The IDIA Project seeks to empower marginalised communities by fostering access to the leading law schools. Along with sensitisation and intensive training programs, IDIA will also attempt to drive policy in the area of “inclusive” legal education and “diversity” within law schools and the legal profession. Towards this end, IDIA has created a dedicated team of students supervised by Professor Basheer and led by Prajna Mohapatra, a final year student student at NUJS. This team is titled the Research and Policy (RAP) Wing of IDIA. We hope that the various law schools will engage with us on these policies, so as to help evolve a more optimal framework for legal education in this country.
Current initiatives undertaken by this team include:
Note on Reforming CLAT:
CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) is currently administered by 13 of the national law schools. This exam has been conducted since the year 2008 and includes English (reading comprehension), GK/Current Affairs, Elementary Mathematics, Legal Aptitude/Legal Awareness and Logical Reasoning. However, the standards and syllabus for CLAT have often not been consistent. Professor Basheer highlighted the key problems with the exam and advocated for reform in an Indian Express editorial here. Further, IDIA submitted a note to reform CLAT to the CLAT Convenor, 2011, who then tabled it before the CLAT committee. The note argued that the key aim of a law entrance examination was to test candidates for their aptitude for the study of law. Therefore, there was no point in testing candidates on their prior knowledge of the law. Consequently, it called for an abolishment of all questions that assumed prior knowledge of law. And insisted that the questions only test for whether or not a student could, when given a certain legal principle (that was fully explained) apply it comfortably to a given set of facts. It also argued for reducing the proportion of marks given to the general knowledge section, given that it was not as important as logical reasoning or legal reasoning to test for one’s aptitude for the study of law. In this light, it noted that questions should be limited to current affairs and not to “static” general knowledge. Lastly, the note argued that the CLAT exam ought not to unduly disadvantage those from rural areas and other underprivileged backgrounds by asking questions that required knowledge of cultural norms prevalent in upper middle class India.
To read the note, please click here. Pursuant to this note by IDIA (authored by Professor Basheer, Debanshu Khettry and Shambo Nandy), WB NUJS, the CLAT conducting institution in 2011 announced a changed and detailed syllabus doing away with “legal knowledge” questions and with static GK questions. We hope that in the coming years, the proportion of marks given to GK (which is now the highest: 50 out of 200 marks) will also reduce, as we strongly believe that GK is not the most important component to test for one’s aptitude for the study of law. Professor Basheer highlighted the key problems with the exam and advocated for reform in an Indian Express editorial here.
Note on Scholarships at the NLU’s:
The roots of financial aid trace back to 1643 when Lady Anne Radcliffe Mowlson established the first scholarship at Harvard University to help poor students. Since then, a number of Universities and donors now provide scholarships to students who might not otherwise be able to afford an education. Unfortunately, although the national law schools have become reputable institutions of legal learning, they suffer from a dearth of scholarships and funding options for poor students.
Funding is one of the most critical challenges for the IDIA project, which aims to bring in poor children from under-privileged and marginalized communities. Given that the fees at the various national law schools are now in excess of Rs 1.5 lakhs per annum (resulting in a total fee of over 7.5 lakhs for 5 years), it is critical that we find funding for poor students, who have a good shot at a decent legal education and of improving the lot of communities that they represent. An optimal scholarship to operate for the benefit of one student per year (year after year) at any of the various law schools should have at an endowment of at least Rs 2 crores. In other words, if we need to institute 5 such scholarships in the top 5 law schools in India, we need an endowment of Rs 10 crores.
For more on fees at the various national law schools and some ideas on potential scholarships, please read the detailed note here.
Legal education in India is at the cusp of an ambitious new phase. Indeed, the Law Minister unveiled what he labeled the “second generation” legal education reforms in Delhi a couple of months ago. At this function, the Indian Prime Minister spoke of the National Law Universities (NLUs) as “a small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools” in the country which “remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalized mediocrity.
Unfortunately, these islands of excellence have become increasingly elitist over the years. A variety of factors have contributed to this, including the extremely high fees charged at these institutions, an entrance examination (CLAT) that now requires extensive and expensive coaching as a pre-requisite, and most importantly, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career amongst low income students in small towns, rural areas and other non-affluent backgrounds.
The net result is that the current student composition in many of these law schools lacks any serious diversity and comprises mainly of English-medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families. The numbers from rural areas, small towns or non-English medium schools are deplorably low. Apart from this, the composition also suffers from under-representation from the economically and socially backward classes, the disabled communities, minority communities, ethnic groups, etc.
The above is more than borne out by the various IDIA “diversity” surveys at the various national law schools.
Law : A Student Guide is a series for student considering studing law at an undergraduate level. Published by The Guardian, UK.