Legal education reforms in India should go along with the encouragement of global philanthropic initiatives so that resources are available to maintain international standards.
The reform of the higher education system is central to developing a knowledge-based society in India. Within the paradigm of such reforms, drastic steps need to be taken to address the numerous challenges facing legal education in India. There should be a re-look into the existing system of establishing state-supported institutions such as national law schools or law faculties and law departments in State or Central Universities. While the national law schools established in many States paved the way for important reforms, they have not been able to address two central issues concerning legal education. The first is the question of attracting good faculty and the second is the challenge of promoting a vibrant research environment in the institutions. While institutions established by the State or Central governments have their own challenges of governance and maintenance of standards, most private initiatives in the field of education, including legal education, have not been impressive. Privatisation has not been able to raise academic standards in terms of either the quality of the faculty and students or the promotion of research within institutions. Since private initiatives in the field of education have largely been perceived as mediocre commercial ventures and not as initiatives to promote knowledge, there has been gross deterioration in standards.
Legal education in India needs reforms that would support the establishment of global law schools combining the best traditions of public educational institutions with the needed flexibility, freedom, and autonomy enjoyed by private initiatives — all within the public good framework of a non-profit endeavour. In this context, there is a need to actively seek and encourage philanthropic initiatives in the field of legal education. The system of creating endowments — both individual and corporate — has to be significantly promoted. To create a truly global law school, it is important to recognise the need to promote a global curriculum, global faculty, global degrees, and global interaction within the Indian context. For this, the initiatives ought to come from private individuals and institutions ready and willing to support the establishment of global educational institutions with the highest standards in teaching and research for the purpose of creating and disseminating knowledge.
Reform of legal education in India requires global philanthropic initiatives that can help the country build the educational institutions of the future. Such law schools in India will be able to attract the best of faculty from India and the world. They will also be able to create world class infrastructure to attract the best students from everywhere, create internationally reputed research centres and promote research activities that are beneficial to the country and the international community, and enhance the ability to bring together brilliant minds to solve the problems of humanity. India has huge challenges to confront in promoting legal and judicial reforms with a view to establishing a rule-of-law society. The role of lawyers and judges will become critical for addressing future challenges of governance. In this regard, the training that is imparted to future lawyers and judges in our law schools needs to be thoroughly re-examined to suit the social and economic transformation that is under way in the country.
As early as in 1917, when serious initiatives were taken to reform legal education at the Yale Law School, it was noted that the purpose of the law school should be “the study of law and its evolution, historically, comparatively, analytically, and critically, with the purpose of directing its development in the future, improving its administration and on perfecting its methods of legislation.”
The central question we need to ask ourselves in India is whether our law schools are fulfilling this responsibility adequately, and if not, what we need to do, so that we are able to address the fundamental issues concerning legal education that were raised nearly 90 years ago in the United States.
The following are some important issues that are connected to promoting global philanthropy in legal education:
1. Sustainable development of global legal education
The future of legal education in India should be linked to the promotion of global philanthropic initiatives for it to be sustainable. The deterioration in standards in the quality of faculty in law schools in India and the paucity of research output have to be addressed with sincerity. There is a need to create endowments of the kind that reputed law schools of the world have managed to do with a view to involving public-spirited private individuals and corporations to support the development of law schools. Unfortunately, in India the dominant trend has been towards greater support for religious initiatives. Even when limited support for education is available, it is directly or indirectly connected to the support of religious groups. This is acceptable as long as academic standards are not compromised or undermined.
2. Global infrastructure and resources in law schools
If Indian law schools have to meet the demands of the changing global society, the training we impart to our law students ought to be thoroughly re-examined. Our law schools need infrastructure and resources comparable to global universities, particularly when access to such universities is available to both our faculty and students. Our law schools have to seek a dramatic transformation in providing infrastructure and resources to our faculty and students.
Library facilities in our law schools need to be substantially upgraded, for which huge resources have to be mobilised. The annual budget (including for library staff) for the law library at the Harvard Law School is $14 million (Rs.56 crore) and that of the Yale Law School is over $6 million (about Rs.25 crore). Inevitably, the resources needed to reach international standards for providing global infrastructure for our law schools have to be mobilised through library endowments and private donations.
3. Legal research, international exchanges, and global knowledge
Globalisation of legal research has become a universal trend. Legal scholars working in a particular country or researching on the law and legal systems of that country do not limit their research to that country or its neighbours. With the development of web-based research and other online research tools and databases, there has been a remarkable transformation in the development of comparative and international law research. It is important for global law schools to have or provide access to legal material for jurisdictions from all over the world. These need to be constantly updated to keep up with the changing dimensions of law in all societies. There is also a need to promote global exchanges including bilateral and multilateral exchange of faculty and students with a view to aiding global knowledge relating to law and legal institutions. All this needs huge resources. It is not possible for the governments of developing countries such as India to support them through public funding. Concrete steps need to be taken to encourage global philanthropic initiatives.
Legal education reforms in India should go along with the encouragement of global philanthropic initiatives so that resources are available to maintain international standards to impart quality education and conduct impact-oriented research.
(The writer is Associate Professor of Law, City University of Hong Kong and Honorary Consultant, National Human Rights Commission [India]
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