Can Draft National Education Policy 2019 Improve Legal Education?
The Draft National Education Policy 2019 (hereinafter NEP) is a highly ambitious policy document, which, if implemented in its true spirit, would lead to the complete overhaul of the existing education landscape of the country.
It has been drafted with a vision to ensure that the primary focus of education is on quality, and not just quantity, (accessibility), which is in line with India’s commitment to Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
NEP Focuses on Restructuring Higher Education
The preamble to the NEP acknowledges the need for creating a new system that would serve the aspirations and needs of the 21st Century, while at the same time drawing from the traditions and value systems of India. It aims at holistic development of personalities of young minds, which is the true meaning of education as reflected in the report titled ‘Learning: The Treasures Within’ submitted by International Commission on Education for the 21st Century chaired by Jacques Delors to UNESCO in 1996.
The preamble also talks about the meaning of education in ancient India to be a “complete realisation and liberation of the self”.
The NEP has put a lot of focus on restructuring higher education in the country, which has been vastly neglected in the past decades. It has been framed with the aim of establishing quality higher educational institutions that are multidisciplinary in nature, which makes the young minds of India not only ready for the employment landscape of the future, but also transform them into responsible citizens who would eventually build a matured community. The NEP aims at increasing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (hereinafter GER) in the higher educational institutions, from 25 percent to at least 50 percent by 2035.
Move Against Fragmentation Of Higher Education – Impact On National Law Universities
The draft talks at length about the menaces created by the fragmentation of higher educational institutions, which has led to too much early specialisation and streaming of students into a discipline. The students are segregated into watertight compartments of arts, science and commerce as early as they enter higher secondary education, which restricts them from exploring subjects from the other fields. This compartmentalisation comes with a package of subjects. For example, if you choose Physics you cannot choose History.
Such categorisation also defines the future careers of students. The fragmentation has restricted the growth of liberal education and quality multidisciplinary research in the country. For example, a student of law is not made aware of methods and approaches of research made in other disciplines. In an interdisciplinary world, rigorous compartmentalization impedes the growth of a student. In order to deal with this issue, the draft aims at consolidating and restructuring the existing institutions which are ‘uni-disciplinary’ to make them multidisciplinary, and also build new institutions on the same model.
Multidisciplinary Era Requires Multidisciplinary Approach to Education
It may be argued that this goal of the NEP is in contravention of the structure of the various National Law Universities (hereinafter NLUs) in the country. The NLUs were created with the vision of revamping the standard of legal education in the country which was in shambles, and to produce quality lawyers who would be reminiscent of the glorious past of the country that had produced legends in the field of law. This vision led to the creation of 18 NLUs all across the country that were supposed to form the holy shrine of legal education in the country.
The institutions were to be the hub of Indian legal research much like their American counterparts who play a critical role in determining the legal policy of the country. However, the Indian dream was peculiar like the country itself; it decided to go for a system of higher education which is fragmented and more focused towards law, as against the multidisciplinary university model followed by US and the rest of the world.
However, this dream turned out to be a little too ambitious. This is the era of multidisciplinary education.
There are many areas of science, medicine, technology and social sciences that interact with law – Law of Outer Space, Medical Negligence, Criminology, International Law, Laws of Intellectual Property, Cyber Law etc. To understand the nuances of these fields, it is pertinent that the lawyers as well as the judges have some idea about these disciplines. This is only possible in an academic space that is flexible enough to allow the students to interact with students from other disciplines with the help of interdisciplinary projects, seminars and collaboration.
Revamping Curriculum, Pedagogy, Assessment & Student Support
Second, it is the goal of the NEP to increase the access of students in higher education by opening up multidisciplinary-quality universities in areas which are socially and economically disadvantaged. This is also an important move with respect to NLUs as these universities are generally based in the capital cities of various states. Moreover, there exists a hierarchy within the various NLUs with respect to the states in which they are established.
A legal education is incomplete without a proper practical training given to the students in terms of internships in courts, law firms, NGOs and corporate bodies. Students studying to NLUs that are based in less developed areas like Patna, Raipur etc miss these glorious opportunities that are available to those studying in NLUs based in metros, because of the lack of institutions located in the B-towns of India.
Fourthly, NEP also talks about revamping the existing curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and student support. While revamping legal education, a lot of effort should be made to ensure that the practical experience in the field of law is as important as the existing lecture system. As a result of which a lot of emphasis should be given on practical training of students, which many so called ‘lower-ranked NLUs’ are not doing.
Autonomy Needed, Role of Research to be Highlighted
Fifth, NEP aims at granting more autonomy to the teachers and to the institutions, and to restructure the regulatory structure to allow the excellent and innovative institutions in the country (including private institutions) to thrive. This is a welcome goal from the perspective of private law universities in the country that are already multidisciplinary in nature, and are doing a better job than many NLUs but they are restrained from growing due to excessive regulation by the government. Autonomy given to the teachers would allow innovative learning methods.
The research funding of the government is given only to a few institutions in the country. NEP envisions the creation of a system of research funding which is transparent and peer-reviewed. This would create an incentive for the teachers as well the students to research more. It also proposes to establish a National Research Foundation for promoting research in the country. This is also a welcome move because the NLUs are producing lawyers who are choosing the corporate field over academia and research. The legal education is in dearth of good faculties and this move would attract good candidates to choose the field of academia.
I would like to conclude that the adoption of NEP will have a number of significant effects on the discipline of law. It would be very interesting to see how the fate of NLUs is decided. Although the number of law universities in the country are ever increasing, the quality is not rising. Perhaps the adoption of the NEP in a proper way would be crucial in determining the future of Indian legal education.
(Shreya is a Ph.D. (Law) and Teaching Assistant, School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)