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Inside NLU Assam: Can its VC from Nalsar, Vijender Kumar, turn things around with innovative reforms & lots of government cash?

NLUJA Assam joins the recruitment race in 2016. As the fifteenth in the long line of India’s national law schools, by year of establishment, its first LLB batch of 63 students will vie for jobs next year in India’s legal market that already lures over 1100 elite national law school graduates each year, in addition to top graduates from around 900 non-elite Indian law schools.

Meanwhile, the Guwahati-based NLU’s first two-year traditional LLM batch of eight women will become job market hopefuls in July already.

Preparing for the competition, the law school has conducted two-day orientation sessions for its final year LLB students, by two Nalsar alumni invited to campus and one session by its own vice chancellor Prof Vijender Kumar.

“Actually this university being a new university it does not have an RCC [recruitment coordination committee run by students]. So how the RCC is to be formed, what kind of confidential memorandum of understanding the RCC members are supposed to have and such things [were discussed in the orientation],” explains Kumar about the innovative move.

He said that he was training the eight LLM students, who are all inclined to take the National Entrance Test (NET) for becoming university faculty this July, to take up research assistant positions at the law school.

Former Nalsar Hyderabad registrar Prof Kumar inherited NLUJA, as its second vice-chancellor, eight months ago, in the middle of a student hunger strike demanding heightened standards at the law school which was then without a VC for several months running.

History

The four-year-old law school that had founding vice chancellor Dr Gurjeet Singh at its helm for just over the first three years of its life had functioned without a single full-time faculty, pre-set course structures or study materials, its own campus, or basic campus amenities such as a medical centre, an ambulance or a college bus, on the eve of a potential fourth year recruitment season for the class of 2016, according to Kumar.

“When I came there was not even one full-time faculty. Teachers were hired on per hour basis – assistant professors for Rs 500 with a cap of Rs 50,000 per month, associate professors for Rs 750, anyone outside for Rs 1000. There was no course structure or study material since teachers were not there full-time. Students were not aware of anything until right before the exam. The university was charging Rs 5000 as moot court fee from every student yet not one rupee was reimbursed [to teams for mooting expenses],” comments Prof Vijender Kumar.

This was at odds with the quantum of state government interest in the functioning of the law school.

Kumar tells Legally India that the Assam government directly bears the Rs 3.5 crore of annual expenses towards the salaries of NLUJA’s teaching and administrative staff. It provides the law school with an additional Rs 3 crore annually for its maintenance, and also directly bears the infrastructural costs over and above maintenance needs of the college.

NLUJA has an annual expense budget of Rs 8.5 crore and income of Rs 4 crore from the fees of its LLB and LLM courses.

The Rs 300+ crore construction of NLUJA’s independent 55 acre campus in Amingaon, Guwahati is financed entirely by the central and the state government.

“Government is very cooperative here. You’d be surprised to know that the salary of the entire university staff is being given by government of Assam, just like in RMLNLU Lucknow. The chief minister of the state takes extreme pride in having an NLU in the state,” commented Kumar.

Kumar added that government support was complimented with “a very active, in fact a pro-active [Executive Council]” at the law school.

In the last eight months he has focused the support and the finances toward a visible facelift for NLUJA. “Unless universities don’t take initiative it is hard [for newer NLUs to survive the competition],” he comments.

“Last eight months I am sitting day and night in the office and working. I have taken not one day off. At Nalsar I used to travel a lot more. Unless there is a team effort - I am having faculty meetings every week – one cannot make it happen,” he comments.

Eight months on

Kumar, at top priority, with a team of teachers brought in from NLU Jodhpur, Nalsar Hyderabad, and NLU Delhi says he formulated various course structures and set study materials, all of which were made available to students before the new semester began.

He then brought in full time faculty. He hired one part-time professor, eight associate professors, 17 assistant professors and two research assistants, and to frame service regulations for them formed an expert committee with NLSIU Bangalore VC Prof Venkat Rao, Nalsar Hyderabad VC Prof Faizan Mustafa and RGNUL Patiala VC Prof Paramjit Jaswal.

“My service regulations are the best among all law schools,” he claims explaining that in addition to being paid a salary higher than even the top national law schools, NLUJA faculty members get benefits such as on leave gratuity, provident fund, medical insurance and specific remuneration attached with each on-campus responsibility such as being a warden or a chief warden.

“When the government is helping us, why not have the best conditions for my faculty and staff.”

The teacher-student ratio at NLUJA now is 1:17, he said adding that it helps to give all faculty roles in various newly created committees, such as, the exam committee. “Everyone is party to any initiative and proposal I discuss, everyone has specific roles in various committees, they feel responsible [for university affairs].”

In addition to full-time faculty and a permanent campus to move into by December, with hostel rooms for all students, NLUJA students now also have basic amenities such as an on-campus medical centre, ambulance, air-conditioned college transport and broadband access to the entire library at the law school in electronic form throughout the campus.

“[The college] hired local buses from local transport [providers] at around Rs 6000 per month [taken as] transport fee from the students. The money saved with the university was Rs 5 lakhs. I used it to now have beautiful AC fitted college buses for the students. Now they go to the high court and move around in AC buses.”

Students mooting expenses are also reimbursed now.

Recruitment scenario

Kumar says that immediately after the recruitment orientation the recruitment coordination cell (RCC) for 2016 was formed through election among students, and was notified in college. Since then he and the students have separately been writing letters to various recruiters for on-campus interviews in July and August 2015.

“Most of the students are [interested in] corporate houses, second is for the law firms, third in the long run want to go for bench or bar,” he comments.

He says that NLUJA’s strategy, in addition to moving “well in advance” for final year recruitments, is to bring home various local business to the state NLU. “I am inviting these recruiters for the first time. So I don’t know how many of them will come and if they don’t come then due to what kind of problems faced by them. [The eastern] region also has a lot of portals which need to be explored. [recruiters from this region] have gone to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and recruited earlier.”

“I am not very aware what kind of regional recruiters stand a better potential. After one round is over I will be in a better position to answer.”

Additionally, Kumar has also constituted an Internship Coordination Committee (ICC) to expose the current second and third year LLB batches of the law school to the potential for pre placement offers from various recruiters.

For students interested in applying for judicial clerkships (JC), he is about to start a Sunday coaching program at the cost of the law school, on the lines of an idea that was conceptualised previously in Nalsar but could not take off due to paucity of interested students. Kumar said that 18 out of 63 students in the class of 2016 were interested in applying for JCs.

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