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Dr. BC Nirmal is the Vice-Chancellor of National University of Study and Research In Law, Ranchi. In this interview with Bar & Bench, he talks about the changing role of a teacher in today’s legal education system, the difference between the students of NLUs and those of traditional univerisities and the state of affairs at NUSRL.
Bar & Bench: You’ve been teaching for more than 35 years now. Tell us about your academic career.
Dr. B C Nirmal: I completed my LL.M. in 1974 and got a teaching job in a degree college. From there, I came to Banaras University as a temporal lecturer in 1976. I worked on my thesis there and became a lecturer, then a reader, and then a Professor in 1998. As per tradition at Banaras University, every teacher is expected to have one subject of specialization and one of non-specialization. Although International Law, Human Rights and Labour Law were my areas of specialization, I had the opportunity to teach almost all subjects, including IPC, Cr.P.C, Contracts, Civil Remedies, and Jurisprudence etc.
During this period, I had to struggle hard, but I got support from certain well-meaning people because of my sincerity and commitment to the academic profession. I am the Vice- President of the Indian Society of International Law. I won the election for the governing body of the Indian Law Institute. I am presently the Vice-President of the All-Indian Law Teachers Congress. I am also on the Equity Council of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association. During these years, I’ve published around 130 articles in reputed national and international journals. I am also on the editorial board for a number international journals. I’ve also published six books.
B&B: How would you compare the teachers of today with those of your generation?
BCN: Everybody is a product of his own time, so it’s difficult to compare teachers of today with teachers of yesteryear. The latter had very limited means of acquiring knowledge, so their responsibility was more than that of today’s teachers. Today, because of technology, it is very easy for a student to know whatever he wants to know about a particular topic. Those days, teachers were the only sources of knowledge for the students. Now, teachers are more like facilitators. We had to inspire our students, provide them with information, and impart wise counselling.
The role of the teacher has changed, and the requirements of the market have played a major part. Today, nobody bothers about the in-depth study of a subject; only researchers can think about that, and that is because the market is not concerned with it. They want people who can work for them, so employability is the main criterion, not knowledge. Superficial knowledge serves the purpose, provided you are comfortable with English. But, in the olden days, every teacher aspired to be a scholar, and it was also very difficult to become one. Nowadays, because of the internet, everybody can become a specialist in an area by cutting and pasting articles. Earlier, there was an information gap of around 20 years between the research being done in the US and the research in India.
Students of traditional universities have higher regard for their teachers than students of NLUs. You may criticize traditional universities, but one thing is very clear – most of the students are very obedient; that has been my experience. But here, the relationship between teacher and student is quite different. There has been a rethink on the role of educational institutions with respect to the market. They have become like companies incorporate. Nowadays, teachers are seen as service providers and students as consumers! If you can provide them with placements, then you’re doing your job well, if you cannot, you are not. This is how institutions are being rated by students and their parents. So, the emphasis is not on the acquisition of higher knowledge, but on placements.
B&B: Do you still find time to teach, given the fact that you have administrative duties?
BCN: I love teaching, I’ve taken a few classes. But, I am yet to get accustomed to the environment of national law universities. I have come from quite a different background. As far as my research is concerned, I never allow my administrative duties to come in the way of my research. I try to get at least five articles a year published in order to satisfy my academic urge. Over the years, writing has become part of my habit, and I cannot spend a day without writing.
B&B: How would you compare the five-year course with the three-year one?
BCN: The supporters of the five-year course believe that it is the only mode of imparting high quality legal education. This doesn’t mean that traditional universities who offer the three-year course aren’t rendering adequate services to law students. In India, we recognize diversity in all fields – from culture and language to style and habits. Likewise, there is a diversity of needs of the people of this country. Some need legal services at the district level, others at the High court level, and very few at the Supreme Court level. In the legal service market, there are different types of demands. Law colleges, whether they follow the five-year model or the three-year model should try to fulfil that particular demand. So, the question is not which is better than the other; the real question is whether they are serving the needs of society.
