The University of Cape Town (UCT) may be closing the doors on its undergraduate law department. With a reputation for producing some of the best lawyers in the country, the decision has sent shockwaves through the country.
UCT is in the top 100 law schools in the world. So why is it under investigation?
The Council on Higher Education (CHE) may strip UCT of its accreditation to teach law because of a lack of transformation. The CHE issued a Higher Education Quality Committee Report that showed the LLB curriculum is struggling to create a space ‘for educating a well-rounded law graduate.’
Basically, an accreditation is a stamp of approval. In this case, without that stamp saying ‘we’re credible’, a university is legally not allowed to teach law.
The Daily Maverick reports that UCT does apparently have a game plan for restructuring the faculty so it encourages equality. The Improvement Plan has been called out by the committee, defining the plan as ‘insubstantial’. ‘Very little has been achieved,’ said the committee of the Improvement Plan.
In their review of National Review of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Programme, the CHE is concerned about the lack of black law students and staff in the faculty. In a 2015 report by black law students of UCT, students addressed the lack of diversity and meaningful opportunity for students of colour. The law students wrote, ‘Recent statistics showed that between 2006 and 2013, the percentage of black South African graduates (students who would have been categorised as apartheid-era ‘black’) ranged from four percent to 14%. In a country where the legal profession is still radically untransformed, the fact that UCT is producing so few black lawyers only serves to compound that larger social problem.’
UCT is not the only university that’s under fire. It’s among three universities, including the University of Limpopo and the University of Zululand, that are at risk of the CHE withdrawing their law accreditation. Walter Sisulu University is the first one to lose theirs. Clearly, there’s a pattern where institutions aren’t held accountable for doing the bare minimum to create opportunities for equity.
If you’re planning on doing an undergraduate LLB degree at UCT next year, you may want to keep your options open. The clock is ticking and UCT has six months to redress and reform before their LLB degree is a thing of the past.