Pretoria - The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) failed in its attempt to urgently interdict the Council for Higher Education (CHE) from proceeding with its decision to revoke the accreditation of the Walter Sisulu University’s LLB degree qualification.
This law qualification was revoked in November last year by the CHE after it was found to be of substandard. But it was made clear that this decision did not have any bearing on existing students or the new students intake into the university’s LLB programme for this year (2018).
It only limited the enrolment of new students with effect from next year (2019).
The university, situated in the Eastern Cape, also indicated that it was working on its LLB programme to get it up to standard.
The HETN, nevertheless, turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on Wednesday to interdict the parties from revoking this degree from next year.
They said the decision to no longer go-ahead with this degree programme next year, was harsh and failed to consider the socio-economic educational implications of its decision. According to this body, the CHE did not take the educational rights of the rural poor into account when it withdrew its accreditation for the programme.
The network said it requested a formal meeting with the CHE to further discuss the matter, but the latter ignored them. That is the reason why they then decided to turn to court.
The CHE, in its responding papers, said it was definitely not in the best interests of prospective lawyers to undergo an inferior programme, as it would place them on the backfoot once they wanted to enter the profession.
They said that the HETN was putting the cart before the horse by turning to court at this stage, as the withdrawal of the programme did not influence the 2018 LLB-programme.
Concerns were expressed in various quarters during 2013 regarding the quality of law graduates and the LLB degree at certain institutions. It was decided that the CHE would conduct a standard-setting process for the LLB degree at all higher education institutions.
Experts in the field of law developed a threshold standard for this degree and it was then established that the Walter Sisulu University’s programme did not adhere to these standards.
The university’s LLB programme was first placed on notice of withdrawal and it was given several months last year to get it on par with the standard. The university in October last year issued the CHE with its milestones and improved programme, but this still lacked the necessary standards.
The university was told that it was not permitted to enroll new students into the current LLB programme as from the 2019 academic year and that it had to have a teach-out plan in place for students currently enrolled in the programme.
The university accepted the advice that it had to meanwhile design and develop a new LLB programme and submit it for accreditation.
Acting Judge Tony Thobane meanwhile struck the application from the roll as he found it was not urgent. He said this years’ students were not affected and besides, the university was working at updating its standards.
The HETN said it will not give up its fight and vowed to be back in court at a later stage.