UCT plan to tackle law programme concerns

UCT stands to lose its accreditation to offer law at the university after not meeting criteria stipulated by the Council for Higher Education.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) law faculty, which is under threat of losing its accreditation, will submit an “improvement plan” in coming weeks.

The faculty is the top law school in the country and among the top 100 in the world, but it risks losing its LLB programme after the Council for Higher Education (CHE) released a report earlier this month, threatening to withdraw its accreditation.

UCT as well as the universities of Limpopo and Zululand failed to meet stipulated requirements needed for the council’s approval.

In a statement, the council’s chief executive officer, Professor Narend Baijnath, cited a lack of “transformative constitutionalism” as one reason for accreditation being threatened. Others included inadequate staffing, insufficient learning resources or unsuitable infrastructure.

The council began its national review of the LLB qualification at 17 South African universities in 2013.

The review saw several universities’ law faculties face the chopping block, with Walter Sisulu University having its accreditation withdrawn completely. Rhodes, UWC, Stellenbosch and Unisa will only be eligible for accreditation once specific conditions are met.

Professor Baijnath said none of the 17 LLB programmes had received full accreditation from the review process which ended in March this year.

“Each and every one had some improvements to implement to a lesser or greater degree, and were given until October 6 2017 to attend to them. A selection of the issues identified relates to curriculum design and the skills and capabilities intended to be developed in the programme, which did not measure up to the standard in some programmes.

“Some offering the programme did not have adequate staffing or suitable infrastructure. Central to the standard against which the programmes were evaluated was the ideal of ‘transformative constitutionalism’.

“Legal education, as a public good, should be responsive to the needs of the economy, legal profession and broader society,” said Professor Baijnath. He explained that a programme had to show how it promoted the social-justice goals of fairness, legitimacy and equity in the legal system.

In a message on its Facebook page, the UCT law faculty said it was surprised and concerned about the outcome of the review.

“As the top law school in SA, we note that our graduates are in high demand from law firms across the country, and the findings are at odds with the performance of our graduates. This long-standing reputation stands in stark contrast with this first-ever accreditation process of law degrees by the CHE.

“UCT further notes with concern that the releasing of this information needlessly places the institution in a bad light, which could have been managed with greater sensitivity in these troubled times. We note that the faculty of law has until May 2018 to respond to the Council on Higher Education’s findings. The faculty is confident that we will be able to respond to the concerns raised, and retain our accreditation,” stated the post.

Students responded to the post online.

Mohammed Jameel Abdulla said: “So you gonna apologise for relentlessly dismissing and sidelining law students who have been telling you the law faculty is the most untransformed space at UCT?”

Zweli Tom said, “UCT must just admit and stop being arrogant – meet the requirements like everyone else.”

UCT spokesman Elijah Moholola said the faculty had noted the council’s focus on excellence, ethics and equity, and the critical need for transformation across the industry, and the law faculty would submit a revised “improvement plan” within the next few weeks.

“These are all issues that the faculty has been deeply immersed in and almost takes for granted, and we suspect that our initial submission may not necessarily have captured those activities, discussions and reflections.

“We will certainly address the concerns raised in the report, and we look forward to further engagement with them to continue improving upon our excellent LLB programme,” said Mr Moholola.

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