WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE LLB NATIONAL REVIEW

What everyone should know about the LLB National Review

What is this National Review everyone is talking about?

The LLB Qualification Standard was published in August 2015, after academics and the Council on Higher Education decided what the requirements are that every LLB in South Africa should comply with. All 17 law faculties in South Africa had to measure themselves against this standard as well as the general programme accreditation criteria for tertiary qualifications and had to submit a self-evaluation report by May 2016. All law faculties were visited by review panels during September and October 2016. The panels comprised of academics and a representative from the CHE (Council on Higher Education). After provisional reports were drafted and parties could provide input, the outcomes were published in April 2017.

Who are involved and who makes decisions on accreditation?

Council on Higher Education / CHE: The CHE is an independent statutory body established in May 1998 in terms of the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997, as amended, and it functions as the Quality Council for Higher Education in terms of the National Qualifications Framework Act 67 of 2008. All tertiary qualifications must be registered at the CHE and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Standards Development Reference Group: Representatives from most law faculties who developed the LLB Qualification Standard. This standard states what every LLB programme in the RSA should contain and what its outcomes should be, in relation to knowledge, skills, applied competence etc. It was published in August 2015 as aspirational standard for all law faculties.

Review panels: Every institution had its own review panel that consisted of a chairperson, three legal academics from other institutions plus a CHE representative. Panels measured evidence on site against the self-evaluation report, LLB standard and general accreditation criteria. They spent three to four days at every institution. They compiled a draft report on each institution, which was submitted to the National Reviews Committee.

National Reviews Committee / NRC: This is a specialist committee that supports the HEQC (Higher Education Quality Committee) with programme reviews. It consists of eight to ten members, of which the majority is drawn from the public higher education sector. The chairperson of the NRC is a member of the HEQC. Review Panels submitted their provisional reports to the NRC who considered the reports and formulated provisional outcomes. These, as well as responses by the institutions (responses were limited to findings and statements of fact in the provisional reports), were submitted to the HEQC who made a decision on the outcome of each institution’s review in April 2017.

Higher Education Quality Committee / HEQC: The Higher Education Act makes provision for the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to establish a permanent sub-committee, the HEQC, with the mandate to promote quality assurance in higher education, audit the quality assurance mechanisms of all higher education institutions and accredit programmes of higher education. The HEQC therefore makes decisions regarding accreditation.

Did the review result in any positive findings on the NWU?

Yes, definitely. Some of the findings are:

“The panel is satisfied that more than enough detail has been provided in the SER to confirm that the LLB programme meets the requirements for NQF exit level 8.”

“The panel is satisfied that the LLB programme at PC and at MC appropriately imparts to students a comprehensive and sound knowledge and understanding of South African law and its associated values and of its historical background. It is also satisfied that all of the basic areas of law, as listed in the LLB Standard, have been adequately covered.”

“The panel commends the two faculties for the introduction of a skills sub-programme, Language Skills in Legal Context, which is taught in six semester modules in the first three years of the LLB programme.”

“The panel is satisfied that the conceptualization and overall design of the programme sufficiently addresses the areas of applied competence listed in the LLB Standard.”

“Adequate physical resources (and, in the case of the two libraries, e-resources) exist at both PC and at MC for teaching and learning to take place.”

“The panel is satisfied that at both Potchefstroom Campus and Mafikeng Campus the LLB programme appropriately prepares graduates for entry into legal practice, into a wide range of other careers that require the application of law, and for postgraduate studies in law.”

What were the possible outcomes of the National Review of the LLB?

  • Accredited with commendation – no law faculty achieved this outcome.
  • Unconditional accreditation – no law faculty achieved this outcome.
  • Conditional accreditation - 13 law faculties achieved this outcome.
  • Notice of withdrawal (if certain aspects are not adequately attended to) - 4 law faculties achieved this outcome.
  • Withdrawal – no law faculty’s accreditation was withdrawn.

What was the NWU’s outcome and what does it mean?  

The NWU received notice of withdrawal, due to:

  • Inequalities between the programme offerings at the Mafikeng and Potchefstroom campuses.
  • Inadequate integration, especially racial integration at the Potchefstroom Campus.
  • Low admission requirements with inadequate subsequent support.

This outcome means that the accreditation of the LLB may possibly be withdrawn, if the problematic aspects are not addressed by the NWU, within a specific time frame that will be determined after October 2017.  

Each institution that received such a notice, has to draft an improvement plan that has to be submitted to the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in October 2017. The CHE will communicate with institutions regarding their plans and will indicate whether additional matters have to be addressed.

Target dates and deadlines for implementation of steps proposed in the improvement plan, will then be set. The institution’s progress will be monitored and when the CHE is satisfied that all steps have been implemented or that there is adequate progress, the programme is (re)accredited. Should an institution fail to implement its improvement plan, accreditation may be withdrawn.  If a programme’s accreditation is withdrawn, the institution may not enrol further students in that programme. All students who are enrolled on the date of withdrawal, may complete the programme (in general referred to as pipeline students).

Are the issues that were highlighted, quality issues?

Yes. The NWU offers one LLB programme and all graduates on all delivery sites obtain the same qualification. The learning experience of all students at all NWU delivery sites must therefore be comparable, of the same standard and all students must be equally included in the “learning experience”. The NWU has a duty to consider which applicants are most likely to successfully complete their qualification and to offer support to those who are enrolled.  The NWU itself addressed some of these issues in the self-evaluation report.

