To, Hon’ble members of the NLSIU School Review Commission Hon’ble Justice K.T. Thomas (Retd.), Dr. Virender Kumar and Dr. M.P.

Singh April 15, 2008 Respected Members, Subject: Some thoughts and suggestions for institutional practices at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore I am presently a final year student in the B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) programme and have had the opportunity to closely interact with several senior faculty members at NLSIU on account of having served as an office-bearer of the student body in the 2006-07 academic session. In this light, it is my sincere hope that this School Review Commission will give some consideration to the following suggestions with respect to institutional practices in this campus. Some of these issues may have already been discussed at length by other parties and touched upon in documents produced earlier such as the Report of the Expert Panel on NLSIU, 1996 (which consisted of William Twinning, Marc Gallanter and Savitri Goonesekere) and the ‘New Vision for Legal Education in the Global education scenario’ (developed under Dr. Mohan Gopal in 2001). I have divided these suggestions into the following headings: a. Admissions process and student-diversity b. Management of Academic resources - Strategies for attracting and retaining good faculty members - Monitoring the quality of teaching - Re-structuring of undergraduate course - Reforms in postgraduate courses - Strengthening clinical education - Collaborations with other institutions - Need to ensure quality in distance education programmes - More support for ‘research’ and ‘extension’ activities c. General administrative reforms - Working conditions for non-teaching staff - Medical insurance coverage - Transparency in library procurement d. Student welfare and infrastructure - ‘Student welfare’ corpus - Infrastructural expansion a. Admissions process and student-diversity With respect to the introduction of the Common Law Aptitude Test (CLAT) from the next academic year, the general opinion amongst present students as well as alumni is


favourable. It is clearly a step in the right direction since it reduces the burden (financial as well as that of taking several tests) on applicants to the various law schools and streamlines the process. However, the move towards standardisation should also be viewed with some caution. There must firstly be a guarantee of quality in questions set for the CLAT in the years to come and secondly, the pattern of questions should reflect innovation from year-to-year, much in the same manner as the IIT-JEE or CAT for management institutions. This is especially important because more and more applicants for the prestigious National Law Schools are resorting to specialised coaching classes for the entrance examinations. This is a worrying trend since applicants from richer backgrounds who can afford such private coaching are more likely to perform better than those from low-income backgrounds who don’t have access to such preparatory resources. If the pattern of questions asked each year is predictable and requires similar knowledge, then the distortion in the profile of students gaining admission to the National Law Schools will be further increased. There anyhow exists an ‘upper- class bias’ in the profile of students coming in and this has been further heightened in recent years on account of the mushrooming of coaching institutions. The other significant effect of this trend is that students entering at the undergraduate level who have performed well at the entrance test on account of specialised coaching often find themselves disinterested in legal studies after entering the law school. In my view, an effective solution to counter both these problems is to set questions in the entrance test which test general comprehension and analytical skills rather than those which privilege rote memorisation from guide-books. Furthermore, there must be innovation in the pattern of questions asked from year to year. Another apprehension with respect to the admissions process (which can now be called the ‘CLAT process’) concerns that of the possibility of undue influence and corruption entering the same. These perceptions are perhaps a little speculative but must be acknowledged keeping in mind the frequent reports of question-paper leaks of other prestigious entrance examinations in recent years. The absolute integrity of the admissions process is one of the key pillars of the prestige of NLSIU. This integrity has so far been rigorously maintained despite being in a marketplace where the use of terms such as ‘capitation fees’, ‘donation seats’ and ‘references from influential persons’ for enabling admissions are commonplace. It is argued in some quarters that these practices are needed by some educational institutions which are in dire need of governmental approvals and financial contributions. I sincerely believe that NLSIU has a spotless record in this regard and hope that it will maintain the same. It is commonly accepted that the student profile at an institution such as NLSIU must represent diversity – across regions, language, caste, class and cultures. Besides the symbolic value of ‘student diversity’ – it has a vital function in each individual’s social education as well. After having lived with fellow students from different backgrounds for several years, graduates are in a much better position when they encounter social differences in their subsequent personal and professional lives. However, this avowed objective of ‘student-diversity’ is being frustrated by two things at present – firstly, the pattern of the entrance test which gives an undue advantage to those with access to specialised coaching and secondly, the progressively increasing fee-structure. Since I


