Outcomes of the National Review of the LLB programme released

February 1st, 2018
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) released a report in 2017 on the outcomes of the National Review of the Bachelor of Laws LLB programme. The report stated that in 2012 the CHE and the South African Law Deans’ Association (SALDA) extensively deliberated the matter of whether the CHE should undertake a National Review of the LLB programme.

The report added that ultimately, an agreement was reached that a National Review of the LLB programme would be appropriate to strengthen the quality of legal education provision across South African universities. Again, at the LLB Summit held in May 2013, SALDA and the legal professions (General Bar Council (GBC) and the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA)) reiterated the need to conduct a national review of the LLB programme (see ‘LLB summit: Legal education in crisis?’ 2013 (July) DR 8). In 2015/16, the CHE undertook a National Review of the LLB programme.

A National Review is a peer-driven exercise and focuses on the re-accreditation of existing programmes based on the CHE’s programme accreditation criteria and the LLB qualification standard.

The report stated that subsequent to the initial publications of the outcomes of the LLB national review in April 2017, the CHE called for the submission of improvement plans with respect to progress made towards improving the quality of the LLB programmes at all 17 participating institutions in South Africa. Following the evaluation of the improvement plans, the revised final re-accreditation outcomes are as follows:

Final re-accreditation outcomes of the LLB National Review as of 9 November 2017:

  • Accreditation confirmed (in no particular order) –

– Nelson Mandela University;

– University of KwaZulu-Natal; and

– University of Pretoria.

  • Re-accreditation subject to meeting specified conditions (in no particular order) –

– University of Johannesburg;

– University of Venda;

– Rhodes University;

– University of the Western Cape;

– University of Stellenbosch;

– University of Witwatersrand;

– University of Fort Hare;

– North West University;

– University of South Africa; and

– University of the Free State.

– Notice of withdrawal of accreditation (in no particular order) –

– University of Cape Town;

– University of Limpopo; and

– University of Zululand.

  • Accreditation withdrawn –

– Walter Sisulu University.

 

Furthermore, in another statement, the CHE said it undertook a review of the LLB programme across the 17 universities, while the process that began in 2013, it culminated in a set of outcomes emanating from the review the CHE had undertaken during 2016, and communicated to the universities in April 2017. A further set of outcomes based on the improvement plans of institutions flowed from decisions by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) on 9 November 2017.

The statement added that during the process of communicating the outcomes to the institutions, considerable media interest had been ignited in the matter and led to the current tumult, characterised by wanton attacks on the CHE and its quality assurance processes in instances. The CHE said the objective of the statement was to provide a factual basis for reflection and comment on the matter.

The statement stated that the CHE is the Quality Council for higher education in South Africa (SA), deriving its mandate from the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997 and the National Qualifications Framework Act 67 of 2008. While it has a range of functions, the central one is that of quality assurance. In practice, this entails accreditation of all programmes offered at both public and private higher education institutions, quality audits of institutions and national reviews of programmes across the sector.

The statement further stated that quality assurance is vitally important to ensure that students’ interests are protected, that they graduate with the requisite compendium of skills and capabilities, and that their qualifications have worth and secure them employment, and that the public receives value in terms of its own aspirations and priorities and expectations from higher education institutions.

The statement added that for quality assurance processes to be credible, they must be demonstrably even-handed and fair, and conducted without fear or favour, all institutions generally accept the role and value of sectoral level quality assurance processes and the CHE’s quality assurance processes are dependent on peer expertise (mostly drawn from the universities themselves) to conduct evaluations, as peer review is an internationally entrenched mechanism for upholding quality standards in academia. If an institution’s programme is found to have shortcomings, it is as a result of a rigorous peer review system adopted by the CHE.

The statement stated that feedback to institutions is critical in identifying weaknesses in programmes and then ensuring that action is taken to improve a programme. In such cases, a programme is given accreditation with conditions – either short or long term. A further review will be undertaken after six months. If it is found that the institution has not addressed the improvement imperatives, the programme will be put on notice of withdrawal and given a further six months to effect the required remedial action.

The statement further stated that should the institution fail to effect such action during the period given, accreditation will be withdrawn, which means that the institution cannot offer the programme anymore and will have to re-apply for accreditation from scratch with a new submission.

The statement said the next step, after the GCB and LSSA reiterated the need for a review, was the development of a national qualification standard for the LLB and this was done by identifying a group of highly experienced and accomplished law academics and experts who drafted the standard for the LLB in wide consultation with the universities and the professions so that it could be used as a credible measure.

The statement further stated that once finalised, the LLB programmes at all 17 institutions offering them, were evaluated by peers from the legal academic community, overseen by the CHE and none of the 17 LLB programmes on offer at South African Higher Education Institutions received full accreditation from the review process, which was concluded in March 2017.

The statement stated that each and every one of the 17 institutions had some improvements to implement to a lesser or greater degree, and were given until 6 October 2017 to attend to them. A selection of the issues identified relate to curriculum design and the compendium of skills and capabilities intended to be developed in the programme, which did not measure up to the standard in some programmes.

The statement added that others were not satisfactory in their horizontal and vertical progression, some offering the programme did not have adequate staffing (or staff of appropriate seniority), sufficient learning resources, or suitable infrastructure and central to the standard against which the individual programmes were evaluated was the ideal of ‘transformative constitutionalism’, stemming from the premise that legal education, as a public good, should be responsive to the needs of the economy, the legal profession and broader society.

