Withdrawal of accreditation – response from universities

July 1st, 2017
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

In the May issue of De Rebus, the editor’s note ‘Legal education in crisis’ 2017 (May) DR 3 focussed on the quality of the LLB qualification. This was after the Council of Higher Education (CHE) released its outcomes in the National Review of the LLB qualification in April.  In the June issue editor’s note, ‘CHE release full LLB review’ 2017 (June) DR 3, De Rebus reported that the CHE released the full report on the National Review of the LLB. The report detailed the mechanism used to review the 17 institutions that offer the LLB degree. The report also provides reasoning behind the CHE’s decision to furnish four universities with a notice of withdrawal of accreditation if the quality of their LLB programme does not improve. De Rebus spoke to the four universities about their LLB qualification.

 

University of South Africa (Unisa)

 Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Why was Unisa issued with a withdrawal of accreditation notice?

Unisa’s Executive Dean for Law Faculty, Professor Rushiella Songca (RS): The CHE placed Unisa’s LLB on notice of withdrawal of accreditation, which requires the college to put measures in place to address the reasons, concerns and recommendations set out in the review report. It does not mean that Unisa’s qualification accreditation has been withdrawn or that our LLB programme has been de-accredited.

It is important to note that shortly before the national review of the LLB, a group of experts developed the LLB Qualification Standard against which the LLB qualifications would be measured. The CHE resolved that because the standard had been developed long after LLB programmes had been in existence, it would not be used as the sole, or primary, benchmark for programme re-accreditation (ie, national review). Institutions were requested, as part of the national review, to identify any areas in their programmes, which currently do not meet the standard, and to indicate plans for improvement together with proposed timelines for implementation. The issues flagged by the CHE with regard to Unisa’s LLB were indeed those that the College of Law has identified in its self-evaluation report, notably:

  • Curriculum design: The CHE recommended that the College of Law revise the LLB curriculum to include non-law modules. In addition, it recommended that from second year onwards, pre- and co-requisites are to be instituted for some of the modules in order to prepare students adequately for the progression and increasing complexity of modules from the first to the fourth year of study. This will be implemented from January 2018.
  • Alignment of Unisa Teaching and Learning policies with practice within the College of Law: The CHE recommended that the college develop a manual for academics containing all the relevant policies and processes, so that teaching and learning practices are clearer as far as their operationalisation are concerned. This manual is already being developed, for implementation in 2018.
  • Early identification of students who may need additional support: The CHE recommended that the college develop systems and processes that will assist in tracking students who may require additional student support (eg, those who fail certain modules repeatedly or may be at risk of doing so). The college already has a system in place to track students at risk of failing LLB modules.

 

KR: What measures or steps has the university taken to ensure that it remains accredited to provide the LLB degree?

RS: The University of South Africa and specifically the College of Law is taking every possible step to ensure that the LLB’s accreditation remains intact.

The institution has also engaged the CHE on the findings of the report and has since the release of the report, committed a lot of effort to the rolling out of the LLB Improvement Plan, which is addressing the identified challenges. The plan contains clear targets, resource allocations and progress made so far.

The College of Law has also communicated widely (on its website and other social media platforms) with all LLB students to explain to students the current position and to alleviate anxiety regarding the qualification’s status.  In addition, the deanery has commenced with visits to the different regions to give effect to this.

 

KR: What message would you give to prospective students and current students to alleviate fears that the LLB degree may be seen as inferior?

RS: Unisa’s LLB qualification is generally well-recognised and respected and its legal history is widely acknowledged. The LLB qualification has its roots in the very distant past when, in 1873, the Board of Public Examiners was replaced by the University of the Cape of Good Hope (UCGH), Unisa’s forerunner, and the Certificates in Law and Jurisprudence offered by the board were replaced by the UCGH’s Certificate of Proficiency in Law and Jurisprudence and the LLB degree (Bachelor of Laws). Unisa’s first LLB degrees, under the deanship of advocate William Pittman, were awarded on 2 April 1919.

To date, Unisa takes pride in the fact that it has graduated the largest cohort of LLB students of all law faculties in the country, some of which became Constitutional Court and Supreme Court judges, not to mention Unisa’s long tradition of having produced highly successful members of the legal profession and corporate leaders. The late Mr Nelson Mandela also obtained his LLB degree through Unisa.

We would like to point out that there was no negative finding with regard to the academic content of our LLB qualification. In fact, the CHE report commended Unisa’s LLB degree on a number of issues, which include, among others –

  • the approach to globalisation in selected modules;
  • evolving information technology issues;
  • the alignment of the College of Law’s enrolment plan with the national development agenda, which facilitates access to education, commitment to curriculum transformation and the dynamic nature of law and its relationship with relevant contexts;
  • that the majority of modules require students to engage in genuine problem solving;
  • the College of Law’s diverse and highly qualified academics; and
  • assessment practices ranging from good to excellent and commendable moderation practices.

 

KR: What message would you give to the legal profession and other prospective employers of students who have graduated from the institution?

RS: This question is partly addressed above. One out of two LLB students in South Africa study at Unisa, which situates Unisa and the College of Law as one of the biggest educational role players in the context of the fields of law and criminal justice. The quality of our qualification and the calibre of our dedicated academics have always been widely acknowledged.  We welcome the opportunity to improve our qualification to continue to make it relevant, current, sought after and appropriate and to deliver law graduates who will continue to excel in the world at large.

 

Walter Sisulu University (WSU)

 Kgomotso Ramotsho: Why was WSU issued with a withdrawal of accreditation notice?

WSU’s Senior Director, Marketing, Communication and Advancement, Yonela Tukwayo (YT): It is standard practice that academic programmes be reviewed periodically to ensure that each tertiary institution continues to provide an acceptable level of teaching and learning to ensure that it produces graduates of a calibre required by various industries. The reviewing panel found some shortcomings, namely, that WSU needed more qualified academic staff (Doctors of law and Professors). Secondly the infrastructure was not at an acceptable level.

 

KR: What measures or steps has the university taken to ensure that it remains accredited to provide the LLB degree?

YT: Part of the feedback WSU received from the CHE highlighted timelines to improve the stated deficiencies. As a first step, WSU must submit a plan on how it will improve on areas that it fell short on. WSU are working on the improvement plan, which will be submitted.

As an institution, WSU already identified the areas for improvement in 2016 and applied for grant funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to improve the facilities. We received confirmation from DHET that it will grant WSU R 90 million to address the infrastructure needs and this was confirmed prior to the release of the CHE report. Secondly, WSU had initially tried to recruit more suitably qualified academic staff in 2016, but there were no suitable candidates and it will re-start the recruitment process.

 

KR: What message would you give to prospective students and current students to alleviate their fears that their LLB degree would be seen as inferior?

YT: WSU remains accredited and it is at least two years away from being discredited. Once the improvement plan has been submitted by WSU, it will be given time to implement it. There are no issues highlighted with regard to the curriculum and in fact it received praise for other elements of its LLB programme.

 

KR: What message would you give to the legal profession and other prospective employers of students who have received a degree from your institution?

YT: WSU continues to produce highly qualified legal professionals and our alumni can be found in the private and public sector, which includes judges at the Constitutional Court.

 

North West University (NWU)

 Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Why was NWU issued with a withdrawal of accreditation notice?

NWU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dan Kgwadi (DK): The Higher Quality Education Committee (HQEC) report makes three general findings that exist, namely –

  • inequity between the two sites of delivery in Potchefstroom and Mafikeng (eg, provision of curriculum delivery, teaching, learning and assessment; the profiles of staff in respect of seniority, qualifications and scholarly reputation; the quality assurance of the programme and infrastructure);
  • inadequate racial integration in the programme overall, but particularly at Potchefstroom where a group of mainly black students receiving tuition through the medium of interpreting from Afrikaans to English, felt accommodated rather than fully accepted and integrated in the academic space; and
  • relatively low admission requirements without sufficient additional student support throughout the programme.

 

KR: What measures or steps has the university taken to ensure that it remains accredited to provide the LLB degree?

DK: The Council of NWU approved a new structure for NWU, which led to the amendment of the NWU statute, which is currently being implemented.  A main feature of this new structure is that a single executive dean will be responsible for a faculty (eight faculties rather than the current 15), which spans all three campuses of NWU.

From 1 July there will, therefore, be only one Faculty of Law with one executive dean and one faculty board. This new governance structure together with the improvement plans’ implementation will ensure that programmes are fully aligned, managed and quality assured across all campuses.

The admission score for the LLB programme has been raised for 2018 and additional student support will also be introduced. In addition the language policy of NWU is currently under revision and the Faculty of Law is investigating ways to address the concerns raised by students (from a wider transformation and institutional culture perspective).

 

KR: What message would you give to prospective students and current students to alleviate their fears that their LLB degree would be seen as inferior?

DK: NWU has a long and proud tradition of legal education and its graduates are well-known for their qualities (knowledge, skills, problem solving and values). NWU believes that our alumni are our best ambassadors for our programme as they excel in the admissions examinations, in all areas of the legal profession, the business world, as well as the public sector.

Our students know that fellow and previous students perform very well in national and international moot court competitions and, successfully complete postgraduate studies at national and international faculties of law and finish final year international exchange programmes with distinction.

The HQEC report did not fault the programme design or standard of the NWU LLB as such and in fact commended several aspects of the NWU programme. The matters of concern raised in the report are currently being addressed by means of the institutional restructuring and the LLB improvement plan, which will be submitted by 6 October 2017.

NWU’s management and staff are constructively (and earnestly) engaging with students to keep them up to date with developments and are committed to address identified issues.

 

KR: What message would you give to the legal profession and other prospective employers of students who have received a degree from your institution?

DK: We take pride in the graduates we deliver, both at Potchefstroom and Mafikeng. The academic quality of NWU’s LLB programme is borne out by the HQEC report. In particular, it was found that the programme appropriately imparts a comprehensive and sound knowledge and understanding of South African law and its associated values and historical background to students.

It was also found that sufficient attention is paid to teaching, learning, assessment and the inculcation of critical thinking skills in the various modules. Lastly, the report states that the programme sufficiently addresses all the areas of applied competence listed in the LLB Qualification Standard.

It must be remembered that the NWU’s merger was unique in South Africa and its geographically dispersed multi-campus institution faced challenges to become a truly unitary multi-campus institution. However, the matters raised by the HQEC report are aspects that NWU had already started to address prior to the findings of April this year, and it is well on track to address said matters.

NWU also believes that the standing that our degree currently enjoys in the marketplace will ensure that potential employers will continue to hold the NWU degree in high regard and that they will appreciate that NWU is dealing with institutional matters and that current and past NWU law graduates (as confirmed in the HQEC report) are appropriately prepared to enter the legal profession or any related career requiring the application of law.

 

University of the Free State (UFS)

 Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Why was the UFS issued with a withdrawal of accreditation notice?

UFS’s Executive Dean for Law Faculty, Professor Caroline Nicholson (CN): Although the review report raises a number of issues, the two primary reasons that the LLB was placed on notice of withdrawal of accreditation were:

  • The faculty decided in April 2015 that it would like to do a thorough re-curriculation of the LLB programme to ensure that it was aligned with the newly adopted LLB national qualification standards, which were only finalised at the end of 2015 and that it meets the needs of the current legal context. This context has changed significantly over the period since the existing curriculum was introduced and, while the new curriculum may not differ substantially from the old, it is vital that institutions review and improve on their offerings on a regular basis. As part of this process, the faculty placed the qualification in category C, meaning that we would replace the existing curriculum with a new curriculum date to be determined. Thus, the curriculum that was subject to the review was already a curriculum that UFS had, ourselves, decided to review. The CHE accepted that the faculty had made the correct decision to embark on process and, as this is not a process that will be completed overnight, this determined that this was a ground to place the current LLB curriculum on notice of withdrawal of accreditation.
  • The second primary concern relates to the credit loading in the qualification. The UFS LLB degree was designed with the minimum of 480 credits in mind. At that time there was no maximum load specified. The CHE have since indicated that a four year Bachelor’s programme should not exceed a maximum of 540 credits. The UFS qualification comprises 768 credits and is thus, on paper at least, overloaded.  In our self-evaluation report, UFS indicated that the credits are overstated and that the credits do not accurately reflect the actual workload in the programme. The CHE is, however, concerned that if UFS simply remove credits it could undermine the educational foundation of the programme.  For this reason, it is necessary for UFS to supply the CHE with a plan in which it details how this issue will be dealt with without undermining the content of the qualification.

 

KR: What measures or steps has the university taken to ensure that it remains accredited to provide the LLB degree?

CN: The faculty had a very productive and collegial meeting with representatives for the CHE who visited the campus on 12 May. This meeting was used to establish exactly what the faculty needs to do to satisfy the CHE concerns.

The faculty has been actively engaged in the re-circulation project and had strategic sessions during the week of 22 to 25 May at which the new programme was discussed and what of the new ideas can be implemented in the existing programme to benefit its current students and those who will enrol before the new programme is implemented. 2020 is the planned date for implementation. This strategic session will be followed by an engagement with the various stakeholders, who will assist the faculty in ensuring that the new curriculum will be exciting, innovative and tailored to the legal profession in the 2020s. This will be an ongoing process with a view to having a programme to submit to internal structures before the end of 2017.

The faculty will also use these engagements and discussions in formulating a detailed implementation plan for the CHE, which will explain what we plan to do, how we plan to do it and the timelines associated with the plan.

The faculty has an excellent LLB degree and we are confident that, with the above interventions we will be able to address the concerns and improve our product simultaneously.

 

KR: What message would you give to prospective students and current students to alleviate their fears that their LLB degree would be seen as inferior?

CN: Prospective and current students can be assured that the quality of the offering in the LLB that the UFS presents is of an exceptionally high quality. The faculty covers the full spectrum of the law and its graduates are highly regarded in the sector.  Our graduates statistically, perform well in the professional examinations and our alumni hold some of the most important legal and judicial positions in the country. There is no question that the qualification is of an extremely high quality and that the faculty will take all steps possible to ensure that it maintains these standards. The panel members on the review panels, both a recent external review initiated by ourselves, and the CHE peer review panel, were very positive about the programme content as a whole, although they did make some suggestions for improvement. The CHE did not regard the content of our qualification as inferior or deficient.

 

KR: What message would you give to the legal profession and other prospective employers of students who have received a degree from your institution?

CN: The profession and prospective employers have always had the utmost confidence in the quality of the UFS programme and the graduates we produce. The manner in which the recommendations were conveyed was unfortunate and did irreparable reputational damage to the UFS, and other institutions. We trust that the quality of our academics, graduates and alumni speak for themselves and that the profession and prospective employers will continue to trust a brand that has always met their needs in the past. We hope that they will engage in our stakeholder discussions and that they will endorse the faculty’s view that the current situation creates a wonderful opportunity for the UFS Faculty of Law to revitalise its programme and produce an exciting LLB that centres human rights and social justice at its core.

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (July) DR 4.

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