Completing a bachelor of laws (LLB) is only the first of several lengthy, expensive steps towards qualifying as a lawyer.
THE WITS SCHOOL of Law remains uncertain on whether it will offer the four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree in 2019, but the school is already advertising the study stream on its study page on the university’s website.
In 2014, Wits discontinued the straight four-year LLB programme and returned to the traditional two or three-year programme, where students choose to either complete an undergraduate BA (Law) or a BCom (Law) or after completing any other first degree, could embark on an LLB.
Earlier this year, the Council of Higher Education (CHE) released a national review of how to standardise and strengthen the quality of legal education and the LLB degree.
Until the final report is released, the CHE is recommending all universities also to offer the straight four-year LLB programme.
Admissions and career development officer Wanda Ndlozi said, “There is a possibility we will be accepting students for the four-year LLB (in 2019), we are waiting for the final feedback from the CHE report at the end of October. “The two or three-year LLB stream makes you more marketable to employers.”
Dean of Commerce, Law and Management, Professor Imraan Valodia said, “We will see what the CHE says but we still believe that the two or three-year postgraduate programme is
the best. We are going to engage the CHE. We wouldn’t have made the decision to remove the straight LLB on a whim. The four-year LLB training provides a narrow set of skills for the kind of lawyers we need in South Africa.
“All firms employing law students say that they’d rather employ students with a broad set of skills and [who have] done the longer programmes. It’s better in the long-term for one’s career as a lawyer and professional training,” said Valodia.
Law School Council (LSC) chairperson, Mpendulo Mfeka, said, “The LSC would welcome the return of the straight four-year LLB degree. Not everyone has enough money to study an LLB for five or six years doing two degrees. [Also] not everyone qualifies for NSFAS, so those who don’t qualify for NSFAS but want to become lawyers are disadvantaged.”
“[However], we see the need for the BA and BCom Law and want them to remain. Someone who has studied a BA or BCom Law is not the same as someone who studied a straight LLB because their thinking isn’t confined within the law doctrines only,” said Mfeka.
Second-year BA Law student, Reshoketswe Masitenyane, said that she initially wanted to study the four-year LLB stream. However, the BA Law route has broadened her legal training.
“The BA degree complements law pretty well. In addition to the law courses [I do] international relations and politics. You have to do a lot of research and write really long essays, essentially [I’m] walking away with a better grasp of the world and improved writing skills. Now I see the importance of the [BA] undergrad. Choosing the BA was a better alternative for me,” said Masitenyane.
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2017: ‘Students should be happy about LLB national review’
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2014: Wits axes undergrad LLB degree
Wits Vuvuzela, April 2014: Rhodes, Tukkies react to Wits scrapping of LLB degree
Prospective journalists, doctors and accountants are among some of the Witsies who might see their dreams deferred for lack of funding from NSFAS.
Witsie Anelisa Tuswa told Wits Vuvuzela that she was accepted into Journalism Honours at the university but may not be able to take up her place because her NSFAS application is still pending.
Tuswa has been on financial aid since her first year and receiving funding had never been a problem before.
“My mom is a domestic worker who works only three days a week and NSFAS have never been hesitant to accept me. They always gave me the full package – accommodation, food and tuition.”
Tuswa has no other funding options and if “NSFAS doesn’t fix this” she will not be able to continue her studies.
Wits Vuvuzela spoke with Marvin Mhlanga, a third year BCom Accounting student, who applied last year for NSFAS 2015 but has not yet received an outcome on his financial aid request.
“Scholarships grant me funding and some study loans require someone to pay monthly or someone to pay a certain amount monthly and my single mother can’t afford that,” Mhlanga said.
Mhlanga added that he fears he won’t be able to “raise the money needed to pay for the registration fee”.
A fifth year medical student who wished to remain anonymous said he could not return to his classes because his NSFAS funding had not come through .
“Medical School started on January 5. I could not return because I was unable to register,” he said. “I don’t have the money to pay the registration fees. How am I supposed to continue?”
A second issue facing NSFSA applicants at Wits is loss of documents.
Vice-Chancellor of Academics Prof Andrew Crouch partially blamed last years postal strike for missing documents.
“Some students sent in their NSFAS applications by post and due to the strike we were unable to receive them. Some applications have only been received now months after they were sent to Wits,” he said.
Wits LLB student Andile Mbhele applied for NSFAS funding at Wits to continue his degree in 2015. Mbhele said he had not heard back from Wits and when he called them on Monday the university said “the document was missing”.
“When I asked them if I could resend the missing document, they told me it was too late,” he said. “How am I going to finish my degree with no funding?”
Mbhele said that NSFAS is his “last option” to continue his studies at Wits.
“All my hopes are with NSFAS,” he said
Wits Vuvuzela: WITS STUDENTS PROTEST NSFAS APPLICATION COMPLICATIONS, January 21, 2015
Wits Vuvuzela: NSFAS STUDENTS STILL ASKED TO COUGH UP AT WITS, January 21, 2015
A throughput rate of only 30% is the primary reason for the discontinuation of the four-year LLB undergraduate degree at Wits.
Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Professor Vinodh Jaichand, head of the Wits School of Law, about the decision.
According to Jaichand, only about 30% of students finish their law degree in four years and even fewer become successful lawyers.
Jaichand said graduates of the degree need be able to practice in society with more than just textbook knowledge and added that it is an experiential issue.
He also said: “the students who leave Wits Law School are very good but they might well be a little bit short on life skills.” He added that, for example, while graduates might be able to litigate a divorce according to a textbook, they may “have difficulty in fully understanding the nuances of a divorce.”
He said the changes in the School of Law will help students to complete their degrees within the minimum required time, and assist with the mounting costs of additional years of study due to a high failure rate.
Jaichand also said that students who do the postgraduate LLB with an undergraduate degree in fields other than law will open more doors to a variety of career opportunities ensuring that students who study law can work “beyond the courtroom.”
Witsies who are currently enrolled in the four-year undergraduate LLB will not be affected by the change. From next year only students with a prior undergraduate degree will be able to enrol for the Bachelor of Laws degree. The BA Law and BComm Law degree remain unaffected by the change.
Jaichand also said there will be no retrenchments within the School with the implementation of the new system.