National Law Universities (NLUs) vs non-NLUs: Where do the differences lie?

"The comparison is similar to one between IITs and Engineering colleges," opines a professor 
NLU Delhi | (Pic: NLU Delhi)
NLU Delhi | (Pic: NLU Delhi)

Legal education in India has immensely evolved, and many players have entered the field. A broad classification can be safely made between National Law Universities (NLUs) and non-NLUs, the latter including universities, government colleges, and private law schools.

"A comparison between NLUs and non-NLUs is similar to a comparison between the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other Engineering colleges," says researcher-academician Prof GB Reddy of University Law College, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Prof Reddy mentions that while the law colleges or law departments of universities have a more traditional approach to law, NLUs have a non-conventional professional-oriented approach. "At NLUs, the standard of research, teaching and learning is good, and students are offered greater flexibility and autonomy in the degrees and courses. NLUs also receive ample patronage, from the courts, industry, corporates, and even the government, in addition to students, leading, in a way, to better faculty and infrastructure," he explains.

In vogue
Is this why NLUs still remain a classic choice for law aspirants? Speaking out her reasons for choosing an NLU, Harshali Sulebhavikar, a student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal, said, "For me, it was the fee factor. Private universities charge very high fees. NLUs also provide state scholarships and easy access to secure internships and placements at law firms. And of course, for many students, the NLU tag is an alluring factor."

A dedicated placement cell at NLUs, which offers direct recruitment and internships in law firms and other circles, is a big attraction for students, opines Tanvi Dubey, a practising advocate in the Supreme Court of India, who teaches at various law colleges, both NLUs and non-NLUs, as a guest faculty when she has the time.

"A placement cell is lacking at some private colleges, and students have to use their own endeavour to acquire internships," she said.

Prof Reddy adds that an age bar exercised by NLUs, as opposed to universities and many other colleges, is another reason why young talent is attracted to them.

The downside
However, the academics and opportunities are not brilliant at all NLUs, Harshali says, and Prof Prerna from NALSAR Law University agrees. "Only the Tier I NLUs are better equipped to provide the academic advantages, but the tag is important for students. The notion that an NLU means more opportunities motivates students to try for admission to one. Studying at an NLU becomes a ticket to social mobility for them," Prof Prerna says.

Harshali also feels that the advantages of NLUs are dwindling. "The fees have been hiked at a few. NLU Bangalore now charges about Rs 3 lakh, while private colleges charge around Rs 4 lakh. The faculty and teaching standards have also decreased at a few NLUs," she says.

Prof Reddy explains that NLUs have the autonomy to fix their own fees at a higher rate, and agrees that some NLUs have indeed reduced themselves to mediocre law schools.

A shift
In this scenario, Advocate Dubey points out that over the recent years, she has seen a shift from NLUs to private universities. "Some of them have tie-ups with summer schools and universities abroad, and offer good opportunities," she says. She recalls that all three winners of a debate competition she went to judge recently were students of private universities, while the contenders included NLU students as well.

"Private universities, especially the corporate and deemed universities are giving tough competition to NLUs. Though the fees are high, more and more students are preferring them," adds Prof Reddy. "They have diverse faculty, offer diverse courses and are doing really well," Prof Prerna says further.

Established varsities
Speaking about legal education in central and state universities, Prof Reddy says that they are lagging behind in terms of professionalism, though the faculty is wonderful and law departments in universities and affiliated law colleges are fundamentally very strong. "There still exists a notion in many colleges that students who do not get admission elsewhere and are not serious about studies take admission in law; it is a license to lodging and boarding," he laments.

Nonetheless, Harshali mentions that studying at a university would have provided her with a multi-disciplinary approach, as students there would get to learn from and collaborate with faculty and peers from other departments. Notably, many central and state universities have retained top positions in the 2023 the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) ranking for Law.

What matters
Which type of college to choose, then? "At the end of the day, only your performance matters," says Advocate Dubey. "In a court, the judge recognises the performance; what college you took your degree from is of no consequence. Recently, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) praised the young lawyers. If you know the laws, ground rules and court craft, you are in the game," she adds.

Further, she advises students, "How you utilise your three years or five years at college is important. Doing as many internships as possible during the period is crucial as only bookish knowledge is not enough. This is why students nowadays prefer to be taught by professionals who can teach from their experience, and many colleges invite professionals for this purpose. So, take experience, try to secure internships and keep your CV on point." 

Prof Prerna, who has observed and interacted with many students who completed LLB from non-NLUs but moved to an NLU to take a master's degree, adds that it is the student's effort that matters. "Those who have the grit and sincerity to study and write those papers, whatever it takes, are bound to succeed," she states.

The exam factor
Despite all arguments, another factor that attracts students to NLUs is the ease of securing admission, according to Harshali. "You have to write just one entrance test for NLUs, whereas each university or college conducts its own test and the process becomes tedious," she says.

Prof Prerna, however, mentions that the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is not free from demerits. "It is conducted only in English, and equips mostly English-medium students to ace it, in turn excluding others. It is also elitist in nature, and the exam fee is very expensive, once more resulting in the exclusion of many students who cannot afford it.

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