The statement said that from a transformative standpoint, a programme is required to demonstrate how it cultivates the capacity, agency and accountability of the legal practitioner in shaping the legal system, and promoting the social justice goals of fairness, legitimacy and equity in the legal system. All programmes had to effect improvements following the review process and each institution was given a detailed report by the CHE on the shortcomings in their improvement plans that needed attention.

The statement further added that those with a few conditions to meet were re-accredited subject to those conditions being met within the specified period. Those programmes with serious shortcomings were immediately placed on notice of withdrawal and also given a specified time period within which to implement the short term remedies, failing which accreditation would be withdrawn as the next step.

The statement added that longer term remedies would be monitored by the HEQC into the future and if an institution is now put on notice of withdrawal (after having been given conditional accreditation in the March 2017 process), it would signify that it has not demonstrably attended to the short term improvements required. The institution is now given a further six months (until May 2018) to address these.

The statement further added that failure to do so may result in the withdrawal of accreditation and any institution in this position would be advised to give careful and due attention to the required actions in order to avoid this consequence. The CHE noted that it undertakes its functions in a professional, rigorous and fair manner in both public and private higher education as required by the legislation.

UCT Law Faculty on the National Review

Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Law Faculty released a press statement following the release of the outcomes of the LLB National Review. UCT said it is challenging the CHE report and that it is confident of retaining its LLB accreditation. The statement stated that the UCT Law Faculty is surprised and concerned by the outcome of the National Review of the LLB programme.

UCT pointed out that as a global top 100 law school and as the top law school in SA, it notes that its graduates are in high demand from law firms across the country, and the findings are at odds with the performance of the graduates. This long-standing reputation stands in stark contrast with this first ever accreditation process of law degrees by the CHE, the statement added.

UCT further noted with concern that as the process of the review by CHE is not yet completed, releasing of this information needlessly places the institution in a bad light, which could have been managed with greater sensitivity in these troubled times. The statement added that UCT’s Faculty of Law has until May 2018 to respond to the CHE’s findings.

The statement said the UCT’s faculty is confident that it will be able to respond to the concerns raised, and retain its accreditation and continue to improve on the excellent programmes offered within the faculty, including the LLB programme. The statement added that UCT will be submitting its revised improvement plan and take note of the CHE’s particular focus on excellence, ethics and equity, and the critical need for transformation across the industry.

The statement further stated that all issues that the faculty has been deeply immersed in and almost took for granted, it suspects that its initial submission may not necessarily have captured the activities, discussions and reflections. The statement added that UCT will address the concerns raised in the report and look forward to further engage the concerns to continue improving on its excellent LLB programme.

Unisa on the National Review

The University of South Africa (Unisa) is celebrating after it successfully managed to overturn the findings of the CHE on the matter regarding the withdrawal of the LLB qualification. Deputy Executive Dean of the College of Law at Unisa, Professor Melodie Labuschaigne released a turn-around strategy for the university’s LLB.

The report stated that Unisa’s College of Law was subsequently requested by the HEQC to put measures in place to address the reasons, concerns and recommendations set out in the Final Review Report. The HEQC further required submission of an Improvement Plan by 6 October 2017 identifying clear targets, resource allocations and milestones to be achieved within a specified timeframe.

The report added that the College of Law submitted its Improvement Plan on the 6 October 2017 and was informed of its successful accreditation on 18 October 2017 and noted that the success for the accreditation was the result of the joint efforts of the entire College of Law. The report added that Unisa’s College of Law under the leadership of the then Executive Dean, Professor Rushiella Songca, established a team to manage the process of constructing an all-inclusive improvement plan with the administrative assistance of an LLB Project Manager, Professor Michelle G Karels and Prof Labuschaigne.

LSSA on the National Review of LLB

The LSSA released a media statement, which stated that it took serious issue with statements made by the Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) that the LSSA pressurised the CHE to withdraw the accreditation of the law faculty at Walter Sisulu University to present the LLB degree. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth,’ said LSSA Co-chairpersons Walid Brown and David Bekker. ‘In fact, the LSSA approached the CHE earlier this year with a request to participate in the process and understand the accreditation system since the attorneys’ profession receives 60% of the LLB graduates into its ranks. We, therefore, have a very legitimate interest in developments relating to the LLB degree,’ they added.

In the statement, the LSSA said it is also extremely concerned that a university law faculty can be disaccredited without conscious attempts being made to support the law faculty and assist it to achieve satisfactory standards. ‘This disempowers many potential graduates from embarking on the profession of their choice at a law faculty that is accessible to them. Invariably these will be the poorest and most disadvantaged students who are generally not in a position to attend another university. We need to strengthen opportunities for education, not reduce them,’ said Mr Brown and Mr Bekker.

The statement further stated that the LSSA will renew its attempts to engage with the CHE in this regard and through the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF), the attorneys’ profession provides bursaries mainly to previously disadvantaged LLB students and also provides grants to university law clinics, which are generally linked to the law faculties. The statement added that between 2014 and 2017 the AFF paid R 21,2 million in bursaries and R 4,4 million in grants to university law clinics. For 2018 the AFF has earmarked R 1 373 880 for university law clinics and R 6 479 920 for LLB bursaries.

For more articles pertaining to the CHE National Review see:

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (Jan/Feb) DR 4.

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