Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Law graduates barely able to read but certainly able to blog

A report by The Times claims that a commission 'found that 70% of [UCT 4 year LLB students] couldn't calculate even simple tasks. They emerged without the ability to research legal documents or use a computer and the Internet". Really?

Although I do not have the statistical evidence that the Law Society of South Africa claims to have, anecdotal evidence suggests that this statement is unfounded. Some of the top graduates last year were 4 year LLB students. This statement offends those who have successfully gone through this programme, as well as the lecturers who have taught them. By stating that 70% of this group are incompetent, the article implicitly suggests that the UCT law faculty, and necessarily all those associated with it, is allowing substandard students to graduate.

While I agree that there are inherent flaws with the 4 year LLB and that it should be reconsidered, I sincerely doubt the accuracy of these statistics. There are certainly students who arrive at the start of their LLB who lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, but by the time they leave they are definitely proficient in these areas. I would like the Law Society to explain how it arrived at a figure of 70%.

I must apologize for this short post. It appears that I am having difficulty with this simple task.


  1. Sorry to nitpick, but saying that 70% of students can't do something probably implies that 30% can, your 'highly competent few' may just fall into that 30%. But, as you say, if they don't publish the data, then it can't be independently assessed. Also, if they're 'students' it implies that they're not yet graduates. It is quite possible that the graduates and the 4th year students differ quite greatly (depending on how difficult that 4th year is, though as far as I recall most of the inept people were weeded out by 4th year. at least among the cohort when I was at UCT - though I was not in the Law faculty so I may have been out of touch). Also, the number of 4th year students should probably include those students that failed to pass 4th year the previous year, which would further downwardly bias the sample's average levels of competence. [Note here that they were asked to evaluate all graduates, but UCT 4th year students in particular.]

    On the report though, what does it mean to 'calculat a task'? That's incoherent. Normally one 'completes a task' and 'calculates a solution to a problem', I've never heard of 'caculating a task'.

    Second problem, although writing in English is a problem at tertiary level, the problem begins at primary level and is worsened at secondary level. Often the remedial stuff at university is barely enough to help students to pass - thus not the fault of the university, but the fault of the pre-university education system.

  2. Shocking stats! I simply can't believe this study is credible.

    [FYI, despite ur irony, shorter posts are better]


  3. Hugh Corder sad in class yesterday that he got on the phone with the law society to see what they are on. Crack apparently.

    Seems 'the source' quoted denies ever having said what has been quoted.

    So, ja Prof Corder ensures us that it isnt true.

  4. @ Tim - I also spoke to Prof Schwikkard yesterday who says that the author that the Times cites was quoted dramatically out of context.

    @ Simon - I think the article itself was somewhat misleading since it implied that 4 year LLB graduates were largely incompetent rather than students that were still in the process of completing their studies. The confusion here is that the original article concerned the 4 year LLB program, not 4th year LLB students.

    I believe that there are large problems with the 4 year LLB program. For instance, students should be exposed to other disciplines and not only to law since that will make them better able to deal with legal problems that arise in practice. I also believe that having people straight in from high-school without an undergraduate or some first year courses lowers the level at which foundational courses can be taught. This harms the quality of the LLB degree not only of 4 year LLB students but all LLB students.

    Anyway, I am hoping that the Dean will give us a note on this subject or send us some more information about this study and I will post on that then.

  5. Those statistics by 'The Times' are dramatised. There is no way one of the best Universities in Africa can produce that much incompetent graduates.If this is true, what about schools like Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu, North West and other institutions without even a fraction of the competence and resources that UCT enjoys?

  6. What all of you are failing to realise is that statistics do not necessarily mean EVERY 4th year LLB student! It is possbile that they tested 20 students and out of those, 70% were incompetent. #imjustsaying

    There is a flaw with the LLB structure. I am glad the Law Society is investigating ways to curb such and to create a better structure to fully equip Law graduates with the necessary tools to enter the workplace with a solid legal foundation.

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