Cost of legal education shoots up as younger colleges struggle
In absence of common legislation, NLUs have to call on state governments; when funds dry up, they have to raise fees
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The cost of a five-year national law university (NLU) course has risen to record levels this year, particularly at the newer NLUs, where the total fees to educate a lawyer come to as much as Rs.2.47 lakh per year, dwarfing the fees charged by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
The problem of rising fees can skew the diversity of the legal profession. Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA)—an initiative that aims to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds to study law—surveyed students entering law school in 2013-14.
The survey found that almost 87% of students had received expensive common law admission test (CLAT) coaching that can cost upwards of Rs.1 lakh, showing that a majority come from privileged backgrounds who can fork out such sums.
While most of the oldest national law schools have not increased their fees significantly this year, Rs.2 lakh per year is now the apparent benchmark for an NLU education that aspiring law students aim for.
Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, increased its fees and total expenses payable by students by 19% this year to Rs.2.08 lakh per year.
Younger colleges played catch-up: The National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi, hiked its fees by 27.5% to Rs.1.94 lakh per year.
National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam (NLUJAA), Guwahati, and National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi, kept their fees unchanged from last year at Rs.2.14 lakh and Rs.2.29 lakh, respectively.
Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University (RMLNLU), Lucknow, reduced its already lowest-of-the-ladder fee by Rs.500 this year from Rs.1.2 lakh to Rs.1.195 lakh. RMLNLU is the only one of India’s NLUs to have as its chancellor the state’s chief minister rather than the state high court chief justice.
In the absence of common legislation governing the NLUs, it is up to each NLU to evoke enough interest in the government of its home state to help it survive by providing funds. In the absence of such support, they have to raise fees.
“Finances are not in a great condition with all the tightening,” said Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad.
While a one-time state government grant covered Nalsar’s capital expenses, such as campus and construction, assistance from the state is not forthcoming for its recurring expenses, such as maintenance of infrastructure and salaries, he said.
Mustafa said that no NLU “can survive” without the state government assisting it with staff salaries. “The new pay commission will come and salaries will shoot through the roof. We cannot (proportionately) increase the fee of our students.”
He told Legally India that teachers’ salaries are subject to increases three times a year—twice when the dearness allowance (DA) is enhanced and once by way of an annual increment. The Telangana government recently increased the salary of non-teaching staff by 43%. “This puts a lot of burden on the university,” he commented.
The other component of recurring expenses is campus maintenance, such as water, electricity, other facilities and campus security. Mustafa said that campus security agencies, which could be contracted for Rs.5 lakh per year until a few years ago, have since 2012 refused to charge below Rs.38 lakh a year.
“Most NLUs are not universities in the strict sense as they are still not fully funded by the state. Universities such as the Osmania University are fully funded, where even if you want to improve your horticulture, somebody will come from the state. (At most NLUs) you have to survive only on students’ fees. Make a central law governing NLUs and all NLUs will be more than happy to come under it.”
“Fees are increased only in extremely tight situations. They cannot be adjusted for inflation or anything else,” he remarked.
NUSRL vice-chancellor B.C. Nirmal said the “totally self-funded” Ranchi law school was facing a funding crunch of over Rs.70 crore currently and was indebted to the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), Jharkhand, which had loaned money to the law school to finish its Rs.86 crore campus construction.
Nirmal said he hoped to keep its LLB fees this year unchanged from last year.
“We need money desperately and hope the government would be kind enough to help us,” he said, adding, “the problem is that with the Rs.1-2 crore we get from our students (as fees), we cannot repay the debt to CPWD.”
Nirmal said the previous state government had sanctioned Rs.50 crore for the law school but had released only Rs.15 crore out of that amount. A public interest litigation seeking directions to the government to release the remaining funds is pending before the Jharkhand high court, he said.
In 2012, NUSRL was close to winding up due to a fund crunch that year.
India’s oldest national law school, National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, which was also facing a major funding crunch because of an unsupportive state government back in 2012, has this year increased its fees by 1% to Rs.1.8 lakh.
Its fees are the third lowest among 16 NLUs, according to IDIA research, after RMLNLU, Lucknow, and Chanakya National Law University, Patna. NLSIU also became the first NLU to notify a formal scholarship programme for financially weaker students on 24 June .
In its scholarship policy, NLSIU stated that any incoming students and existing students whose combined parental income was less than Rs.50,000 a month would be eligible to apply for the one-year scholarship by the law school’s deadline, and can reapply next year if the student is again eligible.
Under its scholarship, it would “take all reasonable measures to ensure that the funds available each year through internal and external scholarships are sufficient to ensure that each deserving candidate is provided sufficient financial assistance, including a healthy stipend to cover living expenses and reasonable costs, enabling them to fraternize appropriately with their peers, without suffering any form of social exclusion”.
The college also undertook to give students avenues to earn money with part-time work in campus.
NLSIU registrar O.V. Nandimath said, “Government support has not improved. It continues to be what it was. But we have been able to extend our outreach activity, and faculty consultation is what is being encouraged.”
Nandimath said NLSIU’s faculty members are consulted by the industry and by government agencies, at a cost, and part of the revenue earned from this goes into the law school’s coffers. Outreach activities include, for instance, conducting training programs for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is another source of revenue in addition to NLSIU’s distance learning programmes, which Nandimath said were gaining popularity.
Likewise, four-year-old NLUJAA, Guwahati, did not increase its fee at all from last year’s Rs.2.14 lakh figure, the ninth lowest among the 16 CLAT NLUs. Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala, also kept its fee constant at Rs.2.01 lakh—the eighth lowest.
NLUJAA vice-chancellor Vijender Kumar said in a June interview that Assam’s “cooperative” government directly bore the Rs.3.5 crore of annual expenses towards the salaries of NLUJAA’s teaching and administrative staff.
It provided the law school with an additional Rs.3 crore annually for its maintenance, and also directly bore the infrastructural costs over and above maintenance needs.
NLUJAA has an annual expense budget of Rs.8.5 crore and income of Rs.4 crore from the fees for its LLB and LLM courses. The Rs.300-plus crore construction of NLUJAA’s independent 55-acre campus in Amingaon, Guwahati, was financed entirely by the central and state governments.
“The chief minister of Assam takes extreme pride in having an NLU in the state,” Kumar said.
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The story has been modified to show the correct fee structure of National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi.