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Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) recently released a report on its annual Diversity Survey, conducted at five leading National Law Universities (NLUs). The 2018-19 report captures the extent of diversity in the field of legal education in these institution.
The participating colleges in the survey were National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore; National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad; National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal; West Bengal National University for Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS), Kolkata; and National Law University, Delhi.
These NLUs were selected on the basis of student preferences, i.e. college preferences listed out by students in their application forms for the Common Law Admission Test (with the exception of NLU Delhi, which conducts its own entrance exam).
515 first-year students of these NLUs participated in IDIA's survey.
As was the case in previous surveys, the 2018-19 exercise also highlights a serious diversity deficit at what are perceived to be the top five NLUs.
Some of the key observations in the report are given as follows:
A significant number of students (5.63%) continue to secure admission under the NRI sponsored category. However, it is highlighted that the current structure of “NRI sponsored” seats at the various NLUs violates the Supreme Court decision in the P A Inamdar case, wherein it was held that NRI quota must be utilized in a bona fide manner for admitting only the children/ward of NRIs.
On the point of state domicile seats, the survey pointed out that the same continued to remain on a higher side with the inclusion of NLIU Bhopal reserving 40% of its seats for state domiciled students.
It was observed in the survey report that the highest regional representation was from Madhya Pradesh, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. One of the reasons for this can be attributed to the relatively higher populations in these states. Apart from this, the other reasons for this trend includes,
Significant reservation for state domiciled students in NLIU Bhopal (40%).
The large number of CLAT coaching centres in Bhopal over the years has in turn, promoted law as a career amongst various school students in the area.
Other striking observations under this head were:
Apart from the NCR of Delhi and Chandigarh, none of the other UTs find representation in the top five NLUs.
The North-Eastern states continue to be under-represented, with only 5 students: two from Assam and one each from Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura.
In the survey report, it was noted that there was a greater proportion of male students than females, in comparison with the earlier years. While the overall female representation has increased from 2016-17 (from 41% to 43.34%), there has been a decline in the gender ratio in the top NLUs with only 36 girls appearing in the top 100 rank holders.
The report stated that 6.21% of the surveyed students identified themselves as Persons with Disabilities (PWD). As per Section 32 of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, all government educational institutions and other educational institutions receiving aid from the government must reserve 5% seats for persons with disabilities.
Unfortunately, in practice, not all NLUs comply with this requirement, the report states. These issues were mentioned in the PIL filed before the Supreme Court by Prof Shamnad Basheer.
An overwhelming majority of the students’ parents (77.86%) were graduates. Only a minority (8.35%) reported being first generation learners. This, however, appears to be a slight improvement from the 6.05% of first-generation English learners reported in 2016-17, the report states.
On the point of parental support, it was noted that most of the students (93.98%) reported being supported by their parents in their decision to pursue law. This trend is again testimony to the fact that that law continues to be an attractive career option.
On the point of reasons for choosing law, the report highlighted that a majority of persons chose law as a career option out of self-motivation and only around 2.14% did so out of parental/family compulsion.
In line with the previous years reports, an astonishingly large number of students (96.50% of all students) came from schools where the medium of instruction was English. In this regard, the report points out,
"Needless to state, candidates who lack such English proficiency are disadvantaged at two levels: firstly, at the level of CLAT, an entrance examination that demands a high degree of proficiency in English; and secondly, at the level of the law school (in the event that they gain entry), given that most classes are conducted in fairly sophisticated English."
Out of 515 responses recorded, close to 50% of the students scored more than 90% in their Class XII board examinations, indicating that students with higher academic proficiency were making it to the higher-ranked NLUs.
It was further observed that the majority of students hailed from the science background in class 11 and 12, followed by commerce.
Interestingly, the largest proportion of students (33.20%) hail from households with an annual income of over Rs 15 lakh. If one were to consider INR 10 lakh or higher as the relevant cut-off, then the figure jumps to a significant 51.06% of the surveyed students. Hardly 7.5% of students belong to households earning an income of below INR 1 lakh.
A vast majority of students (87.38%) fund their education through parental support. However, it was observed that 8.93% were dependent on bank loans for their education.
The report emphasized that 79.03% of the students had gone for CLAT coaching. This demonstrates that coaching classes have now become an entrenched component of the exam preparation. This again serves as a marker of privilege, given the high costs associated with coaching centres, the report highlights.
LST continues to be the preferred coaching centre for students in the top five NLUs. However, only 46.15% students availed of LST coaching this year as against 54.27% students who availed of LST Coaching in 2016-17.
A rather troubling finding was the extent of social prejudice/discrimination faced bye students who took part in the survey. Nearly 54% of surveyed students were subject to discrimination/disparaging remarks (based on their political beliefs, language, caste, appearance etc.). In comparison with the previous year, there has been a massive surge in the regard, from nearly 28% to almost 54% this year, the report notes.
A sizeable number of students (nearly 22%) reported being at the receiving end of discriminatory remarks from even faculty members and administrative staff as well.
Over 50% of students reported difficulties in coping with/understanding the academic curriculum. In fact, the survey identified that most of the students whose schooling was in a vernacular tongue found the curriculum to be difficult.
Taking the various issues into account, IDIA has put forth the following suggestions to be considered:
The CLAT application fee at present is INR 4000, making it one of the highest entrance exam fees in India. The report notes that the MHRD Committee had found that Rs 1500 per candidate was a more reasonable fee and recommended that the same be charged per student.
This apart, it was suggested that more exam writing centres be established throughout the country so that students from remote areas are also able to access CLAT, coaching institutes be encouraged to provide more fee waivers/concessions and scholarships so that students from underprivileged backgrounds are able to avail of coaching, etc.
In order to overcome the difficulties reported by students in understanding the present academic curriculum, it was recommended that the Law schools institute robust academic support programmes. While some law schools have some support structures in place, the same should be strengthened and made more comprehensive and intensive, the report opined.
In this regard, it was proposed that a two-fold approach be adopted, i.e., Student-Run Social Support Initiatives as well as Institutional Policies. As far as the latter is concerned, the following recommendations were made:
Recruit faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds, so as to create a more inclusive environment.
Strict action must be taken against those that discriminate on the basis of religion, regionality, socio-economic background etc.
Sensitize all staff, faculty and student population on diversity and inclusiveness, and help break down existing prejudices and stereotypes.
On this point, IDIA advocates that NLUs need to create structures/programmes that help students from underprivileged and marginalized backgrounds integrate better into the social and academic environment.
More specifically, NLUs need to foster a more open dialogue that would help students confront issues such as discrimination, casteism, classism, bigotry, and prejudice based on their backgrounds, identities and opinions.
It was stated that,
"The onus is on the NLUs to first, acknowledge the existence of such problems and second, to channel conversation around them in a manner that helps students assimilate better into the law school environment."
[Read report here]
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