The recent furore at National Law University, Odisha (NLUO) against chronic maladministration, arbitrary fee hikes, lack of a library and the dilapidated state of girls’ hostel yet again exposes the plight of National Law Universities (NLUs) across the country.
A few months ago, students of the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Patiala carried out multiple rounds of protests over the suspension of six students who raised objections to the quality of food being served in the mess.
Similarly, students of the newly established Himachal Pradesh National Law University (HPNLU) also protested the lack of basic amenities – food and infrastructure – at their university.
Lack of basic amenities
The protest over the quality of mess food clearly reflects the sad state of affairs at NLUs where students are not only being deprived of basic necessities but are also being arbitrarily suspended for staging protests.
NLUs are single-disciplined state universities which were established to transform the state of legal education in India.
However, over the past few years, NLUs have been struggling to effectively manage their everyday affairs. Forget quality legal education, some are not even sure of how long they are going to survive. The lack of infrastructure and basic amenities, in my opinion, are a few of the many reasons behind the same.
NLUs, being the state universities (as classified by the University Grants Commission (UGC) as they established under the State Act), are facing shortage of funds. They are surviving on the limited grants offered by the respective state governments which are not sufficient for their sustenance.
On top of that, the NLUs don’t get regular grants from the UGC due to which they have to independently raise funds to manage affairs. However, that too has its own limitations because there is an extent to which the NLUs can independently function.
The insufficient funding has spiralled into innumerable problems at these universities.
Shortage of funds
The most direct effect of fund crunch is students being deprived of proper residential facilities and other basic amenities.
This has also lead to NLUs charging exorbitant fee from students, forcing many to take educational loan in order to finish their degrees. This has been restricting the career choice of law graduates who, willingly or unwillingly, are applying for high-paying corporate jobs.
There are only a few students who are opting for a career in litigation or academia and this, in turn, has limited the pool of students going for masters and doctorate in law. This has had an adverse impact on the quality of teaching in NLUs.
There is little or almost negligible attention given to research in the country which is evident by the lack of resources. In addition, many students pursue the bachelor’s degree (in law) with a vocational mindset. Taken altogether, these have not degraded the quality of teachers (save a few) but have also lowered the standard of teaching in these university.
Furthermore, the good teachers are preferring private universities over NLUs as they offer a salary many times higher than that of the NLUs.
There have been allegations of corruption and maladministration against top officials which is ultimately making the overall governance less efficient. The state agencies exercise a very limited control over the NLUs and therefore, there is very limited accountability that remains in running of these institutions.
All in all, the lack of accountability of the top officials coupled with minimal transparency in the use of allocated funds has led to a deplorable state of affairs at the NLUs.
Hence, the NLU students have resorted to protests and agitations to call out the financial irregularities and mis-governance in their colleges.
These NLUs are relatively new as compared to other public institutions in the country. Therefore, being at a nascent stage, a determined and efficient leadership was required to build these institutions. However, there has been a dearth of the same in many NLUs which has, in many cases, led to the stagnation and even downfall of some of them.
The state and central government’s neglect towards these institutions is also one of the reasons behind the dismal state of these institutions.
In many cases, the state governments give the universities a cold shoulder when they ask for funds.
The NLUs are placed under the law ministry and not under the higher education ministry which, I believe, is a major cause of their neglect. For the law ministry, the administration of the NLUs become a secondary concern.
The minuscule intake of these institutions is another reason for their neglect. A university, with a strength of about 1000 or less, is not considered politically significant to make investments.
The NLUs which were supposed to be torch bearers in terms of improving the quality of legal education in the country are battling for their own existence. Most of these so-called premier institutions are failing to achieve the objective for which they were established.
There have been demands in the past to grant the Institute of National Importance (INI) status to the NLUs which will help in solving the problem of fund crunch as the INIs get funding directly from the central government under the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s budget for higher education.
The problems, however, are deep-rooted and many folds – from deplorable quality of faculty to sloppy administration and poor infrastructure. Each of these should be addressed at its own level in a systematic manner otherwise many of these institute will crumble in the near future.
Prabudh Singh recently graduated from National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad
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