Establishing India’s First Global Law School: Challenges and Opportunities

C. Raj Kumar & Jonathan Burton-MacLeod

O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) is a non-profit university established by the Haryana Private Universities (Second Amendment) Act, 2009 at Sonipat, Haryana (National Capital Region of Delhi). JGU is recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC).  Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) has been recognized by the Bar Council of India (BCI).

To the uninitiated, the inclusion of JGU and JGLS’ credentials at the beginning of all promotional materials and university publications seems a marketing faux pas. Should not JGLS trumpet its elite faculty profiles, with professors holding both Indian and foreign law degrees from some of the world’s leading educational institutions?

Readers of the India Law News (ILN) are a self-selecting group, and it is likely that they understand both the necessity of, and the effort required, to attain the highest possible regulatory credentials. JGU, and with it, JGLS, is an ambitious new entrant into the Indian – and indeed global – academic scene. Nevertheless, as this essay will elicit, JGU and JGLS were established with a very deliberate eye towards both Indian and global contexts. After all, unlike leading institutions worldwide – Harvard, Yale, Stanford – private universities traditionally have been looked down upon in India, and have been held responsible for the lowering of academic standards in a push for profit margins. Yet, as will be argued below, private universities – run not for profit but for excellence – are essential to the creation of new conditions for global and interdisciplinary study, as well as an emphasis on research that creates knowledge and contributes to the resolving of pressing societal problems.

Each word of the introduction to JGU and JGLS, then, carries import not readily perceived outside the Indian context.  JGU’s non-profit status, statutory establishment, and the recognition conferred by the UGC and the BCI, all showcase JGU as being held to the highest of standards, acting as an empirical response to those dubious of JGU’s vision and credentials. Equally impressive, however, is the mammoth effort necessary for this portfolio of legislative and regulatory credentials. Anyone who is familiar with India will tell you that, for all its potential, India can be a bureaucratic nightmare. From foreign persons registration to acquiring a driver’s license, Indian systems of governance can confound and confuse.

It never fails to amaze visitors that, as hard as it is to navigate India, a global university with a USD $100 million dollar infrastructure and complete statutory backing could be established in the space of two years.  Yet the impossibilities posed by India’s bureaucratic structure exist dialectically and inexplicably with an ability to –  with incredible effort, passion, and persistence – achieve what in other contexts would be considered impossible.  The perplexities of India exist in parallel with its irresistible trajectory; a trajectory not simply due to the eight-plus percent GDP growth, but to India’s emerging position as a key player and potential bridge builder on international issues ranging from trade and development to carbon caps to human rights.

In an article on globalization and legal education for Halsbury’s Law, a LexisNexis publication, C. Raj Kumar, JGU’s Vice Chancellor, argued that the establishment of global universities of excellence has the potential to create new opportunities for growth and development in the knowledge sector, a key component for India’s ascendency, economically or otherwise.

It remains a double-edged reality that India has long been an exporter of its greatest asset – thinkers that have changed the way we view the world,  many of whom find seats in leading universities abroad. JGLS seeks ultimately to ameliorate this trend through the establishment of a research-driven, globally ambitious, institution in India. The future of higher education in India is hugely dependent on the role of the private sector and to what extent the regulatory policies in higher education favor the role of this sector.

If this is true, it is necessary to recognize that governments in developing countries like India are not in a position to wholly support the significant levels of financial commitments needed to establish and sustain reputed institutions of higher learning. In this context, the role of the private sector is indispensible.

Yet, as was previously alluded to, privatized higher education in India has been traditionally viewed with immense distrust.  While in other sectors, such as telecom, the privatization of services resulted in increased quality and decreased pricing, in the educational sector, the opposite has been the case.  Largely unregulated degree programs have taken advantage of the huge demand for undergraduate and postgraduate study.

While globalization has created new opportunities for promoting growth and development in education, the focus of this growth ought to be based on the principles of public service that is essential for achieving reforms in education, rather than profit-seeking. It is notable that most of the reputed universities in the United States are the products of private players with a common motto that has been adopted by JGU: “a private university in the public service.”

There is no doubt that the emergence of a private, global entity like JGU rides on the coattails of visionary developments in the context of public higher education. The establishment of national law schools, starting with the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore, successfully challenged institutionalised mediocrity and succeeded in attracting serious students to the study of law. But where these schools face significant challenges is in attracting faculty members who are top researchers in the field of law and can combine sound teaching methods with established track records of research. The lack of researchers in law and absence of due emphasis on research and publications in the existing law schools have led to the absence of an intellectually vibrant academic environment

In August 2006, Newsweek magazine ranked the top 100 global universities taking into account openness and diversity, as well as distinction in research. The list included: Harvard, Stanford, and Yale in that order and Cambridge, Oxford, MIT and Columbia were among the top 10 global universities. While rankings have their flaws, it is notable that there was not a single university from South Asia among the top 100.  What is insightful is that the ranking criteria – beyond faculty-student ratio and library holdings – related to a string of research-based criteria, such as the citations per faculty member, the number of articles listed on leading academic databases, re-emphasizing research as a core area of deficiency for many South Asian institutions.  The other notable factor was diversity levels amongst faculty and students, or the number of international faculty and the percentage of international students.

