Things don’t look pretty for engineering students at the Gaborone University College of Law (abbreviated as “GUC”) who are being cold-shouldered by the Engineers Registration Board (ERB). While the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) has accredited the programme, the ERB has declined to register GUC-graduated engineers because the programme doesn’t meet its necessarily stringent standards. The students are understandably panicked but nothing suggests that ERB will relax its standards in order to accommodate GUC graduates.
It is yet unclear how this particular case will end but the university has been down this road before.
Once before, BQA has approved an LLB programme that GUC planned to offer in the not-too-distant future. The problem though was that the programme was not on a list of universities that are recognised by the Legal Practitioners Act. In terms of Section 4 of the Act, Botswana citizens shall be qualified to practise as legal practitioners if they hold an LLB from the universities of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, the former University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, universities in Britain, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia as well as the American University in Washington D.C., Syracuse University in New York, the University of Zambia and the University of Ghana. In essence, BQA had approved a programme offered by an institution which had no statutory recognition.
At the time, BQA’s Communications and Public Relations Manager, Selwana Pilatwe-Koppenhaver, explained that while while GUC had met approval requirements for its LLB programme, it had not started offering the course “because it is still in consultation with the Law Society of Botswana for recognition of the programme.” Conversely, the Law Society’s Executive Secretary, Tebogo Moipolai, disavowed any knowledge of such consultation. He added that the Society couldn’t have any consultation with the university with regard to what the Act prescribes because the corrective action (amendment of the Act) is the prerogative of the legislature – not the Society. Sunday Standard independently established that LSB was not at all keen on engaging with either BQA or GUC over the issue because its members strongly believe that the LLB programme GUC offers is sub-standard and over time, would have the effect of degrading Botswana’s lawyering standards.
Faced with a seemingly intractable problem, GUC turned to the Legal Practitioners Act for the solution. It partnered with Leeds Beckett University in the UK for the accreditation of its LLB programme. Resultantly, GUC’s LLB programme is now fully compliant with the Act – which recognises UK qualifications – and the LSB is legally obliged to admit GUC graduates as lawyers. Such compliance notwithstanding, some lawyers still question whether GUC’s standards are similar to those at Leeds Beckett.