Late last week the Council on Higher Education (CHE) released a report on The State of the Provision of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Qualification in South Africa (PDF), in which it has recommended extensive changes to how the degree is taught at 17 South African universities.
According to IOL News, the CHE has highlighted a range of shortcomings in the degree, in which many institutions were found to be delivering poor quality on aspects such as critical thinking.
“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 a LLB qualification from the current minimum four years of study to a minimum of five years of study,” said the report.
Furthermore the report was conducted by several panels on behalf of the CHE following repeated concerns by professional lawyers that law graduates were of poor quality.
The report also states that all panels that visited law faculties noted sub-par writing and research skills among students, with lecturers blaming the high school system for this deficiency. The report says that half of the universities fared poorly in imparting critical thinking skills to students.
“There is essentially a 50/50 split between the faculties/schools found to be doing a good or sufficient job inculcating critical thinking skills and those found to be in one way or another deficient in this regard,” explained the report.
IOL News adds that the institutions that the panels believed needed improvements in critical thinking skills 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 is a serious lacuna in the legal education system with regard to the inculcation in students of critical thinking. This does not signify however that the others are without blemish,” added the report.
It goes on to blame the large class sizes as the most serious inhibiting factor to the imparting of critical thinking. Also recommending that a major cut to the number of students accepted to LLB courses be taken.
“The number of law students in the system needs to be sharply reduced so that the law faculties/schools can provide substantively for legal education required by the LLB standard,” concluded the report.