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The topic of the exorbitant cost of legal education has assumed the spotlight once again, this time at India’s oldest NLU, National School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore.
Students are up in arms over a 25% hike in the annual fees at NLSIU, introduced through a notification dated June 15. The fee at NLSIU has been increased to Rs. 2,30,500, from Rs. 1,83,800 per annum.
As per a statement released by the student community at NLSIU, the hike was introduced without prior consultation with the student body.
The minutes of a meeting held with the Executive Council and the 53rd Finance Committee of the University reveal a justification for the fee hike. It is noted that since the income of NLSIU has reached a “flat graph”, the need has arisen to increase the yearly fee of the students by Rs. 20,000.
The statement also reveals that Chairperson of the UG Council Prof Rahul Singh had submitted a note to NLSIU Vice-Chancellor Prof Venkata Rao recommending a 25% increase in the existing fee structure due to “proposed implementation of 7th Pay Commission”.
The student body fears that in the absence of a fee waiver scheme, the fee hike will cause students from marginalised communities to drop out. Further, it is apprehended that students from middle-income families will be forced to take student loans, which in turn will limit their career choices.
“This exponential increase in the cost of legal education at the National Law School, Bangalore is also likely to push even individual students from middle-income families to fund their degrees through student loans. Thereby, pushing students across class and castes into an early debt trap enslaved to their loans and impacting their levels of confidence, creating anxieties about their future after graduation while at the same time also inhibiting their ability to make career decisions and deepening the prevalent conformism towards securing high paying jobs in the corporate legal sector, especially impacting those students exploring a diverse range of careers that are radically different from the mainstream…”
The fee hike will alter the demographic and social composition of NLSIU, thereby resulting in exclusionary legal education, the statement avers.
In light of these apprehensions, the student body has urged the Executive Council of NLSIU to roll back the fee hike for the BA.LL.B, LL.M, and M.P.P programmes at the University.
“Further, we believe that if at all, any planned expenditure or deficit in the financial budget of the University is to be met, it must be done so by increasing the fees of only the incoming batch…”
Reference is also made to recognise National Law Universities as ‘Institutes of National Importance (INIs)’, a demand that has been raised by student bodies of various NLUs. In fact, even the Supreme Court had raised this issue last year.
The fee issue is not limited to NLSIU alone; several NLUs charge even more than two and a half lakhs a year. While NLSIU is a completely self-financed University, most other NLUs often have to rely on state governments for funding. And as has often been the case, such funding is hard to come by, for various reasons.
Perhaps recognising NLUs as INIs and putting them under the aegis of the Central government will solve this issue. Until then, the annual fee will continue to act as a deterrent for pursuing legal education at India’s premier institutions.