Universities that faced the risk of losing their accreditation for the bachelor of laws (LLB) qualification — because the programme did not meet the required standards set by the Council on Higher Education — are off the hook.
Last year the council, which is responsible for quality assurance in higher education, issued notices of withdrawal of accreditation to the universities of Cape Town (UCT), Limpopo and Zululand. The accreditation of Walter Sisulu University, in the Eastern Cape, was withdrawn.
The universities of Johannesburg, Venda, Rhodes, the Western Cape (UWC), Stellenbosch, the Witwatersrand, Fort Hare, North West and the Free State, as well as Unisa, received accreditation subject to meeting specified conditions. Only three universities — Nelson Mandela, KwaZulu-Natal and Pretoria — were awarded full LLB accreditation status.
This came after the council conducted a national review of the LLB programme at 17 institutions offering the programme in 2015 and 2016. The review was conducted after deans of law faculties and some in the legal profession raised concernsabout “serious problems” in legal education in the country dating back to 2012.
The council’s chief executive, Professor Narend Baijnath, told the Mail & Guardian this week that, for months after issuing notices to the universities, the council had worked closely with them to provide support and ensure that they comply with the requirements. They were given six months to address the outstanding issues. They submitted progress reports last month.
Baijnath said an institution can lose its accreditation if, for instance, the programme has significant weaknesses, such as falling short of the qualification standard, and if it does not meet criteria relating to programmed design, teaching, learning or assessment.
After the progress reports were received, eight universities received full LLB accreditation: the universities of Stellenbosch, Johannesburg, Rhodes and Zululand, as well as UCT, UWC, Wits and Unisa.
Some universities, such as Rhodes, had to improve their staff diversity component and introduce a first-year admission point for students; UCT had to review its curriculum and improve course co-ordination and the rate at which students progress through the degree. UWC also had to review its curriculum and adopt a strategic plan for the programme.
The reports detailing how the universities had fallen short are yet to be released, but the M&G reported last year that the dean of the UCT law school, Penelope Andrews, said that the issue of transformation, specifically the faculty’s throughput rates, had come up in the council’s report.
Baijnath said the eight institutions had addressed all the specified conditions to the council’s satisfaction.
But the universities of Limpopo, North-West, Fort Hare, Venda and the Free State still have one condition to address before they are given full accreditation status, he said.
They can continue to offer the LLB programme but have to meet short-term conditions that may be met within six months, as well as long-term conditions.
“These five institutions have only one further condition to meet, which we anticipate they will be able to address by the end of the year. They have been given a further six months to submit progress reports,” he said.