How does the outcome of the LLB National Review affect NWU students?

  • All law degrees ARE and REMAIN accredited unless a particular institution’s accreditation is withdrawn. Current students in all law programmes are not affected, they can complete their accredited qualifications.
  • No graduates (alumni) are affected.
  • As the LLB degree is still accredited, the NWU may enrol new LLB students whilst the NWU is under notice and they will be able to complete their accredited qualifications at the NWU.
  • BA (Law) and BCom (Law) are not affected by the notice and those programmes continue as always. As long as the NWU is under notice, students who complete their BA (Law) and BCom (Law) will be allowed to register for their LLB at the NWU and then to complete it.
  • The LLB will be fully accredited if the NWU’s improvement plan is approved, it is fully implemented and all deadlines are met.
  • If the NWU fails to implement the improvement plan or does not meet deadlines, accreditation may be withdrawn. The NWU is doing everything in its power to avoid this outcome. If accreditation is withdrawn, the NWU will not be allowed to enrol further students in the LLB as first or second qualification. However, students who are enrolled on the date of withdrawal (pipeline students), will complete their accredited qualifications.

Is it true that law students will leave the NWU with an “unaccredited degree”?

No, this is not the case at all and any allegations to this effect are untrue and malicious. All students who are currently registered as well as those who will register in 2018 for the first time, will complete accredited qualifications. The NWU’s LLB is registered at the CHE and South African Qualifications Authority – see http://regqs.saqa.org.za/viewQualification.php?id=22993.

Does this mean that I will receive an inferior degree?

No, not at all.  The degree remains accredited. It is clear from the report of the review panel that visited the NWU that the programme achieves all criteria in respect of knowledge and programme outcomes, although important additional aspects need to be addressed. No LLB offered by any university in South Africa was accredited unconditionally. However, this does not mean that all LLB degrees in South Africa are inferior. It appears that the reason the NWU received notice, instead of conditional accreditation like thirteen other universities, is that the aspects it has to address cannot be rectified within a reasonably short period, due to its unique nature as multi campus institution.

What is the NWU currently doing?

The NWU met with high level officials from the CHE on 9 May 2017. The NWU now has clarity regarding the process that must be followed, as well as what is required in respect of the improvement plan to be submitted in October 2017. A number of task teams are already investigating various issues that must be addressed and will make recommendations that will be considered by the faculty and NWU management. The improvement plan must be approved by the new single Faculty Board as well as the NWU Management Committee, by September 2017. The Vice Chancellor has repeatedly undertaken that the NWU will do whatever it takes to address the issues identified, to ensure the NWU receives unconditional accreditation, as confirmed at the NWU Senate meeting on 24 May 2017.

Which issues are receiving attention?

Inequalities between Mafikeng Campus and Potchefstroom Campus: the new faculty structure that will take effect on 1 July 2017, will enable the new executive dean and directors to address and manage the majority of issues that cause the inequalities between campuses. Institutional issues are currently investigated by the University Management Committee. Some of the issues have already been addressed – all undergraduate law students on all campuses will already write the same (summative) examinations in June 2017.  Oher inequalities require long term planning and have budgetary implications, but the NWU is resolute to ensure that all students’ qualifications and academic experience comply with the requirements set by the CHE.

Inadequate integration: new strategies are currently developed to address matters concerning exclusion of certain students and integration on all campuses. The challenges on the respective campuses differ and staff and students are currently consulted on issues like language, institutional culture, transformation and social justice. The NWU wishes to ensure that all students enjoy free and equal access to, and enjoy the full advantage of, academic and intellectual spaces that are characteristic of institutions of higher learning. 

Admission requirements and support: the minimum APS score required for admission to the LLB and BA (Law) has already been increased to 28 (from 26) for the 2018 intake (and approved by Senate). For the 2019 intake a minimum APS of 30 will be required for admission to the LLB, besides all the other admission requirements that will remain unaffected.   It is envisaged that an extended LLB programme (over 5 years) will be introduced in 2019 for students who require additional development and support. Task teams are investigating matters that were raised in relation to student support and students, amongst others, will soon be consulted on these issues.

What can I do as student?

  • Please attend meetings that are arranged by the faculty and voice your opinion when surveys are conducted.
  • Please submit constructive proposals on how the NWU can address the identified shortcomings. Please send an e-mail with proposals to LLB@nwu.ac.za or if you wish to have your say.
  • Be tolerant towards all other students, respect others’ opinions and their right to voice their opinions.
  • Be sensitive to your fellow students’ needs, views, fears, culture and values.
  • Enquire if you are in doubt about anything – e-mail LLB@nwu.ac.za to get the correct facts.
  • Convey the correct facts to family and interested persons. 
  • Be part of the solution, not the problem.
  • Study harder than ever to attain the best results possible!

What can I do as parent or alumnus?

  • Proposals on how the NWU can address the identified shortcomings, are welcome. Please feel free to send an e-mail to LLB@nwu.ac.za.
  • You are welcome to enquire if you are unsure about anything – e-mail LLB@nwu.ac.za to get the facts.
  • Convey the correct facts to colleagues and interested persons.

Bitter or better?

We can decide whether we will be bitter about the CHE’s decision, for whatever reason, or we can decide to use this opportunity to further improve the NWU LLB and to ensure that graduates of the NWU Faculty of Law continue to excel in the legal profession. The choice is obvious – we want to be better than ever.