Nelson Mandela University (NMU) is named after South Africa’s most famous lawyer – who received an honorary doctoral degree in law from the university in 2005.
The faculty of law is one of seven faculties working together to support the institution’s vision of being a dynamic African university.
In addition to the obvious link with Nelson Mandela himself, lawyers continue to leave their mark on the university: the first chancellor of the university was the then chief justice, Pius Langa, and the first chairman of the University Council was Judge Ronnie Pillay.
Other legal luminaries, including the former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson and Advocate George Bizos, have also received honorary doctoral degrees in law from the university and the former deputy chief justice, Dikgang Moseneke, will be similarly honoured on December 14.
The faculty of law’s core purpose remains training candidates for entry into the legal profession.
The faculty has approximately 1 200 Bachelor of Laws (LLB) students and 300 postgraduate students.
A number of members of the faculty board, comprising close to 40 academics, are recognised authorities in their areas of law and the faculty has the reputation of producing graduates with the necessary attributes to succeed in practice and make a worthwhile contribution to society.
The strong base for success provided by the faculty’s LLB offering was recently confirmed by receipt of full accreditation from the Council on Higher Education (CHE) – one of only three out of 17 LLB programmes country-wide enjoying such recognition.
The CHE review process was rigorous, and included extensive deliberations with the South African Law Deans Association and the legal professions, represented by the Law Society of South Africa and the General Bar Council, regarding the development of a national qualification standard for the LLB.
The process began in 2013, involving the preparation of self-evaluation reports by faculties as well as site visits from specialist panels including respected academics from other institutions.
This culminated in a set of outcomes communicated to universities in April this year, in terms of which the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) (a permanent committee of the CHE) decided to reaccredit the LLB programmes offered by all 17 universities subject to specified conditions being met.
This outcome required the submission of improvement plans and progress reports. In the case of NMU, the faculty was required to report on a review of the curriculum that ensured adequate sequencing of modules; to pay particular attention to the development of adequate reading, writing and research skills; and to deal with current imbalances in staff demographics.
The HEQC, following a review of the faculty’s improvement plan for the LLB and the 45 annexures submitted as supporting evidence before the October deadline, was satisfied with the progress made and decided to revise the accreditation outcome to “accreditation confirmed”.
In determining that the conditions had been adequately addressed, the HEQC specifically highlighted:
Several curriculum renewal workshops were hosted by the faculty to obtain detailed input from students and academics;
A new/revised LLB programme, incorporating this input, and designed for implementation in 2020, had already been crafted;
The faculty, through its chairperson of teaching and learning, Dr Lynn Biggs, had already commenced drafting the approval documentation;
The institution had provided significant support to the faculty, which had expended close to R1-million to appoint nine postgraduate associates (PgAs) in 2017, six of them black South Africans, and had committed to expending R1.5-million to appoint 15 such associates in 2018, 11 of whom are black South Africans.
The PgAs are Master of Laws students who lecture on various diploma courses, run tutorials, assist academics with marking and are given time to focus on their LLMs. They participate in a leadership programme run by the faculty and obtain research support.
A number of the 2017 cohort of PgAs have secured articles of clerkship at reputable local law firms or are likely to join the bar.
This innovation is part of the faculty’s transformation strategy, which includes filling academic vacancies with quality black appointments wherever possible and the introduction of a Transformation Forum during 2017, comprising undergraduate and postgraduate students, academic and support staff.
Other planned interventions that will be introduced as part of the revised LLB offering from 2020 include additional non-law subjects for firstyear students (from other university programmes, such as BA and BComm degrees), increased focus on local languages and their importance for legal practice, the introduction of African Regional Law, revised module outcomes and reconsideration of methods of assessment (in all modules) and specialised electives to address the calls for a more Africanised/decolonised LLB programme.
Significantly, the faculty’s close interaction with the local profession, which was highlighted by the HEQC in its initial evaluation, enables us to call on experienced judges, attorneys and advocates when the need arises, adding tremendous value to the overall experience of our students.
An academic adviser will also be appointed for 2018 to assist the faculty to support law students who are struggling to cope with their studies.
The CHE’s confirmation of full accreditation of the LLB programme enables the faculty to continue developing the potential of every law student and to capacitate them to perform a constructive role in society.
- Govindjee is Mandela University’s Executive Dean of the Law Faculty