As head of the country’s first national law school — an institute that produces Rhodes scholars almost annually and has won two prestigious moot court competitions under his leadership — R Venkata Rao is a proud vice-chancellor. When he took over as VC of National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in May 2009, it was an opportunity he could not believe was his. “Every minute is exciting here. It was with the blessings of teachers, elders and the Almighty that I got the privilege to head this institution after serving Andhra University for 34 years,” says Prof Rao.
Located in the vast, lush green Jnana Bharathi campus of Bangalore University, NLSIU was established in 1986 — it was the culmination of the efforts of Bar Council of India, Karnataka Bar Council, Bangalore University and Government of Karnataka. “We are proud to call ourselves the baby of the Bar Council. NLSIU has brought about a paradigm shift in legal education. For ten years, this was the only national law school. People watched this experiment with both awe and skepticism. Then, in 1997, Nalsar University, Hyderabad, was established, then one in Kolkata, Bhopal and the rest is history. But the first is always the first,” he beams.
Prof Rao believes that his task as VC and that of his faculty has been made formidable due to the talent students here possess. “In 60 months, we make them achieve greater skills in the art of writing, analysing and communication. So much so that we make them write more than 60 projects in five years on out-of-the-box topics,” he says. “The real activity,” Prof Rao continues, “starts after lunch, when one can find students interacting with faculty, keeping them alive and afresh.”
NLSIU students have become a default on the Rhodes scholars list — Anupama Kumar took the coveted scholarship this year, making it seven in a row for NLSIU. “We won the Jessup Memorial Moot Court championship, where we beat the so-called top 200 world institutions. We also won the Manfred Lachs Moot Court competition. Perhaps, I am basking in reflected glory,” he laughs.
So what keeps him going? “Well, simply, it is the reward of a job well done. On the very first day of counselling, we tell students, ‘this is our school. Make us proud of it, make it proud of you.’ We have an institutional mechanism where senior students mentor juniors. After class hours, senior students introduce juniors to various societies and tell them what is expected of them. That ignites the spark in them,” Prof Rao says. “Out of 24,000 students who write the Common Law Admission Test, the first 10,000 apply to us. When the selected students assemble here, a healthy competition takes place.”
He adds that the race for excellence motivates them. “When people like Ram Jethmalani, Gopal Subramaniam and Justice Deepak Mishra come and talk to them (students), it surely motivates them as they will be the future Gopal Subramaniams and Deepak Mishras,” he says.
NLSIU has 100 per cent autonomy, claims Prof Rao. “The functional autonomy we have is something par excellence. There wasn’t even an iota of interference in all four years of my experience, and I’ve been told that this is how it works here,” he says.
In the 11th Five-Year Plan, NLSIU was brought under the financial assistance scheme of University Grants Commission. At the end of the Plan, NLSIU got `7 crore. “Even the Karnataka Government, which has been giving us `10 lakh, has increased the grant to `1 crore,” he informs.
NLSIU is widely regarded as a think tank when it comes to formulating policies. “Any policy proposal is invariably referred to NLSIU for suggestions. Our students pitched in suggestions for the recent Justice Verma report. Right now, our faculty and students are giving inputs for Land for Urban Poor policy,” he says.