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Jindal law school to redraw map of legal education

Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) wants to redefine India's academic study of law. Its ambitions are high but so is the price of admission – the college has costlier tuition than any other major law school in the country.

Legally India has asked JGLS' founding dean and vice-chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University to explain the law school's fees and its vision.

Professor C. Raj Kumar (pictured) has by all accounts been instrumental in creating JGLS out of nothing in less than two years.

With the muscle and roughly Rs 250 crore ($50m) of cash from steel tycoon Naveen Jindal, to whose late father O.P. Jindal the university is dedicated, JGLS now has a near-completed campus close to Delhi, a full roster of faculty and is due to receive its first batch of students in September.

Currently offering five-year and three-year LLBs, ultimately JGLS wants to include LLM programmes and doctorates, housing up to 2,000 students in total at the university at any one time.

There are more than 900 law schools in India and a large number are allegedly not performing - does India really need another private law school?

Kumar strongly believes so. He says that the creation of the national law schools in the late 80s was a "massive leap" forward for legal education and coupled with the liberalisation of the Indian economy in the 90s, this had made law an attractive career for young Indians for the first time.

In founding JGLS, Kumar hopes to continue this development and emulate and compete with US and UK law universities particularly on the academic front, where he feels that most law schools and Indian universities in other fields are currently ill equipped.

"We strongly believe that universities are knowledge institutions. They are not teaching institutions – although of course that should happen," says Kumar, "but there is a larger obligation to create knowledge."

He argues that you can not create knowledge without engaging in serious research, which requires faculty members who have the ability to "undertake research, publish it and go through a rigorous academic process and actually produce scholarship".

JGLS therefore worked hard to build up a faculty from top international universities and already launched the first issue of its annual JGLS Law Review.

This is a partial explanation for the 500+ applications the school received for only 140-odd places on its five-year LLB course, despite the institution's untested nature, its high price and relying on a bespoke admission test separate from the CLAT (Common Law Admission Test).

JGLS professors receive around three to four times the remuneration of professors at national law schools, says Kumar. "We just don't believe that concept of supreme sacrifice which people can make to be in academia."

However, students pay for the privilege – the five-year course is Rs 5 lakhs ($10,500) per year, coming to an effective cost of Rs 6 lakhs ($12,500), according to Kumar. The three-year course costs even more, at up to around Rs 7 lakhs ($14,500) per annum all in.

This is around three times more than the most expensive national law schools, even leaving NUJS (National University of Juridicial Sciences) far behind, which is currently facing a battle with students over hiking its fees by up to 100 per cent to Rs 1.8 lakhs per annum.

However, JGLS receives no government funding and relies entirely on fees and investors. Nevertheless, break-even from just the tuition fees income is budgeted to happen in three years' time.

Is JGLS elitist as an exclusive preserve for the rich?
Kumar says: "Nowadays people have recognised that good education costs money and you have to invest in it." Law graduates' salaries have increased hugely, he explains, and at US law schools, whose standards of education JGLS hopes to match, the tuition fees can be ten times as high.

While he concedes that the fees could still price some students out of the programme, he says that JGLS has negotiated preferable terms with banks for student loans and the fees are guaranteed to be fixed for the duration of the course for each student.

JGLS also currently offers five scholarship schemes, although only one of these is currently means tested. Kumar hopes to attract law firms to sponsor a great number of endowments for students in future.

A number of law firms have currently signed memoranda of understandings (MOU) with the law school, pledging cooperation and support.

A concern will be that large Indian firms will simply treat JGLS as their latest recruitment ground, depriving the Indian bar and academia of the best of its talent – which is one of the main bones of contention between the Bar Council of India and law firms.

Despite the word 'global' featuring prominently in the law school's name, international law firms could inflict even more damage on the Indian market as a whole by snapping up JGLS graduates for even larger pay packets.

Kumar makes it clear that he would be pleased if a large number of his future graduates were to do grassroots work, bolstered the voluntary sector or flowed back into academia.

"I believe we are letting 1,000 flowers bloom out there," he enthuses, "and when it comes to people's ideas they might themselves be persuaded to do something else other than corporate law."

However, evidencing a trait that has no doubt been useful in building a law school from scratch in record time, he remains ever the realist. Ultimately he wants his graduates to decide themselves what they want to do, he says, adding: "It is naturally a tendency for human beings to move where the money is."

If that holds true, Jindal could prove to be very popular indeed.

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