have already discussed the first idea let me come to the second one. It is undeniable that our institution has limited channels of financial support and hence there is some principled justification for the steep increase in tuition and hostel fees that has occurred over the last 5-6 years. To alleviate the problems posed by this the University maintains a public stand that ‘No student who joins NLSIU will be forced to leave on account of financial hardship’ – and those in need are given support in the form of scholarships, feewaivers or assistance in securing loans. However, the authorities have completely missed the point that many students from rural and low-income backgrounds are deterred from even applying to NLSIU on account of the prevailing fee-structure since they are largely unaware of the possibilities for financial assistance. The only remedy to this problem is that the institution must undertake a widespread awareness campaign about its financial assistance policy by sending letters to schools in rural and backward areas. Such an exercise has been undertaken before –but only on a small scale. The same needs to be done at a larger scale and perhaps the various National Law Schools which are part of the CLAT process can undertake a joint exercise to reach out to thousands of schools all over the country. This will not only increase the total number of applications for admissions but will also result in a more diverse-student profile than the present one which is dominated by those who have passed through elitist schools in metropolitan cities. The concern with financial assistance and the related question of access to education at brings me to an observation about the existing ‘merit-cum-need’ based scholarship programme at NLSIU. It must be emphasized that while the actual fee-structure has been substantially revised several times in recent years (for instance tuition fees for those who joined the undergraduate programme in 2001 was Rs. 25,000 p.a. whereas those who joined in 2007 are paying in excess of Rs. 50,000 – and this excludes hostel, mess and other infrastructure related charges) the total amount of funds dispersed by way of scholarships every year has remained static (around Rs. 3 Lakh per annum) since 200102. This is evidently a serious problem but the University has made no visible efforts to expand the corpus available for giving these scholarships each year. An urgent effort is needed to draw in more contributions – both from governmental and private sources so as to ensure effective financial assistance for those in need. b. Management of academic resources Strategies for attracting and retaining good faculty members: It goes without saying that the quality of teaching is the foremost concern for the institution at present. There is a clearly felt shortage of experienced and qualified faculty members – not only for advanced subjects, but also for basic legal subjects. While accepting that this is a perennial problem for all sectors of higher education in India, NLSIU must respond to the situation in a decisive manner. One obvious reason for the poor quality of applicants for junior faculty positions is the huge dissonance between the UGC-prescribed pay-scales for teachers and the opportunities for earning in commercial law firms, companies and International Organisations. This trend is directly visible in NLSIU where fresh graduates receive starting salaries which are 2-3 times greater than those of experienced faculty members. Hence, there is an immediate need for the infusion of some market principles by way of increasing the pay-scales for faculty members. I understand that the provision


of education should be viewed as a means of ‘public service’ rather a ‘business’ but we can’t expect good teaching standards without commensurate remuneration. I am not aware of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations with respect to salaries for University teachers but there are some institution-specific measures that can be taken in this regard. To start with - the institution can voluntarily increase pay scales for the various tenured positions much in the same manner as has been done in several privatelyowned educational institutions. Since a direct increase in salaries may pose an immediate financial burden, the other route is by way of ensuring a more equitable distribution of the funds administered under the various endowments for research chairs at NLSIU. At present, there are about 13 research chairs (out of which 4-5 are unoccupied) each occupied by a senior faculty member. The University can consider the possibility of appointing younger faculty members as co-ordinators or research assistants under each of these chairs. This has been done on an ad-hoc basis in the past and should become a regular practice. Not only will this ensure a more equitable distribution of resources among faculty members but it will also support and incentivise research activities. A related question is one about the use of interest accumulated from the unoccupied endowment chairs. A perusal of the annual financial accounts of the University will reveal that there is no explanation about how the funds accumulated from the unoccupied chairs is being used. The authorities should take serious note of this discrepancy and it is unfortunate that I’ve had to raise this issue before the present Commission. I would also urge this ‘School Review Commission’ to lobby with the government to amend the Bar Council of India Rules which presently limit the scope for legal practitioners to engage in regular teaching assignments. The inputs provided by experienced practitioners (advocates as well as those working in firms) are invaluable in the law school curriculum. Monitoring the quality of teaching: One of the hallmarks of education at NLSIU is the large degree of flexibility given to teachers for designing the content of courses as well as the evaluation methods. Indeed this is a unique feature which is yet to catch on in most Indian Universities. However, there is also a flipside to having such an autonomous structure. It is common knowledge that the teaching of several courses in recent years has been below-par and at times shoddy on account of the incapacity of relatively new or temporary faculty members. The extent of this problem is immense and merits immediate intervention. The principles of ‘academic freedom’ and ‘autonomy’ are important but they must be tempered with a dose of supervision and guidance from educational experts and senior faculty members. Even though there exists a system of ‘course feedback’ by students – the same isn’t taken very seriously by the authorities partly because students are also prone to giving inconsistent, imbalanced and hence unreliable comments on their course teachers. In the absence of any other regulatory mechanism over the performance of teachers – the senior faculty must take on that role. In the past several methods have been tried and I am curious as to why they have not been persisted with. For instance, each faculty member was required to present the course structure designed by him/her before a panel of senior


