Friday, July 25, 2014

The University of the Witwatersrand toughens its standards for law.

The University of the Witwatersrand toughens its standards for law.

The Wits Vuvuzela newspaper covers the confusion, outrage, and satisfaction of students at Oliver Schreiner School of Law. The supplementary exam regime is being struck off the roll. Only final year students will be allowed to write supplementary exams shortly, and even then it will be restricted to a single exam. When I attended the University, if you got a certain mark below passing you were allowed to write a supplementary exam, and thus did not have to redo the course for another year, provided you satisfied the minimum requirements the first time you wrote the exam. Practical legal training schools are also expected to adopt a similar practice, in future demanding 50% to pass a subject. The pass mark at the University of the Witwatersrand has been 50% for many years, but supplementary exams allowed students who got 49 or 47% to rewrite the exam.

The seeming move by the University of the Witwatersrand towards scrapping supplementary exams, follows a massive shakeup that has already been occurring at the law school. Students no longer study Roman law and customary law. The syllabus of many subjects has been made more practical and less theoretical. The LLB law degree which I took, which saw half its students drop out every year, has been scrapped in favour of BCOM LLB and BA LLB, with their wider variety of subjects of a nonlegal nature. When I did my LLB degree I took all but five of the law subjects at the University, and was able to pass all of these. Already the law school is restricting the amount of optional subjects the students can take, the wide legal education I got is being replaced by a wider general education for law students, with less background in the law and less opportunity to fail.

The ridding of the supplementary exam regime, no doubt exists to maintain the prestigious nature of the Wits law degree. Students will no doubt graduate University possessing the core skills they need in their profession. Unfortunately this means that the wide academia that Wits used to stand for must fall by the wayside. Certainly the calibre of students in the subjects which they understand will probably become much better now, after all they only take a small amount of subjects and must focus to make sure they don’t land up getting below 50% as there are no supplementary exams. The University will certainly win consistency from this, but I fear the consistency will be one with the loss of some of the excellency of those students who were able to handle the heavier workload and more abstract teaching of past years.

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