other would need lengthy time-frames.
“If we are not satisfied, we will have to review the decision,” said Mokgatle. She said they issued notices of withdrawal of accreditation because the affected institutions failed to address issues that threatened the quality and integrity of the programme.
The current four-year LLB programme was introduced to reduce costs and increase access to the law profession. Constitutional Court Justice Ronnie Boshielo said at the time they were trying to address challenges experienced by law students from previously disadvantaged communities.
Delivering a keynote address at the review summit Judge Boshielo said one of the reasons was that “the length of the LLB degree was seen to be an impediment to those who did not have the financial resources”.
We were concerned with the spread of lawyers in the country in ratio to the population of the country; the sad reality was that we had very few black lawyers in the country. The intention was that, by shortening the degree, perhaps we would open the doors for students from previously disadvantaged communities to enter university and come out within a very short period of time.”
Some legal experts said only 22% of students complete the degree in four years and that this reflects the “inadequacy of both primary and secondary education, which left them unprepared for university, as they lack digital knowledge, literacy and numeracy skills”.
In addition to evaluating the quality of the programme and the qualification of the staff, the council also makes site visits to ensure the institutions have the requisite infrastructure to deliver the programme.
Mokgatle said all the institutions offering LLB programme were sent letters in early April and were given 21 days after the receipt of the letters to make representations. Most of the universities have reportedly complied with the requirements.