The Bachelor of Laws (LLB) programme, taught at the country’s universities, is headed for a major revamp after many institutions were found to be doing a shoddy job on aspects such as critical thinking.
A report undertaken and released recently by the Council on Higher Education (CHE), the statutory body responsible for quality assurance, has recommended extensive changes to how the LLB is taught at 17 universities.
A 98-page report, “The State of the Provision of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Qualification in South Africa”, has highlighted a range of shortcomings in the degree.
It was conducted by panels on behalf of the CHE following repeated concerns by professional lawyers that law graduates were of poor quality.
“It is recommended that all law faculties/schools undertake a curriculum reform exercise (many, in fact, are already engaged in such an exercise),” said the report.
It looked certain to thrust the debate about whether the LLB should be taught over five years back into the spotlight. It is currently a four-year programme.
“Serious consideration should be given by the Department of Higher Education and Training, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, to extend the duration for the attainment of an LLB qualification from the current minimum of four years of study to a minimum of five years of study,” the report said.
All panels that visited law faculties were met with laments of sub-par writing and research skills among students. The complainants, which were largely lecturers, blamed the school system for this deficiency.
But the report pointed out that “this was the case even though, in many cases, curricula were designed to promote writing and research skills”.
Half of the universities fared poorly in imparting critical thinking skills to students.
“There is a serious lacuna in the legal education system with regard to the inculcation in students of critical thinking skills.
“There is essentially a 50/50 split between the faculties/schools found to be doing a good or sufficient job in inculcating critical thinking skills and those found to be, in one way or another, deficient in this regard,” said the study.
Institutions that the panels believed needed improvements in critical thinking skills teaching were the Nelson Mandela University, University of the Free State, University of Johannesburg, University of Limpopo, University of Venda, University of Pretoria and Walter Sisulu University.
“This does not signify, however, that the others are without blemish,” the study added.
The report blamed large classes as “the most serious inhibiting factor” to the imparting of critical thinking. It recommended a major cut to the number of students accepted to LLB courses.
“The number of law students in the system needs to be sharply reduced so that law faculties/schools can provide substantively for the legal education required by the LLB standard.”
Professor Ahmed Bawa, chief executive of Universities South Africa, which represents the country’s public universities, told The Star that institutions had already started engaging the report.
“One of the things that really stands out for me in the report is what it says about the need to get the basics, like writing and communication skills, right.
“Those are the things that the universities must get right,” Bawa said.