faculty members or outside experts. Furthemore, the practice of senior faculty members sitting in the classes conducted by relatively inexperienced teachers (clearly with the objective of giving constructive suggestions) has been discontinued. These practices need to be revived and it must be stressed that effective classroom engagement will automatically create student interest and involvement. The students at an institution like NLSIU anyway have compelling incentives to compete against each other with the objective of securing job opportunities and scholarships for further studies. Re-structuring of undergraduate course: The structure of the B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) programme has been left unchanged for several years. There is an urgent need to restructure the same. Suggestions in the past have been on the line of introducing more flexibility by way of offering more elective courses (from the 3rd or 4th year onwards rather than the 5th year as is the case now) and enabling students to opt for thematic specializations (broad areas such as ‘Law and Society’, ‘Commercial/Economic Laws’ and ‘Law and Technology’). It is important for NLSIU to set the agenda for a progressive curriculum since dozens of other law colleges/faculties have replicated our existing course structure and are likely to follow the path that we shape for ourselves. There are of course competing philosophies on the point. There are some who argue that undergraduate programmes should expose students to first principles in all the major areas of law whereas there are others who point to the structure of J.D. programmes in American Universities where students are free to choose from among a whole range of subjects after covering the foundational subjects such as contracts, property, legal theory and public law. This issue is of special importance in NLSIU since there is an increasing trend of disinterest in academics as students progress to the 4th and 5th years. One way of mitigating this problem is by allowing students a free choice of subjects of their interest in the later years of the undergraduate programme. Reforms in postgraduate courses: In respect of the post-graduate programme (LL.M.) there is an immediate need to evolve a rules document to govern the conduct of the programme, much in the same manner that a rules document exists for the Undergraduate programme. The most often-cited concerns have been the limited options for electives offered to students and the absence of a definite time-frame for declaration of results after each term. From a long-term standpoint, there have been suggestions that perhaps the LL.M. programme should be run for a one year period (similar to the model followed in British and American Universities) and several more thematic specializations should be offered. While such a change will require intensive lobbying with the University Grants Commission (UGC), the benefits of the same will be that the pattern of the post-graduate programme will then correspond to that of the best law schools in the world. Another welcome trend is the University’s plan to offer full-time post-graduate courses (in specialized areas such as Biotechnology and Child rights) to non-law graduates. The launch of such courses will go a long way in creating a culture of interdisciplinary scholarship.