Hiring good faculty has been a challenge in law schools in India and abroad. Generally, the financial incentives offered by the private sector both in India and abroad are far more attractive than those available in the public sector, including law schools, for good lawyers to make a commitment to academia. Even at elite law schools in India, the pay rates and heavy teaching loads can prove a disincentive to long-term research.

JGLS has attempted to incentivize research – financially and within its internal promotion scheme – in benchmark with leading institutions worldwide. JGLS Faculty receives generous paid conference leave, summer research leave, allocated funds for conference expenditure, and financial bonuses for the publication of ranked articles. Most importantly, however, JGLS seeks to foster a research culture.

To that end, eleven research centers have been established.  Research centers are part of the landscape for any leading research university. They are, however, seldom so integrated into the fabric of a university. At JGLS and JGU, this approach has been adopted for several overlapping reasons. Research centers provide the institutional framework to develop collaborative research projects with select Indian and foreign partners. True to its global name and vision, research centers at JGLS aim to generate global networks of minds addressing pressing legal and policy questions for India, and the world.

Secondly, no other university in India, and few globally, have centers that are intended to cover such a large range of pressing research topics. The establishment of JGLS’ eleven research centers is seen as a stand against the scarcity of academic contribution to many of India’s contemporary challenges. Simultaneously, the establishment of these centers represent a stand in favor of new, more globally considered, perspectives on these issues.

JGU is made possible by the private philanthropic initiative of Mr. Naveen Jindal, industrialist, Parliamentarian and now the Founding Chancellor of JGU. Mr. Jindal’s contribution is unprecedented within India’s educational sphere.  It is this philanthropic donation that has allowed JGLS to hire (to date) twenty-three faculty with world class teaching backgrounds and research credentials.  Almost all faculty members hold foreign law degrees in addition to training in India’s elite schools.  Almost fifty percent are foreign trained academics who have been swept up in the vision of JGLS and of India. JGU retains a faculty-student ratio of 1:15.

Just as importantly, JGLS is embedded within the larger JGU context. This is unique for leading law schools in India, and is intended to encourage interdisciplinary and holistic inquiry into a range of pressing policy problems facing contemporary India. JGU established a research-intensive and multidisciplinary global business school, Jindal Global Business School (JGBS) in August of 2010. The full blue print for JGU is to have four schools that reflect the most pressing needs for an emerging India, with schools of Public Policy and International Affairs joining JGLS and JGBS.

As a prototype global law school, JGLS aspires to develop a think tank model where research relationships are established with leading institutions worldwide on pressing transnational, development, and Global South issues.  In the first two years of the institution, there has been evidence of incredible eagerness to collaborate with JGLS. Perhaps belatedly, institutions in the U.S. and other jurisdictions are recognizing that, while they may have robust China Studies Centers, they do not have the same access or understanding to the Indian context.

Seizing this opportunity, over the course of the 2010-2011 Academic Year, JGLS has scheduled joint conferences with Yale, Cornell, Michigan, Osgoode Hall, and the Australian National University on topics as diverse as comparative law and governance in India and the U.S. to a critical perspective on global feminism. And, in August 2009, the JGLS hosted a landmark conference with the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where the inaugural issue of the Jindal Global Law Review was launched.  (The JGLS and Indiana have maintained close ties since and will be building upon this deep relationship in the near future.)

India, and with it JGLS, exists at a set of incredible cross-roads – the Global North and Global South, Emerged and Emerging economies, wealth and extreme poverty, and a shifting balance of geopolitical power. JGLS aspires to build and to host a network that connects civil society participants, leading law firms, and foreign institutions of excellence, with Indian Government Departments, to assist in the formulation of policy that enhances an emerging India. JGLS, together with the University of Cambridge, has already been awarded a contract from the Government of India for the training of senior Indian Police Services officers.  On a different front, JGLS has entered into Memorandums of Understanding with India’s top five ranked law firms. JGLS is a unique institution for a unique time.  The beauty of it, perhaps, is that JGLS represents an initiative that is not limited by its own resources. By building a global network, JGLS seeks to lead in India’s knowledge economy, providing a link between an emerging India and the world.  There is another sentence that makes it into all JGLS materials. Ambitious as it might be, it represents the vision of both JGLS and JGU as a whole: “The vision of JGU is to promote global programmes, global curriculum, global research, global collaborations, and global interaction through a global faculty.”  As such, JGLS pursues a global research agenda for India.

C. Raj Kumar received his LL.B. in Delhi, a B.C.L. from Oxford, and his LL.M. from Harvard.  He is Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University; Dean, Jindal Global Law School; Member, National Legal Knowledge Council.  He can be contacted at

Jonathan Burton-MacLeod received his A.B. from Harvard, a J.D. from Queen’s, and his LL.M. from Harvard.  He is Assistant Professor & Assistant Dean (Research and International Collaborations), Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, and can be contacted at


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