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Killing the dream: NLSIU Bangalore 4th-year collates 200+ accounts that NLAT exam would exclude due to steep tech, comms, disability issues

A screenshot of some responses of CLAT/NLAT aspirants
A screenshot of some responses of CLAT/NLAT aspirants

An NLSIU student, who has requested anonymity, has received more than 220 responses online from candidates who were interested in joining a national law school this year, but who were facing problems due to the NLSIU's plans for an online-only proctored entrance test. Legally India has seen a copy of the Google form responses. A selection of these has been shared in the article below, but identities of respondents have been anonymised. We have reached out to the NLSIU administration for comment.

On 3rd September 2020, the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru (NLSIU) announced its decision to conduct a separate examination called the “NLAT” on 12th September 2020 for admission to academic year 2020. The University has refused to accept the scores of the CLAT for admissions and released an official notification outlining the manner in which the NLAT will be conducted.

According to the notification and the technical guidelines provided by NLSIU, the exam will be conducted online. The use of a computer / laptop with stable internet, integrated webcam (640x480 resolution) and audio facilities is mandatory. The format of the exam is a significant departure from the CLAT as the NLAT has drastically reduced the number of questions from 150 to 40 and the time from 120 minutes to 45 minutes.

The University has also refused to publish a merit list of candidates.

This decision by India’s “best” Law School denies deserving and hardworking aspirants the opportunity to study in NLSIU. This manner of selection proposed by the University removes merit from the criteria of selection and paves the way for privilege to determine who gets access.

The following selection of quotes from the responses illustrate why NLAT 2020 is an exam designed to exclude.

"I do not have a laptop or PC”

A resident of Sasamusa, Gopalganj Bihar writes: “I applied for NLAT but now it seems like impossible to appear in exam because I have no laptop. I am a daughter of a small farmer whose monthly income is approx 8-10k. In my family we have just a single smartphone which I bought last year from the cash prize of 10k by Bihar Government. Since then I am preparing for CLAT from that phone.”

“I will have to travel 200km to get access to high speed internet”

Internet was mentioned 121 times in responses. The technical guidelines released by the NLS administration specifies that candidates must have at least 1 Mbps internet bandwidth for the proctoring software to operate.

A student from Gopeshwar, Uttarakhand says: “I do not have access to high speed internet in my town, no cyber café’s are providing such facility, if I want to give the exam I will have to travel 200km to get access to high speed internet”

One aspirant from Jammu writes: “I am residing in border town of J&K and here only 2G is accessible. I am having broadband connection at my close relatives’ home but always fear as there are repeated snags in broadband. I don’t know how I will manage to give my test.”

“My system does not satisfy the technical requirements”

Several students have expressed how their laptops and computer systems do not have integrated webcams with 640x480 resolution, as is the case with many cheaper laptops, netbooks or chromebooks, as well as with most desktop PCs.

Furthermore, the only OS permitted is Microsoft.

This leaves high and dry those with MacOS, all free and open-source Linux-style operating systems (which is being used by the Indian Supreme Court's staff, for instance), Google’s Chrome OS used in cheaper Chromebooks used by many students, as well as other options such as Android.

An NLS aspirant from Kota, Rajasthan says: “My system does not satisfy the technical requirements. I don’t have webcam in my PC, also I don’t have a system of voice transfer, earlier I thought I’d do it by using earphones but that is also barred.”

Another student from Bhikwind expresses how he is unable to procure a webcam or a laptop at such short notice.

“Even Cyber Cafés have refused to provide these facilities.”

A Bidadi, Karnataka-based student explains: “As I don’t have a laptop, I tried to go to internet café’s and see if they can help. They refused because they did not want to download these softwares onto their system and most places did not have any integrated webcam or microphone.”

“I don’t know anyone who can enroll as a scribe at such short notice”

Notably, the notification and subsequently released technical guidelines provide no information for persons with disabilities, specifically candidates with visual impairments who would need scribes and technical assistance in order to appear for the exam.

Scribes are required to be registered in advance and must be one-year junior to the candidate appearing for the exam. Students with disabilities from National Law Universities who have availed the help of scribes for CLAT in the past describe this as a time consuming and difficult process.

A candidate with 75% visual impairment from Warangal, Telangana, was astonished to find that the NLAT notification made no reference to any such facilities or accommodations for PWD candidates. Let alone technical guidelines, the extra 20 minutes per hour mandated by UGC guideline, Bar Council Guidelines, regulations under the Rights for Persons with Disabilities Act have not been followed.

Editor's Update 15:49: NLSIU has just notified additional time and permission and process of using a scribe for the exam, for persons with disability (PWD) who need it.

“I would not have made it to NLS”

If the administration had even conducted a brief survey amongst students currently studying at NLSIU, it would have found that the model proposed for the NLAT was totally unfeasible.

The administration would have also found that NLSIU was not just a college for these aspirants but a hope for a better life. The unilateral decision to conduct NLAT crushed this hope for many.

A 3rd Year Student from NLSIU recounts: “I am from Darbangha Bihar and I did not have a computer with a wifi connection, and the only access to internet was through 2G/3G mobile data.

“In these times of the year, our area is inundated with floods and access to electricity and roads is interrupted. Studying law was a distant dream for me. If I had to give CLAT in these conditions I would not have made it to NLS.

“My dream would have remained unattainable”

A 5th Year student who will soon graduate from NLS shares: “I did not have money to go for coaching or any facility to give online mocks. I did not even have direct access to the internet. If electricity and internet were qualifying criteria, my hopes of studying at NLS would have remained unattainable.”

Should the university care?

Should the University care about students who will be denied the opportunity to study at NLS?

The University seems to think it does not have an obligation to these students but even one student being denied equal opportunity is a failure on the part of an educational institution which hopes to create social engineers.

Here we have over 200 such stories. This creates a dangerous precedent. These problems would not arise if NLS accepts CLAT scores because CLAT is conducted in exam centres, does not require personal devices and the format was announced a year in advance.

At this juncture it is crucial for us to remember the legacy of the late Prof Shamnad Basheer who said that if National Law Universities continue to be exclusive islands of excellence, the vast majority of Indian students will be deprived of the benefits of a globalized legal profession and those with access will monopolise these opportunities.

If privilege and access continue to be determining factors for entry to NLS, I would urge the University to inform the candidates who cannot appear for NLAT anymore that their lives, their hard work, their struggles, their hopes mean nothing.

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