Strengthening clinical education: There is also an impending need to strengthen the clinical/practical component of the education imparted in NLSIU. For starters, the internship programme needs to be monitored with diligence so as to ensure proper monitoring and feedback on individual students. The University could evolve full-fledged courses on ‘litigation’ and ‘voluntary sector’ work which involve a substantial practical component along with the taught component. An example would be that of conducting a trial litigation course over a one year period where final year students are assigned to work under practicing advocates. Substantial hands-on exposure to a variety of workplaces during the undergraduate programme can motivate students to make career choices that are not entirely shaped by the massive salaries offered to NLSIU graduates by commercial law firms. Collaborations with other institutions: There is also scope for innovation within the existing course structure. Besides the existing ‘student exchange’ programme with several foreign law schools, NLSIU should actively explore possibilities for tie-ups with other educational institutions of excellence in India (such as IITs, IIMs, JNU, TISS) and abroad where cooperation can extend to short-term exchanges of faculty as well as students. The possibilities by way of enhancing teaching inputs and interdisciplinary research are immense. A feasible strategy would be to identify institutions based on their expertise in areas where NLSIU seeks enrichment. Need to ensure quality in distance education programmes: In recent years the enrolment for the distance education programmes offered by NLSIU has increased considerably and has indeed been a vital source of revenue for the University. However, there has also been some disgruntlement among those who’ve taken these courses as to the outdated nature of the modules that are being circulated. It is self-evident that enrolment rates in the future depend on the quality of the course modules and hence the authorities must take measures to update the content of the same. More support for ‘research’ and ‘extension’ activities: Even though several research centres have been set-up at NLSIU, it is often felt that there is not enough synergy between their work and classroom teaching. The faculty members can act as a bridge between the research and teaching arms of the university by integrating inputs from fieldwork and publications generated by the research centres in the course content. There is also scope for wider student involvement in the activities of the research centres such as field-work, publishing and the organisation of conferences among others. The Centre for Child and Law (CCL) has taken several laudable initiatives in this regard and it is my sincere hope that other research centres will undertake similar projects. The Report of the Expert Panel on NLSIU, 1996 indicated that for NLSIU to evolve into a full-fledged academic institution it must give due regard not only to ‘teaching’ but also to ‘research’ and ‘extension’ activities. At the moment, serious questions are being asked about the quality and viability of each of these functions. The problems with the ‘teaching’ functions have already been highlighted and in recent years even the claim of promotion of ‘research’ sounds hollow. It must be highlighted that the faculty has not published a legal academic journal for several years. The last issue of the faculty-edited


‘National Law School Journal’ was released in 1999. Since then the only journals circulated on behalf of the NLS community are the various student-edited journals and the publications of some of the research centres. Any institution for legal education which is worth its’ name must produce atleast one academic journal on an annual basis and there is no excuse for such an anomalous situation. The University authorities must be impressed upon to revive the publication of the ‘National Law School Journal’. In order to develop our credentials as a University that ‘creates knowledge’, we need to establish effective channels to make our academic output available to the general public. Hence, there is an urgent need to improve the circulation of our journals. Since the student-run journals are perennially cash-strapped when it comes to expenditure required for distribution, the University’s support is essential in this regard. A cheaper and more effective method of publishing our works is by way of hosting a digital academic database on our website. The database can consist of academic papers, case comments, law reform proposals, conference documentation, and the output from all the research and extension activities conducted at NLSIU. In respect of ‘extension’ activities - several faculty members do organise training workshops for government and judicial officers on a frequent basis, but there is further scope for organising activities oriented around legal awareness for a wide array of civil society groups, educational institutions and businesses. Such ‘extension’ activities create commensurate benefits such as reliable social networks for the institution in the long-run. A good example of an ‘extension’ activity that could use more institutional support is the student-run Legal Services Clinic (LSC) which engages in activities such as coordinating legal aid and legal literacy programmes in and around Bangalore. c. General administrative reforms Working conditions for non-teaching staff: There is an urgent need to look into and improve the working conditions of the non-teaching staff. While the regular University employees who work in the Accounts department and the Library have safeguards in their service conditions there is a disparity in the status of lower-end workers such as the maintenance and cleaning personnel, security-guards, labourers and hostel workers. Not only are all these workers given abysmally low-wages, many of them have not been regularised despite several years of service. The reason given for this denial of regularisation is that once the same is given the workers will shirk away from routine work. The wages of most of the regularised maintenance personnel are also poor but they atleast have the benefit of free accommodation on campus. Of particular note is the condition of the employees working in the hostels. At one point the present Registrar Dr. V. Vijayakumar took the stand that there was no case for regularising anyone of them (even though some of them have worked in the hostels for more than 12-13 years) since their work was being monitored by the student-run hostel committees. This is clearly an irrational stand since the student committees have been setup to reduce the load of monitoring-related tasks on the Registrar and the Chief Warden.


