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Dr. Purvi Pokhariyal has been at the helm of affairs at the Institute of Law, NIRMA University since the very beginning. In this interview with Bar & Bench, she talks about the differences between a private university and a public one, resolving student complaints and the future of Indian legal education.
Bar & Bench: You have been at this institute since its inception. Where were you before that?
Prof. Purvi: I was at Faculty of Law at the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in Baroda. In 2005, GNLU was started. That year we had a discussion at MSU on whether we too should start offering the 5-year course. I was the pioneer in bringing the 5- year degree program at MSU, being the program coordinator. And it was wonderful because we had the best of the faculties from different streams.
Then when NIRMA wanted to start a 5-year course, they asked me whether I would head it and I accepted.
B&B: What is your opinion of this institute?
PP: To be very honest, though we are a private university, we have a very rigorous academic curriculum. Our students are engaged in the teaching process for close to six hours a day, including the tutorials and practical work etc. But I suppose one of the challenges we face, along with other law schools, is the dearth of experienced faculty members. And we are no exception.
We have very young faculty members, those who would really like to prove themselves in the academic field.
B&B: But as a private university, can’t you afford higher salaries for faculty?
PP: We have started thinking about offering higher salaries but till now we have been following the UGC norms and the UGC structure. We may give a slightly higher salary but only if all the UGC norms and criteria have been met.
I am very happy to announce that Professor Pillai [of the National Judicial Academy] has consented to be with us as a research chair professor in criminal law. Then Justice C.K.Thakur is regularly visiting for constitution law and administrative law. Then we are getting Prof. Vidyut Joshi to take courses in the field of law and sociology.
We have initiated the process of having senior people but till now we have been facing the problem of [not having] experienced faculty members.
B&B: And in terms of student admissions?
PP: We admit students purely on basis of CLAT and we don’t have any other admission criteria. There is no domicile or reservation in any category. Everything is transparent and published on our website.
I think we have got a better quality of students compared to the second tier or a third tier national law school, if you take the average CLAT score. I think the quality of students has been improving over time.
B&B: Will your institute be a part of the CLAT law schools in the near future?
PP: We have proposed the idea and I am told that it has been discussed by the CLAT Committee. The final decision has not yet come out but even otherwise, we have been writing to all the national schools from 2010 onwards saying that we want to be a part of the CLAT. They have a legitimate right to put forth their terms and conditions, and we are very much ready to adhere to these conditions.
B&B: Apart from faculty, what do you think needs to be worked on with respect to your institute?
PP: We have a system where we feel that students have to be engaged in the teaching – learning process. On the other side there is kind a trend where students are only in classes for three hours a day and otherwise they are roaming about. There is a perception in the mind of the student that too much of engagement in the teaching-learning process will not ultimately help us out. That poses a greater challenge and dilemma for me as a head of the institute – which way is to be adopted because there are pros and cons for both the systems.
B&B: From the students, I hear that there are a lot of rules and a lack of freedom.
PP: See what we can do is to take them into confidence when we are framing rules. Let them be a part of process of making rules and regulations. I feel that talking to them, taking them into confidence in the whole process will make some difference.
B&B: What do you think is the best way to resolve the student administrative divide?
PP: Talk to them. At times, what happens in the administration is that the person at the helm of affairs does not get the time for constant interaction. Half of the problems are solved once you listen to them carefully. Of course, there is a limit to this.
We have seen certain situations in different law schools where everything is administered by the students and even the alumni intervention is too much. I am not in favour of such a scenario.
There should be equal participation of students in the decision making process but leaving this solely in the hands of the students should not take place.
B&B: Say a student has some problems with a particular teacher, what are the steps that the student can take?
PP: We have a grievance redressal cell at three levels and students can write to these cells. There is also a deadline for resolving such complaints.
If you meet the students, I am pretty sure that the one problem they will all raise is having too much of teaching. But we have to follow what the Bar Council of India prescribes, that is five hours of teaching.
B&B: As a private university, do you see interference from the management? Say in terms of faculty hires?
PP: I have to consult with the management when it comes to hiring. And the management is quite supportive in terms of accepting whatever I have proposed so far.
But at the same time the only one constraint is that what the management does for the law institute, the same thing is to be done for other institutes within the NIRMA University. At times they may be convinced with the proposal of one particular institute but whether they are able to uniformly accept the proposal for all the institutes, that may be an issue.
B&B: Do you think the fees are on the higher side?
PP: I suppose compared to the fee structure of other private law schools, our fee structure is quite reasonable. We provide air-conditioned class rooms, there is no dearth of finances when it comes to organizing any program, inviting speakers. I don’t think the fees is a major issue. In fact, the students have said that it is much less compared to what we are providing them.
B&B: What is your opinion about the ranking of law schools?
PP: We know how the ranking business works. I am not much in favor of [this] because at times these rankings misguide and mislead. My personal view is that there is currently no full proof or scientific method for conducting these rankings. At the most, you can highlight the features of all the law schools and let the student take the final decision.
B&B: Why should a student come to NIRMA?
PP: I would be very happy to discuss the curriculum structure and the systems we have in place. For instance, Soli Sorabjee is on the advisory column and he personally sees to what is being taught. Dushyant Dave holds discussions here on what we should focus on and what we should not.
Dr. Madhavav Menon stays here for two days, and we have been able to attract people to help us in mentoring the whole teaching learning process.
B&B: But do you think the 5-year course has become too oriented towards corporate employment?
PP: What I feel is that it all depends on the approach of a law school. And have seen two kinds of approaches – one is from preparing them for jobs with law firms and corporates. There is too much emphasis on internships, on soft skills etc. Another approach involves a real integration of the social sciences into the law program and not only to cater the needs of the law firms. We want to see our students to become good policy makers, to work with politicians, join litigation, and be exposed to social issues.
For example, we have been doing a project with the Sabarmati jail. We have started our own legal clinic in the premises of the Sabarmati central jail. Every week our own faculty members and students go there, listen to their problems and try and find out the legal solutions.
Recently we have taken a project on using mediation techniques to resolve disputes. We visit different villages and collect the number of pending litigations and the types of litigations. Then we try and resolve the issues via mediation. In fact, one particular village was declared as a litigation-free village.
I won’t claim that we are unique in what we are doing but there is a constant effort to improve.
I really feel law students should not only keep law firms and corporate jobs in their mind. Ultimately, they have a larger role to play for the nation. They should think about different career options. There are many other ways in which their potential can be utilized
B&B: Do they believe this?
PP: I think they do. In the graduating batch of 2015, very few students are opting for placements. They have ambitions to join political parties, the judiciary, and different NGOs. That is what I have seen.