These islands of excellence must not be marooned


National law universities have been celebrated as ‘islands of excellence’ in a ‘sea of mediocrity’. However, the comments of CJI N.V. Ramana suggest otherwise.

HE made the following comments concerning legal education through his addresses in various universities

The national law universities were being perceived as ‘elitist and detached from social realities’ because not enough students were joining the bar.

Even among those who joined the bar, the trend was to practise at the levels of the Supreme Court of India and High Courts while ignoring trial advocacy.

Law graduates were ill-equipped to handle the profession, and that sub-standard legal educational institutions in the country were a worrying trend.

The focus on legal education should be on the practice and not theory.

Apart from the above-stated issues, there are other concerns related to the functioning of national law universities.

What are the problem areas w.r.t the national law universities that require rectification?

Pedagogy: National law universities are criticised for imparting pedagogy focused on securing placements in corporates and corporate firms.

State funding: Even though they are referred to as ‘National’ Law Universities, they are established and partially funded by State governments. With state funding shrinking, most national law universities are facing a serious crisis.

The ‘national’ character of these universities is being diluted due to state’s interference: However, many States are able to exert influence on several key issues such as domicile-based reservations and pay scale choices as they are the primary funding agencies.

Student protests in several universities for better curriculum and faculties: The national law universities face stiff competition from upcoming private universities vis-à-vis quality faculties owing to many factors including rigid pay scales. The same results in a demand from students for better faculty, pedagogies and curricula.

Another reason for student protests in national law universities has been the inability of the leadership to respond to the needs of the students, faculty, and staff in an adequate manner.

What are the suggestions for improvement?

Need to focus on the promotion of research-driven academics: to bridge the disconnect between social realities and legal education.  To improve research, nation law universities need to do the following,

-Need to move beyond the rigid framework created by the Bar Council of India and the University Grants Commission, which, for example, requires the faculty to undertake a  minimum number of lecture hours per week, etc.

-Need to have separate faculties for teaching and research.

-Research should also be promoted through institutional arrangements and incentive schemes.

The pedagogy must be focused on practical aspects of law, rather than just the theory: It can be done in the following ways,

-Judges and advocates must be obligated to contribute to the classrooms.

-They must be encouraged to offer paid internships to students to incentivize their learning experiences.

Need to have different approaches towards imparting education at graduate and postgraduate levels: The focus of education at a graduate level must be practice-oriented, with a focus on imparting students with the ability to learn and understand. On the other hand, the focus of pedagogy at the post-graduate level should be academic, with stress on imparting students with the ability to not only critically evaluate but also to apply the knowledge.

Need to establish an independent regulator for legal education in India.

Source: This post is based on the article “These islands of excellence must not be marooned  Published in The Hindu on 6th   Jan 2022.

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