N.K. JAYAKUMAR, whose term as the Vice-Chancellor of NUALS ended on December 31, speaks to G. KRISHNAKUMAR about the university, the state of legal education in the country and the need for curriculum improvement.
N.K. Jayakumar , whose four-year term as Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), headquartered in Kochi, ended on December 31, says the quality of legal education in the country can be stepped up through continuous curriculum reforms. A renowned legal scholar having rich academic experience and administrative acumen, Dr. Jayakumar elaborates on his achievements and shares thoughts on the falling standards of legal research and the stereotyped examination system in an interview to The Hindu-EducationPlus .
How could you transform the academic and administrative capabilities of the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS) during your tenure as its Vice-Chancellor?
My first priority was improving infrastructure and shifting the university to the campus at Kalamassery. I made a resolve that if I could not start work on the new campus within one year, I would resign and go. When that deadline was about to expire, there was a positive sign from the State government, which agreed to be the guarantor of a Rs. 10-crore bank loan. That decision gave me the confidence to start work on the campus at an estimated cost of Rs. 24 crore for first phase and Rs. 12 crore for the second phase. The first phase was completed in a record 15 months. Five buildings with a total plinth area of over 1,00,000 sq.ft were completed. They included the academic block, amenities centre, hostels for boys and girls and faculty apartments. Meanwhile, I was able to mobilise a grant from the UGC and Plan grant from the government for the second phase of campus development, which includes the administrative block, a library, an open-air theatre, a stadium and a rainwater harvesting pond. The administrative block will have a convocation hall with a seating capacity of 850, a seminar hall, a council hall and a residential facility, in addition to the offices of the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Finance Officer and Controller of Examinations. All these works are progressing fast and will be completed before March-end. With the infrastructure requirements fulfilled, the university can now confidently focus on academic excellence. Though my priority was campus development, equal importance was given to improving the quality of academic activities. The entire campus is Wi-Fi-enabled. Library resources have been augmented substantially during the past four years. The faculty was strengthened with recruitment of more regular teachers and empanelling a lot of distinguished persons as visiting and guest faculties. The syllabus of the BA LL.B. Honours programme was thoroughly revamped and brought under the credit-and-semester system. The LL.M. programme was started with two optionals, namely Constitutional and Administrative Law and International Trade Law. Two postgraduate diploma programmes in Medical Law and Ethics and Cyber Law were started. A periodic review of the progress of Ph.D. research of each scholar was introduced. To improve the quality of research, a rigorous course work was introduced. Concrete steps have been initiated to start one more batch of the BA LL.B. Honours course with BA (Finance and Taxation) as the basic degree. No other university in India is offering such a course and it is bound to attract the best students from all over India. Academic collaboration agreements have been signed with a number of foreign universities in the past four years. To widen the academic perspectives of the university, I had signed agreements with the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Kerala University of Health Sciences for collaborative programmes. Meaningful academic ties were developed with the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. For a more focussed study and research on areas of social concern, seven centres were established under NUALS. Steps have been initiated to start a peer-reviewed research journal, the first issue of which is to be released in March. The ranking of the university in terms of the options registered by the applicants for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) has been steadily going up in the past four years. With visionary leadership and committed and dedicated efforts, the university can very well become the most preferred destination for legal studies in our country.
Could you recommend the steps that should be taken to revise the curriculum, research, and examination system in law schools across the country?
The core curriculum for the LL.B. course follows the guidelines laid down by the Bar Council of India and is common for all institutions of legal education across the country. It is to a great extent modern and relevant. The problem however lies in the delivery of the courses through institutions which lack infrastructure, competent faculty and motivated students. The success story of the national law universities and a few other institutions such as ILS Law College, Pune, reveals that they have added substantially to the core curriculum by including courses in emerging areas of law, which offer better opportunities for the law graduates. These institutions have better infrastructure, more competent faculty and naturally more serious and motivated students. While it may be impossible to duplicate these factors in all the institutions of legal education across the country (nearly 1,000 in number), it will definitely be possible to improve the conditions substantially starting with curriculum reform. The pity is that nobody considers curriculum reform as a continuous process. The UGC, for instance, formulated a model curriculum for both LL.B. and LL.M. courses in the 1990s. But nothing was done thereafter. It is not desirable to bring the curriculum of all law schools in India within a rigid framework. There should be sufficient flexibility to accommodate subjects of local concern and relevance. There is tremendous scope for introducing add-on courses for students who are really interested. I have successfully done this in NUALS with add-on courses in Banking Law, Climate change and Law, Law of Outer Space, and Competition Law offered by external experts and received well by students. To tell an unpleasant truth, the state of legal research in our country is in a very bad shape. Open defence system, aptitude test for admission, course work, etc., have not resulted in any visible change in the quality of research. If an objective study of the research output of those who have been granted JRF by the UGC is made, it would certainly reveal how grossly public funds are wasted. The same would be the case with the faculty improvement programme. I have often wondered whether the system of ‘compulsory research’ by teachers needs a re-look. When a research degree is linked with increments and promotion, every teacher, whether he/she has research aptitude or not, is keen on acquiring a research degree by any means. This has led to unhealthy practices in the field of research. Legal research can play a very important role by making valuable inputs to the process of law making as well as the interpretation and application of law. It can thus improve the quality of justice delivered to the common people. Unfortunately, in our institutions of legal education, research takes a back seat. The National Knowledge Commission has recommended the setting up of centres of advanced legal studies and research in at least four regions in India. Whether such centres should be standalone institutions or part of the existing law universities is a debatable point. The examination system in general is stereotyped and demands minimum effort from an intelligent student. The system of continuous assessment followed in the law universities and a few other institutions is definitely far better. However, whether we can successfully introduce such a system in all the law colleges is rather doubtful because of the numbers involved as well as the possibility of different types of bias vitiating the assessment. Even in the conventional type of examinations, questions which will test the analytical acumen, reasoning skills and the ability to draw proper conclusions can be introduced in the place of essay and short-note questions.
What is your take on the demand for a new regulator for law education in the country considering the changing domestic and international needs and challenges?
A new regulator for legal education with representatives from the national law universities, the deans of law faculties, the judiciary and the legal profession merits serious consideration.