This article was written by Siddharth Chauhan (Batch of 2008).
Any recent graduate of Law School needs no introduction to Siddharth or more fondly known as simply ‘Chauhan’. The 20 months when he taught at Law School left an indelible mark on each student he taught. Always giving his all to Law School, his legacy still remains strong to this date. Writing in January 2005 for the first issue of Quirk, this article by Chauhan strikes an astonishingly prescient tone.
The entrance procedure for admission to NLSIU has been under the scanner on account of the consistent increase in the number of applicants each year. Some general criticisms offered are that the test inherently favours those with good English-medium schooling and that the high fee structure as well as requirements for ancillary spending create an ‘elitist’ profile of students. Another point made is that despite the provision of financial aid schemes, only the ‘well-off’ would have access to preparatory recourses. I do not intend to address these issues directly in this note. I propose a reform that might enable a slightly more diverse profile of incoming students. Though a common-entrance test for admission to NLSIU and the Law-schools that have subsequently followed its model, is not an exhaustive solution to the shortcomings in the admission procedure, it will, nevertheless be a step in the right direction.
The inclusion of institutions for the purpose of such a common-entrance exam, can be left to the discretion of an apex body comprising of members from the Bar Council of India or eminent academics. The modalities of designing and administering a common-entrance procedure can follow the example of similar tests conducted for engineering, medical and management institutions.
The primary motive for a consolidated entrance system is that it will bring about standardization across different institutions. It can work on the ‘rule of thumb’, that the applicant with better performance in test gets an earlier right of preference in respect of the seats available at the institution of his/her choice. Hence, the ‘brand name’ of the particular institute will be an important criterion and it will precipitate direct competition between various colleges.
The first benefit of implementing a common procedure is that it removes the need for individual spending on multiple admission forms, which as per current practice are highly prices and deter a substantial number of people from even applying for the preliminary process. A single application process will be convenient to applicants and also amount to a net saving of recourses spent in conducting the same. The criticism offered against this argument, is that separate entrance-tests also serve as income earning opportunities for institutions.
Second, a substantial number of high-school students are deterred from applying to individual institutions on account of regional considerations i.e. they are generally averse to the idea of moving to campuses in far-to locations. This tendency holds truer for prospective applicants who do not come from a legal background and are unsure of their long-term prospects with a law degree. A common test for several institutions will circumvent this trend.
The only argument against a common law-entrance exam that deserves attention is that of possible ‘brand-dilution’ or the disregarding of some distinct criteria demanded by individual institutions. It is true that in case of NLSIU, several people would feel that it enjoys a head-start over other five-year law courses in India in terms of recruitment prospects for students. This argument only proceeds on the idea of the need to maintain high standards in an institution – evaluated on how students perform through Law School and thereafter and not in the entrance-exam. On comparison of the test results for eminent law-schools like NALSAR, NUJS, NLU et al with the NLSIU list and it will be clear that the same individual applicant may not have performed consistently across the different tests. The entrance-tests are, therefore, not conclusive indicators of legal aptitude and for all the practical purposes there would be little to differentiate between the incoming batches in the top 4-5 law-schools. The argument for a common test is made to cover only the institutions following the NLSIU academic model in the short run. However, with more and more of the ‘old-school’ law departments in colleges and universities starting give-year programmes following the same structure, the coverage of the test can be widened on the conditions of an institution fulfilling clearly laid-down standards relating to administrative efficiency, quality of faculty and provision of infrastructure.