The student-run hostel committees have no legal status and cannot be considered as employers. With respect to the conditions of labourers and the security guards, the University authorities refuse to take on additional responsibilities citing the fact that their services have been sourced through external contractors. The sorry state of affairs is highlighted by the fact that on numerous instances students have voluntarily raised contributions to pay for the medical treatment of contract labourers as well as security guards. This issue can be the subject of another full-length memorandum such as the present one. Medical insurance coverage: Most colleges/ universities in the country provide a compulsory medical insurance cover to their staff and students. It is quite surprising to note that the NLSIU has only recently extended insurance cover to the faculty and administrative staff. It goes without saying that the Vice-Chancellor should immediately examine the various options available for providing medical insurance to all students as well. Several companies offer institutional schemes in the nature of ‘collective medical insurance’ coverage. Opting for such a service will entail the addition of a marginal amount to the fees charged from all students of the full-time programmes. There is an urgent need to take action in this regard since we are all aware of the hardships that are caused on account of illnesses and injuries resulting from accidents. Transparency in library procurement: Even though NLS is fortunate to have a wellstocked and regularly updated library (with a healthy annual purchase budget) there has been a growing perception in recent years that the purchases of new books are concentrated in some academic areas at the cost of others. Such an imbalance clearly affects the quality of teaching as well as the research undertaken by students for their compulsory term-papers among other purposes. It is important to address these apprehensions by way of ensuring more frequent and wider consultations for the procurement of books and other academic resources. d. Student welfare and infrastructure ‘Student welfare’ corpus: For several years, there have been discussions about establishing a corpus to support those who cannot afford the fees charged at NLSIU as well as those students who represent the institution in prestigious international competitions and fora (such as moot courts, debates, client-counselling, negotiations, academic conferences) where considerable expenditure is required. Students intending to represent NLSIU at such international events often go through considerable uncertainties in the course of raising money from private sources. Furthermore, the various societies of the Student Bar Association (SBA) organise numerous events (such as moot courts, debates and conferences among others) which bring immense benefits to the institution as a whole. However, in most cases sponsorships are raised entirely through efforts made by students and recognition from the faculty mostly comes after an event has been successful. The key point here is that the University authorities need to extend more support in the course of raising money for scholarships, participation in international


competitions as well as the organisation of events by students at NLSIU. The students cannot be expected to do all of these things on their own. In this regard the Vice-Chancellor had proposed to maintain a ‘Student welfare’ account exclusively for these purposes. Needless to say contributions will be sought from Government agencies, trusts, corporates, lawyers and alumni among others. However, it is important to gather and disperse funds in a structured manner. The first step towards the same would be to identify legitimate needs at the start of every academic year and make requests accordingly. It goes without saying that first priority should be given to gathering funds for the ‘merit-cum-means’ scholarships given by the institution. Infrastructural expansion: To the credit of the authorities, the NLSIU campus has seen continuous infrastructural expansion in the last few years with the construction of the training centre (in 1999-2000), the new library complex (completed in 2005), additional classrooms and new-hostel blocks (completed in 2007). The creation of the library has also permitted better use of the rooms in the older academic block. Over the last two years, the authorities have also responded to long-standing demands by clearing a space for a sports field in newly-acquired land and providing Internet connectivity in the hostels. Depending on the availability of funds, the University should develop the field into a space that can be regularly used without risk of injury. Perhaps the next construction project should be a multi-purpose auditorium. It is understandable that raising funds for the same may take several years but the efforts to do so should start now. An auditorium will serve multiple functions like hosting the annual convocation, cultural programmes and other University activities. Furthermore, it can also be a source of revenue in the long-term by way of renting it out to cultural and education organisations. Such a facility could be used for legal services initiatives and workshops among others as well as for indoor sports. The same complex could also include a dormitory facility that will meet the lodging requirements for distance education programmes as well as student-organised events (moot courts, college festivals, conferences etc.) since the existing training centre cannot accommodate large numbers and the use of the same proves to be quite expensive. I hope that all of the above issues will be given due consideration in the course of the deliberations of the School Review Commission. Sincerely, Sidharth Chauhan Id. No. 1286, 5th year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) National Law School of India University, Bangalore


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