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Study: 15 NLUs make $10m+ per year from ‘unconstitutional’ NRI quota, who have lower CGPAs, with little trickle-down

NRI quotas in NLUs are unconstitutional: Study
NRI quotas in NLUs are unconstitutional: Study

NLSIU Bangalore earns annual revenues of over Rs 1 crore as fees paid by students admitted under its foreign national quota even though more than 80 per cent of those students were not even schooled outside India, revealed a study by Chirayu Jain published in Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) in December 2017.

NLSIU uses a mere 2.37 per cent of this revenue to subsidise the fees of scheduled category students, even though the average annual family income of reserved category students was lower by Rs 11 lakhs than that of foreign national quota students, wrote Jain, who is a 2017 graduate of NLSIU currently practising in the Delhi high court as an advocate.

The academic performance of the foreign national quota students at NLSIU on an average was lower by one full cumulative grade point average (CGPA) than that of its general category students.

Jain’s study examined the constitutionality of foreign national (FN) and NRI quotas in national law universities (NLU).

Lucrative seats

The study revealed that through admissions conducted on the basis of vague, undefined and inconsistent parameters for selection and admission of NRI and FN quota students, 15 NLUs are able to add from anywhere between Rs 2.77 lakh (NLUO Cuttack) to Rs 11.75 lakh (MNLU Mumbai) per student, to their coffers every year.

GNLU Gandhinagar makes the highest annual revenue per batch, more than Rs 2.2 crore having reserved 24 seats for FN/NRI students. It is followed by NUJS Kolkata (Rs 1.48 crore, 21 seats), NLIU Bhopal (Rs 1.43 crore, 18 seats) and MNLU Mumbai (Rs 1.1 crore, 10 seats).

"It is evident that the said foreign national/NRI/NRI-sponsored quota is unconstitutional. At the very least, the Bar Council of India, which has the mandate to regulate the legal education imparted in the country, ought to ensure that a uniform definition of these categories is adopted and there is uniformity in the merit sought by the individual NLUs,” Jain noted in the study.

Total NRI seats / year / batchFees (lakh Rs)Annual revenues (assuming 5 batches / year, Rs crores)
HNLU 204.24.15
MNLU Mumbai1011.85.88
Total: 249Avg: 5.6Total: 69.14

Source: Jain, EPW, Legally India calculation

++Unregulated quota

There is a gap in regulation on foreign quotas in NLUs, said the study.

The Supreme Court had laid down in 2005 in the case of PA Inamdar vs State of Maharashtra that only "bona fide” NRIs and their children or wards should utilise foreign quotas in universities, and that even in selection of these bona fide NRIs, merit should also be taken into consideration.

But this still doesn't answer questions such as whether "a foreign national is a foreigner residing/visiting/studying/employed within India? Or, is a ward of a NRI also a foreign national even if they hold an Indian passport, but have a permanent address abroad and have been studying in India?” according to the study.

NLUs take advantage of the absence of specific regulation in the area and:

  • NLSIU applies the quota on only the production of a foreign passport, asking for no proof of residence or proof of having completed schooling from outside India. As a consequence, 17 out of 21 foreign national students (from the 2016–20 batches) were found to have completed their schooling within India.
  • _Nalsar Hyderabad_ and NUJS Kolkata do not define who a foreign national is.
  • RMLNLU Lucknow and MNLU Mumbai do not make a distinction between an NRI and a foreign national.
  • NLIU Bhopal considers any Overseas Citizen of India (OCI)/ Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cardholder to be eligible for the NRI/NRI-sponsored category as well.
  • MNLU Mumbai does not require the sponsor to be related to the a NRI-sponsored category candidate, unlike NLUs such as NLIU which requires candidates to be sponsored either by fi rst degree or second degree NRIs or OCI/PIO cardholders.
  • At RGNUL Patiala the definition of NRI itself is broader; it includes the spouse/ progeny (natural or adopted) of an NRI.
  • TNNLS Tiruchirapalli creates a hierarchy within the NRI-sponsored category: those with NRI parents are to be preferred over those with NRI guardians, and both are to be preferred over those with NRI sponsors. Even though the regulations stipulate that only merit is to be given consideration within these categories.

Other observations of the SC

In PA Inamdar, the Supreme Court had also ordered a cap of 15% on NRI quotas in universities. NUJS Kolkata and MNLU Mumbai are in violation of this rule, while NUSRL Ranchi and NLUJA Assam do not provide any foreign national or NRI quotas.

The court also asked the NLUs, through a non-binding suggestion, to subsidise the fee of economically weaker or other backward students using the surplus from foreign quota fee.

The average annual fee of Rs 6.2 lakh that 15 NLUs charge under the foreign quotas is three times that of the fee they charge annually on an average to the general category, but 10 of these NLUs do not pass over any benefits from the surplus revenue so earned to scheduled category students.

The remaining 5 NLUs use between 1.98% (Nalsar) to 7.55% (MNLU Mumbai) of the surplus to subsidise scheduled category student fee.

Death of exclusivity

Scheduled category reservations are often blamed for the "death of meritocracy”, says the study, but at NLSIU, for instance, the CGPA of both foreign quota students and scheduled category students on average is at par with each other and lower by 1 CGPA than that of general category students on an average.

Foreign quota students perform better than scheduled category students in being selected on student run committees. The former have a rejection rate of 13.6% while the latter have it between 16-26%. But this is in context of family backgrounds, foreign quota students being better off with an average annual family income of almost Rs 27 lakh, whereas scheduled category students have it at Rs 16.3 lakh.

Only one foreign national part of the study assessed themselves to be not fluent in English, while 11.9% of SC and 19.4% of ST students assessed themselves as being poor in English language.

"Do SCs/STs face the ire because they cause the death of meritocracy, or is it because they cause the death of exclusivity?” Jain asks.

As a student at NLSIU Jain also explored diversity at NLSIU through his study in 2015 which revealed that although elite private-schooled third generation college goers make up a majority of the law school’s population, this trend is reversing with each successive batch. In his first year of law school in 2013 he had sued Hindustan Pencils for a racist crayon colour categorisation.

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