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JGLS starts online LLM, aims for 100+ takers, powered by IoE-UGC exemption • NLS looks to scale e-learning to 100,000 students

Jindal takes full advantage of IoE status but some NLUs might also manage

6 of the 9 full-time faculty JGLS has moved to exclusively do its online LLM
6 of the 9 full-time faculty JGLS has moved to exclusively do its online LLM

JGLS Sonepat has launched an online asynchronous LLM programme - the first in India, with nine full-time permanent faculty members looking for at least 100 candidates to join up, though the programme could be scaleable beyond that.

It is well-timed, considering a continuing and potentially longer-lasting Covid-19 shutdown. However, preparations for the programme had been underway for more than six months, said JGLS dean and Jindal Global University vice chancellor Prof Raj Kumar.

The government has last month given permission for India’s top 100 universities to offer online courses (presumably decided according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) / National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) yardstick). Until now, that had required specific University Grants Permission (UGC) approval, so long as the universities were in the top 100 with an NAAC grade of 3.26 or more, according to the Financial Express; according to NAAC, those are grades A+ or A++).

However, JGU - which has not participated in NIRF to date, though it procured an A grade with a score of 3.26, which was the highest around five years ago when it was inspected - finds itself in the enviable position of being outside that system due to the grant of Institution of Eminence (IOE) status to it last year, which came with significant freedom from existing regulations.

Correction: JGU has in fact participated in NAAC contrary to what had been stated in the original story (though not in NIRF).

“IOE has enabled us to do something like this because it offers curriculum and course delivery flexibility on the one hand, and even empowers [the] IOE and even allows [the] IOE to be [leaders in] innovation,” explained Kumar.

Prof Vishwas Devaiah, the director of the university’s centre for postgraduate legal education since April, which is a UGC-mandated position, noted that this exemption was part regulation 19 of the IOE-UGC norms (see excerpt below, or full notification (PDF)).

Rule 19 of the IOE regulations
Rule 19 of the IOE regulations

LLMs galore

JGLS already runs two other LLM programmes. Its flagship physical LLM, that is a one-year residential programme in Sonepat, takes around 75 candidates every year, though Kumar said that the number would be increased to “not less than 120” in the coming academic year.

They can choose from a basket of around 120 electives every semester (some of which are prescribed by the UGC), thereby indirectly having access to Jindal’s more than 320 faculty members (though only around 100 or so were actively involved in teaching physical LLM students, said Devaiah).

The cost for this programme was Rs 3 lakh in tuition fees, plus Rs 2.4 lakh for on campus residence and related charges.

Then there is also a much smaller LLM for around six to seven students last year, that takes place at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offices in Delhi and is in partnership with the organisation, about energy, environment and climate change.

Parallel LLM

The new online LLM, however, is going to run parallel to these programmes, being primarily targeted at practising lawyers, “or even a judge for that matter”, according to Devaiah. “Non-availability is what sometimes keeps working professionals from going for” further education, he added.

Seven of the nine course modules are squarely aimed at that target audience, and primarily consist of corporate topics such as competition, company, M&A and private equity, commercial contracts, banking and finance and insolvency law.

The cost is identical to the physical LLM, at Rs 3 lakh tuition (though students won’t have to pay the residential surcharge, so despite higher internet bills, that should work out cheaper).

It also has completely separate faculty to the other two LLM programmes.

Currently, there are nine faculty members on the books, administered by programme head and NLU Jodhpur 2012 graduate Prof Prateek Bhattacharya, who had been at JGLS since 2018 after leaving Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas as a senior associate.

Other faculty members, according to the online LLM’s brochure, are Prof Arjya B Majumdar, Prof James J Nedumpara, Prof Shaun Joseph Star; as well as associate professors Prof Manasi Kumar, Prof Shuchi Sinha; and assistant professors Prof Anindita Jaiswal Jaishiv, Prof Karan Latayan and Prof Ishana Tripathi.

All had been with JGLS before the launch of the programme, said Kumar.

Befitting an online LLM, tuition will happen entirely online and in pre-recorded lectures, delivered via the Upgrad platform, set up by former media mogul Ronnie Screwvala after he sold UTV to Disney for $454m in 2011.

The advantage is that if “you are busy in the day, you should be able to see anything” at any time that is available, to make this “viable” for working lawyers, Devaiah said.

The physical LLM, by contrast, had only “live” tuition, with a lot of debate and learning happening during such interactive teaching sessions, which the online LLM was aiming to emulate with “live sessions” every week, where faculty members would “spend a couple of hours” with students online.

Numbers

Kumar said that in the online LLM they were targeting “at least 100” candidates, who would have to pass the JSAT LLM entrance test.

However, the nice thing about online teaching, at least for a university, is that in theory they are more scaleable than offline programmes, though faculty numbers would also have to increase (each of the nine faculty members also has assistants, however, to help them with the workload, according to Devaiah).

“The key thing is quality,” added Kumar about potentially scaling up.

If it does scale up, and considering that Covid restrictions could be around for a while (Cambridge University has announced it would hold all its lectures online due to the pandemic, for instance), might the online course not cannibalise the offline one?

“Not really,” said Devaiah. “Usually the ones who tend to come for a residential programme, they have a slightly different requirement in that sense.”

“They might want to be in campuses and be engaged in that campus-imparted education,” he added. “They might choose a JGLS, NUJS [Kolkata] or Nalsar [Hyderabad] for that matter.”

NLUs in the wings?

JGLS is the first law school to offer an online LLM, but several national law schools are offering significant online offerings already, though none a full-fledged degree, and at least one is also looking at making a significant push into further online courses soon.

Some NLUs might even have the NAAC scores to pull off a full degree offering (though there might still be some UGC red tape if they don’t fall into the new automatic exemptions for India’s top 100 universities, and if the UGC criteria is a score of 3.26).

From a sampling of scores of NLUs, via the NAAC website, Nalsar Hyderabad currently has an NAAC score of 3.6, NLU Delhi of 3.59, and NLU Cuttack on 3.32. (CNLU is on 3.15 while NLSIU and GNLU are both on 3.1, albeit all still with an ‘A' grade).

However, NLSIU Bangalore VC Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy had recently said - coincidentally in a virtual round-table of VCs hosted by JGLS, that the difference 'between off-campus and on-campus learning experiences will slowly disintegrate'.

“Even after we open and things look alright, there is going to be a degree of off-campus learning, including in our core programmes,” he said. “We have to really think about the scale in which we teach. Anything on campus is a premium programme, anything on campus we can scale up.”

NLS had already educated 10,000 people a year off-campus (primarily via its flagship Masters in Business Laws (MBL)), Krishnaswamy had said in the webinar. “We can scale that up 10 times,” he added. “And do it well.”

“We will offer education across the spectrum, on campus and off campus - this is going to become standard,” he noted. “Currently we have on campus programmes, which are our premium programmes. But I think all programmes are going to be partly on campus and off campus going forward.”

Due disclosure: JGLS is an advertiser on Legally India.

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