UCT among 3 SA universities that may have to stop offering law degrees

The University of Cape Town's Jameson Hall. (James de Villiers/News24)
The University of Cape Town's Jameson Hall. (James de Villiers/News24)

Cape Town – A shocking report by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) has revealed that three of the country's universities are set to lose their law qualification accreditation, while the accreditation of one university has already been withdrawn.

In a statement on Wednesday, the CHE said, following its National Review of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Programme, that the University of Limpopo, the University of Zululand and the University of Cape Town (UCT) – one of the world's top 100 law schools – had been informed that their accreditation would be withdrawn.

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The institutions have until May 2018 to respond to the concerns raised by the CHE.

Walter Sisulu University's (WSU) law qualification had already been withdrawn, CHE said.

In its preliminary report in April, the North West University, Walter Sisulu University, University of South Africa and the University of the Free State faced losing their LLB qualification, but CHE didn't name them in Wednesday's statement.

Authority to withdraw qualification

This marks the first time that the CHE has conducted an overview of LLB programmes, since it was established in terms of the Higher Education Act of 1998. Without the CHE degree accreditation, a university cannot legally offer a qualification.

The council did not respond to a News24 request for comment as to why the withdrawal of the three universities' law degrees was being considered.

Department of Higher Education spokesperson Madikwe Mabotha confirmed to News24 that the CHE had the authority to withdraw qualification accreditation from an institution.

The CHE did quality control in the same way that Umalusi ensured the standard of matric final examination papers, Mabotha said.

He said the department was working with other institutions to assist students at WSU, following its accreditation withdrawal.

UCT law faculty dean Penny Andrews said they were "alarmed" by the withdrawal notice.

'We are shocked by this unilateral action'

Andrews said they had submitted a report to the CHE at the beginning of October and were only informed of the notice through the statement released on the council's website.

"We are shocked by this unilateral action on their part, without any engagement from their side," Andrews told News24.

She said the council had raised concerns about the institution's academic support for black law students and the success rate of black students in general.

"We addressed the council's concerns, but probably didn't address them in the form they would've [found] suitable."

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UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the institution was "confident" that it would retain its accreditation, after responding to the concerns raised by the CHE.

The faculty would be submitting its revised improvement plan within the next few weeks, Moholola said.

Only WSU was named in the CHE's report in April.

At the time, the CHE said WSU's law programme failed to educate "well-rounded law graduates, and there is little evidence of any recent updating of content and related case law".

Other concerns raised included: 

 - Inadequate teaching and learning resources;
 - Few development opportunities for administrative staff;
 - Lack of senior staff within the programme;
 - Programme lacks formal structure;
 - On-time graduation rate is low.

The University of Limpopo, University of Zululand and WSU did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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