Exclusive: NLUO Cuttack did away with its recently launched LLM-and-PhD integrated-degree offering, before the two students who enrolled in it could be awarded the qualification. The students, who enrolled in September 2011 and had completed only one semester of the course, were transferred to the two year LLM degree instead.
The joint-qualification was first introduced in the university by former NLUO vice chancellor (VC) Faizan Mustafa in April 2011 as a first-of-its-kind degree in India, reported The Hindu at the time.
The programme offered an LLM degree integrated with the PhD degree in three years instead of the customary minimum of four years required to earn both separately. Additionally, the university had sanctioned monthly stipends of Rs 15,000 in the first year, and Rs 25,000 in the second and third years to be paid to students who enrolled for the programme.
In April this year, the VC’s office at NLUO changed hands with Mustafa resigning to take the role of VC at Nalsar, and former SNDT women’s university Mumbai’s VC Dr Chandra Krishnamurthy stepping in as the new VC. Three months into her administration, the joint degree was on its way out of the university.
On the ground
The idea of the course was first planted with a very specific objective, Mustafa told Legally India. “The academic council authorised me to explore the possibility of one-year LLM.” The entire emphasis on the need for a one-year LLM, which following last year’s UGC approval will be the duration of the LLM degree in India next year onwards, was because of the lack of “good teachers” he explained.
The course was developed by Mustafa with inputs from NLSIU Bangalore’s founding vice-chancellor NR Madhava Menon and former vice chancellor NL Mitra, both of whom are now on NLUO’s governing council. It was approved by the university’s academic council, said Mustafa.
“The programme is in conjunction with specialized legal research leading to a doctorate degree in law,” stated the university prospectus for the 2011-12 academic session, adding that the “conjoint degree” would prepare students for a career in academia, government and policymaking.
According to Mustafa, the university did not need to apply to the University Grants Commission (UGC) for recognition to the joint-degree because UGC rules already provide for the waiver of one year of instruction from the minimum period required to qualify, in the case of integrated-degree courses.
“You don’t need specific permission. A university is free to devise courses. Otherwise what is the autonomy of the university? That is the core concept of the university. BCI has said you can have MBBS-LLB, BTech-LLB, it is very much there. What is the whole idea of integration of knowledge,” he said.
The fully designed course was offered at the university with five seats, two of which were taken. The two students were admitted on 12 September 2011, and completed a semester of instruction in February when they were scheduled to appear for the first semester examination. They were paid the monthly stipend each month in this duration.
Theory and practice
Kinks in the implementation of the course appeared when the first semester examination was delayed by three months, marks were never communicated to the students, and full faculty or a course structure for the second semester was not assigned to the students three months well into the semester.
Sanchita Ain, one of the two admitted students, told Legally India that they approached Krishnamurthy with the problem who said that the course was missing “specific recognition” from the UGC. She assured them that she will apply for it, and that she expected to get it smoothly owing to the national law university autonomy which an NLU enjoyed.
Mustafa told Legally India that he did not get a chance to discuss the course and the issue of its recognition with Krishnamurthy.
In the last week of May Ain checked the university’s website to find a notification stating that the status of the course for her batch was indeterminate.
“The very next day I found the notification saying status of the conjoint LLM-PhD shall be notified later had disappeared,” said Ain.
Later in July she also found out that their monthly stipend had been stopped since April.
“I am not bound to answer,” was, according to Ain, Krishnamurthy’s retort when after the university vacations she visited the VC in July to enquire about the status of the course.
Ain was told to direct her queries to the head of department (HOD), which she did and was informed a week later that her course-assignment now involved classroom teaching. This word-of-mouth instruction from the HOD was the only thing the students had in the name of a detailed course-structure.
“Nothing was happening. There was no internet in the new, under-construction campus. I had no place to sit. All classrooms were already full. I would go and sit in the canteen with the flies. The Library had not been shifted till then,” recounted Ain.
Another written representation later, Ain was called upon by Krishnamurthy to submit the entire academic year’s research-work done so far the next day, for consideration before an academic council meeting deciding the fate of the course, scheduled for 4 August. This was the last formal communication she ever got from the university.
After the 4 August meeting, the HOD Yogesh Pratap Singh informally communicated to her that the joint-degree was shelved and the course was converted to a two-year LLM degree programme.
One university staff member claimed that despite being aware of the UGC rule on waiver of one year in the case of integrated professional courses, Krishnamurthy had decided much before the 4 August meeting, not to continue the joint degree programme this year.
The source said: “She said that it is not approved specifically, and might create a problem later for the students. The academic council agreed with her.”
Ain had earlier received offers from higher-ranked universities for LLM admission, including Nalsar Hyderabad and the Essex University. She said that she chose NLUO over them only because of the incentive of the joint doctorate degree, and her aim to begin a career in academia afterwards.
With the dissolution of the joint degree midway, Ain now decided to take admission in Essex University instead. She said that NLUO has not yet refunded the fee of Rs 1 lakh deposited by her in the university toward the joint degree. The university has also not provided her with her performance record for the period she was enrolled in the course, despite repeated requests.
Krishnamurthy instead last told her that the file containing academic recommendations made in her favour during the first semester was lost when the university shifted campus recently.
Krishnamurthy told Legally India that the university decided on “total discontinuation” of the course and the student who had enrolled for the joint degree with Ain had “agreed for the conventional LLM”.
She said: “This lady [Ain] was not available to us. In the beginning she was never available. This other student was always available. So we’re definitely wanting to accommodate him and in due course he will again enrol for a PhD program. We’ll have him as our teacher also.”
“Every university is entitled to give degree programme as they desire to but we also have to look at marketability of students. In the ultimate analysis, it seems that the students were wont to find himself or herself in difficulty, this made me think,” she added.
According to Krishnamurthy, recognition of the joint degree by the UGC and later by other universities was an issue. She said that customary recognition by the UGC exists for integrated programmes like the five year undergraduate law course, and not for “conjoint degree programmes”.