The five-year course has glorified legal education. In the past, it was said that those who could not get in anywhere else took up law! But that situation has changed, now there is a very good image of the B.A.LLB. (Hons.) course. One thing I’ve noticed is that students want to learn on their own. They don’t just want bookish knowledge, but are more interested in application of legal knowledge. Another thing is that universities which offer the five-year course place emphasis on internships and placements a lot more. This means that the students are more interested in getting jobs in firms or corporate houses, their main preference is not the Bar.
In my opinion, the purpose of introducing a specialised five year course was to produce good lawyers who can join the Bar, who in turn become good Judges of tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is not happening, simply because, after five years, students have less inclination to join the Bar.
B&B: How has the transition to the new campus been?
BCN: When I came to this university in 2013, it was being run from three or four rooms in BIT Ranchi. We planned to move into our new campus from the next academic session, which began in July 2014. There were and are many problems with regard to financing. The state government has only given us a one-time grant of 50 crore. The engineering service provider we hired are demanding 86 crore for the construction they have made so far. But, somehow, we have been able to come to our own campus, despite all the difficulties.
B&B: What are the problems faced by NUSRL at the moment and what changes do you plan to make as the VC?
BCN: I want to make it a world class school of law, provided I get support from all stakeholders. The first and foremost thing we need is adequate funding from the state government, so that we may pay the amounts due to the CPWD and others. We need a Moot Court Hall, which is a necessary requirement under the BCI rules. We also need an auditorium, where at least 600 students can be seated. Only once these things are done can we ensure the holistic development of the students. We need to produce competent lawyers, who can compete with law graduates of other NLUs.
We are fortunate to have so much land, the campus is about 70-80 acres. It’s too much if you ask me! We don’t have residences for the VC, the Registrar or the teachers. As a consequence, we are not in a position to give as much attention to our students as is needed. You’ll find that the area around the university is quite desolate. So, security and safety of the students is a main concern. These problems can be solved if residential accommodation for the faculty is made on campus.
I’ve noticed that our students have been doing very well in Moot Court competitions. For them to do better, we need to develop our library to make it world class. We also need experienced teachers of the ranks of Professor, Associate Professor and Visiting Professor. Teachers and students are two sides of the same coin. Any university will thrive as long as there are good teachers and students. Infrastructure is not as important. I plan to place emphasis on the recruitment of quality teachers in the days to come.
B&B: How does a relatively new university like NUSRL attract quality faculty?
BCN: That is a big challenge faced not only by us, but also by other national law universities. Again, it comes down to a lack of budgetary support from the state government. Ours is a self-financed institution. We’ve had to manage with whatever resources we get from the state government Bar Council, private sector etc. The government talks a lot about higher education, but they have little to offer to develop universities of higher education.
B&B: Don’t you think the fees charged at NLUs is a little on the higher side?
BCN: I can speak only for our university, and the reason our fees is so high is because we have no budgetary support from the government. We manage ourselves largely through the students’ fees.
B&B: Is there any provision for financial assistance of students?
BCN: I plan to approach the state government saying that they should provide assistance to students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections of society. There are such provisions in other NLUs.
B&B: Has there been any resistance to the compulsory mooting rule at NUSRL?
BCN: This is one of the unique features of our institution. A moot problem is given to the students in every law subject as part of the curriculum. This is the reason why they are doing very well in Moot Court competitions.
B&B: In order to compete with the best universities in the world, there is a need for quality faculty in Indian law universities. What needs to be done to encourage law graduates to pursue academics?
BCN: Firstly, there should be a desire to teach, and that can only come from within. Contrary to the general perception that anybody can teach, it is a very difficult job. Teachers are considered as performers under the Copyright Act. If we can provide good salary to prospective teachers, they will certainly be encouraged to join the teaching profession. There exists a shortage of jobs in the market; even students of NLUs are facing this problem. So, if there is an attractive package, they may be tempted to teach.
B&B: How has NUSRL’s CLAT experience been?
BCN: I cannot say much, but it is generally believed that the quality of students who get into universities through CLAT is better. But, I believe that you can find good students in traditional universities as well.