Legal education at crossroads in India

It is high time regulators tighten screws on compliance and lay emphasis on quality, rather than quantity for legal education to see better days

| MARCH 12, 2020, 02:53 AM IST

The very good news in the education sector in India this week is about two law schools making it to the highly sought-after QS World University Subject Rankings, 2020. The Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings for the last 16 years and is a prestigious certification to acquire from a British company specializing in education.

The QS list gives rankings for the top 50 positions and then brackets them in groups of 50. India’s two institutions are listed among the top 300 law schools in the world and have been there for the first time making news in spheres of Indian higher education, and especially legal education. The OP Jindal (OPJ) University’s Global Law School has been ranked between 101 and 150 in a global list of around 12,000 law schools, while Bangalore’s National Law School has been ranked between 150 and 200.

The top five universities in the list under the ‘law’ category are Harvard University, Oxford University, University of Cambridge, Yale University and Stanford University. The best thing about QS is that they do not ask institutions to submit their data to them instead they look at universities across regions. The four indicators used are academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper and H-index citations. Beyond academic reputation, QS is also steadfast about quality faculty feedback, employer feedback of graduates, and universities must produce cutting-edge research which has a positive impact on the community.

OP Jindal University was established in 2009, and for a private university breaking into the QS rankings is an extraordinary accomplishment. This institution geared themselves well for the rankings by forming a distinct department to specifically understand how Chinese institutions were getting listed in the world ranking and used that as their benchmarks. Subsequently, having understood the requirements they worked diligently at not just ensuring high education and employability standards for students, but also at presenting themselves well before the ranking organisations.

At the juncture when legal education in India is acquiring global attention, there is a cry that legal education is being imparted in flagrant violation of rules by many institutions. Many cases of total non-compliance of the statutory provisions of the UGC (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the maintenance of standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2010, as well as the Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules of Legal Education, 2008 have been noted in the last couple of months, flagging undesired attention. In most of the legal education institutions, the students to teacher ratio is completely contrary to the BCI mandate. Many of the teaching staff are not NET/JRF qualified and are thus ineligible to render services as faculty members of law schools recognized by the Bar Council of India.

In Nidhi Bobal vs Jamia Hamdard & Ors case alleging non-compliance of the statutory provisions and regulations concerning legal education, the Delhi High Court has directed the BCI to conduct an inspection of Jamia Hamdard University’s Institute of Legal Studies and Research (HILSR) and assess whether the teachers engaged for the LL.B course are in line with the BCI Education Rules, 2008. The Court also preferred a notice to HILSAR, University Grants Commission and Bar Council of India in the petition. It was claimed by the petitioner that the concerned Law Department has two permanent and two contractual teachers for an entire academic year to teach batches of first-year and second-year students of law, which comprises 240 students.

The court order has also put to risk the law degrees awarded earlier as these have been termed as ‘invalid’. After the Delhi High Court Order on December, 2019, a list published by the BCI states that only those students have a ‘valid degree’ who have taken admission till the year 2016-17. This implies that the student who has taken admission after 2016-17 and will graduate in the coming years or presently will receive a law degree which is ‘not valid’.

In a similar case, the admissions to the Ambedkar Government Law College at Puducherry for the next academic year have run into rough weather following the decision of the BCI to stop enrollment if the college authorities fail to comply with the Rules of Legal Education 2008 of providing adequate faculty and infrastructure.

Learning from such incidents, the BCI in a circular in recent February had pointed out the absence of a whole-time Principal, shortcomings in core faculty in law and non-law subjects, lack of availability of prescribed books and non-compliance of rules on semester exam, teaching hours and moot court exercise in law colleges will be treated as ‘willful defaults’. The BCI has also gone ahead in talking of a moratorium on approval of new colleges across the country saying it shall be relaxed only if courts give a direction. The courts, however, have expressed disappointment over the opening of too many private law colleges in the country.

At the time when the BCI is tightening entry rules for the law colleges, the Tamil Nadu government has relaxed norms to establish private self-financing law colleges now making itself a State with the highest number of private law colleges in South India. Earlier, permission was given only if the college was located within four to 10 acres of land parcel and that to within a 15-km radius of a district court or sessions court. Now the condition about the radius is relaxed to 30 kms by making amendments to the Tamil Nadu Establishment of Private Law Colleges (Regulation) Rules, 2018. The new rule increased the number of private law colleges by 13 and the State at present is questioning the issue of quality.

Though our two institutions marking themselves to the top is a good sign, to find the noted institutions in the country and progressive States regressing on their academic standards is certainly not desired. The way forward is simple. The legal regulators should further tighten the screws of bare compliance. The emphasis on quality, rather than quantity is what legal education in India demands today. Hope the QS rankings give regulators a shot in the arm to create an institutional transformation that will enable the more legal 

educators to benchmark themselves internationally.

Share this