The Supreme Court’s recent decision in National Law University (NLU) Jodhpur v. Prashant Mehta & Ors sent ripples through the hallowed halls of India’s premier legal education institutions. A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia expressed grave concern about NLU Jodhpur’s (NLUJ) dependence on contractual appointments for teaching staff, calling it “unacceptable and undesirable.”
This ruling, which calls into question the very foundation of how NLUs function, has sparked a debate about the role of contractual appointments at NLUs that have consistently secured high ranks in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).
NIRF rankings are a matter of reputation for Indian academic institutions, and NLUs have consistently outperformed their peers, demonstrating their outstanding contribution to legal education. However, beneath these accolades lies a crucial concern - the prevalence of ad-hoc-ism.
The case of NLU Jodhpur is really not isolated; it serves as a catalyst for a detailed analysis of staffing policies in other NLUs also.
This article will delve into the status of contractual appointments at NLUs that participated in the NIRF rankings for 2023. The data submitted by these institutes to NIRF has been taken into consideration for this purpose.
The participating NLUs include:
National Law School of India University Bangalore (NLSIU)
National Law Institute University Bhopal (NLIU)
NALSAR University of Law Hyderabad (NALSAR)
West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences Kolkata (NUJS)
Gujarat National Law University Gandhinagar (GNLU)
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University Lucknow (RMLNLU)
Chanakya National Law University Patna (CNLU)
National University of Advanced Legal Studies Kochi (NUALS)
National Law University Delhi (NLU Delhi)
Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University Visakhapatnam (DSNLU)
National Law University Odisha Cuttack (NLUO)
National University of Study and Research in Law Ranchi (NUSRL)
National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam (NLUJA)
Maharashtra National Law University Nagpur (MNLUN)
NLUs like National Law University Jodhpur (NLUJ), Hidayatullah National Law University Raipur (HNLU), Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Punjab (RGNUL), Tamil Nadu National Law University Tiruchirappalli (TNNLU), Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai (MNLUM), Maharashtra National Law University Aurangabad (MNLUA), Himachal Pradesh National Law University Shimla (HPNLU), Dharmashastra National Law University Jabalpur (DNLU), Dr BR Ambedkar National Law University Sonipat (DBRANLU), Sikkim National Law University, Gangtok (SNLU), National Law University Tripura (NLUT), Gujarat National Law University Silvassa (GNLU Silvassa) and National Law University Meghalaya (NLUM) did not participate in the NIRF rankings for 2023.
As a result, they have been excluded from the study. While the Supreme Court’s rebuke focuses attention on NLU Jodhpur, a critical question continues to remain: are all these contractual appointments common elsewhere, and if so, what repercussions do they have on the legal education ecosystem? We unearth the current situation, questioning whether NLUs can genuinely preserve their standing as “institutions of excellence” while having revolving doors for teaching staff.
Faculty composition at NLUs
Note: Following the release of the data,
When the staffing patterns at the above NLUs are examined, a stark discrepancy can be noticed, especially while comparing the number of non-regular teachers to the respective institution’s year of establishment. NLU Delhi, which was established in 2008, has the largest number of non-regular teachers (80). RMLNLU Lucknow, which was established in 2005, presents an opposite picture, with no non-regular teachers on board. This dramatic disparity highlights the changing dynamics of faculty composition over time and calls for a critical study into the causes behind these staffing decisions.
It is imperative to stress upon the importance of retaining a cadre of regular teachers at NLUs. Permanent academic staff serve as a stabilising factor in academic institutions, assuring consistency, quality and enduring mentorship for students. Their continuous presence supports academic coherence and significantly contributes to the university’s research capacity. The importance of having a core group of teachers who are invested in the mission of the institution and its students cannot be underestimated, and this concept is especially relevant in the context of legal education, where pedagogical guidance and intellectual engagement assume utmost importance.
Strength in numbers: The faculty size of India’s National Law Universities
The strength of faculty is typically indicative of an institution’s capacity to impart education and in turn shape the future legal minds. Teachers form the backbone of any academic institution; NLUs being no exception. If we look at the rankings based on the strength of teachers (all inclusive) among these NLUs, it becomes clear that some NLUs have a large number of faculty members, while some trail closely behind.
The table below sheds light on the strength of faculty members, and thereby, the institutions’ ability to engage with students, undertake research and contribute to the country’s legal landscape.
NLU Delhi stands at the forefront, boasting the highest overall number of teachers, with a staggering 120 individuals imparting legal education within its walls. NALSAR Hyderabad comes in second with 69 teachers, while NUJS Kolkata rounds out the list of top three with 65 faculty members. This numerical imbalance in teacher strength has implications for both, the diversity of courses offered and the possibility of students having access to a greater range of expertise. It implies that larger number of faculty members may be better able to teach specialised subjects and provide a more comprehensive legal education.
A particularly noteworthy case in this analysis is NLU Jodhpur, which, as the Supreme Court’s recent judgment emphasizes, currently operates without any regular teacher despite the Rajasthan High Court quashing the University’s regulations on appointing teachers on contractual basis way back in 2019. While some NLUs seek to achieve a balance of regular and non-regular faculty, NLUJ’s complete lack of regular teachers makes it a unique case study. It emphasises the need of having a stable and devoted core faculty group, as advocated by the apex court. The situation at NLUJ serves as a clear reminder for NLUs to prioritise the recruitment of regular teachers to ensure long-term educational excellence.
Assessing stability: Percentage of regular teachers at NLUs
The percentage of regular teachers is a significant indicator in legal academia, demonstrating an institution’s dedication to stability and consistency in legal education. The table below ranks NLUs according to the percentage of regular teachers.
Non-participation in ranking process: A concern for transparency
When NLUs choose not to participate in the NIRF rankings, it raises questions regarding accountability within these institutions. Rankings enable institutions to highlight their strengths and areas of competence while also suggesting scope for improvement. Non-participation might be perceived as an attempt to evade scrutiny, undermining principles of transparency and accountability. This lack of transparency might make it difficult for stakeholders to appropriately assess the academic standards and performance of the institutions. Authorities and institutions must, therefore, encourage participation in the ranking process.
Rankings can also be used as a standard against which institutions can compare their performance and identify areas for improvement. When NLUs do not participate, they miss out on the opportunity to compare themselves to their counterparts, thus undermining their competitiveness and attractiveness to prospective students and faculty members. The decision to withdraw from the ranking process has a number of implications, affecting transparency in faculty composition, fund allocation and long-term complications for academic standards in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.
The recent Supreme Court decision has sparked an important debate about staffing arrangements at NLUs. This decision, which calls into question the reliance on contractual appointments at NLUs, highlights the basic difficulty of retaining a stable and committed core faculty in these institutions.
One striking aspect that emerges from our analysis is the wide range of percentage of regular teachers in these NLUs. While institutions like RMLNLU Lucknow have achieved a commendable 100% regular teaching staff, others like DSNLU Vizag have a significantly lower percentage, raising questions about the implications of such disparities on academic standards. This stark contrast underscores the complex dynamics at play when it comes to faculty compositions, calling for a more in-depth examination of the factors influencing these staffing choices.
The composition of teachers at NLUs plays a pivotal role in shaping the quality of legal education in India. The Supreme Court’s decision on contractual appointments serves as a crucial reminder for NLUs to prioritise regular faculty appointments in order to ensure long-term educational excellence. It is important for NLUs and authorities to participate in ranking process in order to foster transparency and accountability, which will benefit the entire higher education sector in the long run. As we evaluate these data, we must consider the disparities in the percentage of regular teachers and work collectively to ensure a more consistent and stable future for legal education in India.
Ayush Jaiswal is an Assistant Professor at National Law Institute University, Bhopal.
Shudhanshu Pratap is a Research Associate at National Law Institute University, Bhopal.