South African Students Congress

Statement on the scrapping of the undergraduate LLB Degree at Wits

30 April 2013

SASCO notes with great skepticism the information of the decision of the University of the Witwatersrand to scrap the four year LLB degree in favor of the LLB being offered only as a postgraduate qualification. When the four year degree was introduced more than 15 years ago, this was done so as to reduce the length of the qualification and the financial implications thereof. It was noted that at the time more than 80 percent of the legal professionals were white. The introduction of the four year LLB degree was therefore a necessary intervention to improve the pace of transformation of the judiciary, access to legal education and to reduce the financial strain on the black majority which does not have the necessary financial means to access legal education.

It is common because that the current state of the degree and the quality of graduates it produces leaves a lot to be desired, the quality of graduates in the current LLB curriculum do not have the requisite broad practical skills; these include numerical, digital and the general litigation skills. It is also commonly acknowledged that the current quality of LLB graduates fall short in terms of ethics and general writing and drafting skills.

The Law Society of South Africa convened an LLB summit in 2013, where it was noted that only 22 percent of LLB students managed to graduate in record time. The LLB summit therefore agreed that the Council on Higher Education (CHE) would have to review the degree and the review was set to be completed by 30 June 2014.

In light of the above exposition of facts, it is our considered view that whilst we accept that the quality of the LLB degree is not in a perfect or good state and that we must all be susceptible to change. We are however convinced that the Wits University is jumping the gun, the University is actually pre-empting a process that is yet to be concluded by the CHE by the end of June 2014.

When the LLB curriculum and the duration were reviewed some 15 years ago certain objectives were identified and many considerations were made. Part of those objectives were to increase access to legal education, increase success levels, and increase access into the proffe3ssion and transformation of the judiciary. It is our considered view that those have not been achieved.

We feel that the latest stance by the University of the Witwatersrand will do nothing else other than entrenching the gate keeping that we see in the profession. We say so because we know Universities including Wits will begin introducing ridiculous and unrealistic requirements to do the LLB as a post graduate qualification. This will be done because the captains of the legal industry are becoming uncomfortable with the number of blacks entering the profession. Therefore a postgraduate LLB program (of which the LLB is the only entry point into the profession), will ensure that access is limited.

It has been our experience that the NSFAS Fund has been struggling to fund post-graduate students. An introduction of a post-grad LLB therefore will mean that many of the poor, black and working class majority will never access the legal profession because they can’t afford legal education.

It is our worry that there is no synergy between the students that graduate with an LLB and the reality that reflects in the profession. These trends tell us that we have not achieved our objectives of transformation of the judiciary including legal education.

We are of the firm conviction that the scrapping of the undergraduate LLB at Wits is nothing short of submissiveness by the Wits authorities to the captains of the legal fraternity, who are hell bent on maintaining the legal monopoly they have. We call upon Wits to reverse its decision and await the findings of CHE. We further propose that there be one legal education across the board. We implore on government to increase funding for legal education and general access to the profession. It is our firm conviction that one of the workable midterm interventions to the crisis will be an introduction of a 5 year LLB program which will encapsulate writing skills, practical experience and ethics. This program will ensure that our people have access to sufficient undergraduate funding, they will have increased opportunities to access the profession, and they will have experience and do community service.

SASCO has and always will fight any systemic exclusion of our people in the economy of this country including the legal fraternity. Ours is a cause for transformation of society.

Issued by the NEC of SASCO

For more information contact:

Ntuthuko Makhombothi (President): 071 855 2209
Or
Luzuko Buku (Secretary General): 071 879 3258