- Apprentice Lawyer
It has been more than four months since the Covid pandemic has affected, amongst other things, legal education in India. From the middle of March onwards, Indian law schools began suspending classes, and asking their students to vacate the hostels.
A month later, the Bar Council of India stepped into the picture, asking all legal education institutions to move online, and “cover the syllabus as far as practicable”. The presumption being that offline classes would resume at some point in the near future, and that the academic calendar would not be unduly disturbed.
By the end of April, the University Grants Commission too came out with a series of guidelines on how Indian universities can go about the rest of the academic calendar, including the conducting of examinations.
In the first week of June, when it was clear that Covid was here to stay, the BCI issued guidelines for the promotion of law students into the next year, barring those in their final year of study. For final-year students, the BCI said that they be allowed to either sit for online examinations or be subject to “any other” method deemed appropriate by the concerned University.
Earlier this month though, the UGC issued another set of guidelines, this time recommending that the final semester examinations for final-year students be completed by September 30, 2020. This subsequently became the subject matter of multiple litigations, including before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.
Whatever be the final decision , what we at Bar & Bench wanted to know was what the ground reality was. How are Indian law schools coping with the Covid pandemic, and what are the problems faced by Indian law students.
Which is why we came up with the first Law Student Survey of the year. More than one thousand five-hundred Indian law students took part in the survey, where they were asked questions on how their law school had dealt with the Covid pandemic, and what the future plans were.
This is what we found.
With the aid of our Campus Ambassadors, we managed to collected responses from students in more than a hundred and twenty law faculties and universities across the country. The survey had participants from a wide mix of private and public institutions, as well as across the three-year and five-year law courses.
The highest number of participants were from Christ Deemed University, with over one hundred (120) participants. Next was Amity Law School Noida (87), Banaras Hindu University (80) and HNLU Raipur (66).
In terms of demographics, the respondents were spread across the years, with the maximum participation (501) from those in the second year of the law course. There were more than three hundred (335) from the fourth year and more than two hundred (225) from the fifth year.
What they said
Respondents were asked a number of questions on their law school’s response to the Covid pandemic.
Has your law school clearly communicated plans for the coming semester?
While 46.1% of all respondents say that has been the case, 52% say that there has been no communication in this regard.
What are these plans?
Things get even more interesting when you look at just what those plans are. For instance, only 21.8% of the respondents say that the plan is to go completely online, while 15.5% say that it will be a mix of online and offline classes.
Have the end-semester examinations been completed?
Only 14.1% of the respondents say that the examinations for the previous semester have been completed, around 25.1% claim that their exams have been cancelled, while more than half the respondents (51.8%) have yet to sit for their exams.
Has your law school helped you with online internships?
More than seventy per cent of the respondents (71%) said that they had not received any help when it came to online internships, while a quarter (25.3%) claimed that they had received some form of institutional support when it came to internships.
How prepared is your institution to go completely online?
Roughly one-fifth (18.9%) of all respondents say that their school is completely unprepared for online classes, and about one-tenth (10.7%) say that their institution is completely prepared. More than a third (30.4%) say that their school is somewhat prepared for online classes.
Where things get really interesting is the comments section that was the final part of the survey. For instance, there are serious concerns about issues over access when it comes to online classes. At the same time, there are questions over employability, and when final-year examinations will be completed.
There are also complaints about exams and vivas being conducted with a day's notice, and the arbitrary allotment of marks for online assignments. One student, who was asked to submit a project online, claims that the faculty did not even open the relevant email ("I know as I track all my mails") before awarding "arbitrary" marks.
On the positive side, there are comments which indicate that some law schools are taking proactive steps to ensure that the online learning experience is as hassle free as possible.
All in all, these are testing times for both, law students and law schools, and the path ahead remains unclear. What is clear is that the safety of those on campus - working, studying, or teaching ought to be given the highest priority.
For, as one student wrote, "What am I supposed to be with a degree if I am dead?".
(Our gratitude to all our Campus Ambassadors who worked on this project)