In Conversation with Dr. Dilip Ukey, Vice Chancellor, MNLU Mumbai

Professor (Dr.) Dilip Ukey is the Vice Chancellor of Maharashtra National Law University (MNLU) Mumbai. Among his various academic and administrative roles, he has also served as Professor and HoD, Department of Law, Pune University; Pro Vice-Chancellor & Acting-Vice Chancellor at SRTM University, Nanded, and Visiting Research Fellow at New South Wales University, Australia. He is an expert in Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights and his work in these fields is recognized in national and international fora.

He has served on various high level committees of UGC, NAAC, UPSC, State Public Service Commissions including judge’s selection panels. As a leader with a vision, he has made MNLU Mumbai the much-cherished University by the Law Aspirants within a short span of time. He was awarded the ‘Best Academician Award 2019’ by Indian National Bar Association. Among his vast legal scholarship, two books, one on ‘The Jurisprudence of Legal Theory’ and other on ‘Revisiting Reforms in the Criminal Justice System in India’ published by Thomson Reuters in 2020 are his latest contributions.

Read his interview with Lawctopus below.

Prof. Dilip Ukey

1. How did you decide on a career in academia? Please tell us a bit about your journey till now.

From the college days itself, I had an inclination towards reading and research. Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law were (and are) my favorite subjects which pushed me to find ways to make my bit of contribution to social development and nation building. I received JRF scholarship for my Ph.D. which strengthened my ambition for teaching. I started from the bottom-up in this teaching profession. To be honest, teaching keeps alive your quest for learning, and the nobility in this profession is worth admiration.

2. How has your experience been seeing MNLU Mumbai shape up to be a prominent law school in such a short period of time? What are the focus areas for the future?  

There is a feeling of content – with a craving to contribute more. MNLU Mumbai has truly received a good response from its stakeholders during the past years. This has been due to the active efforts of our teachers, staff members, administration, and the reciprocal support provided by the students, who created opportunity in adversity.

The University had its humble beginning from 1 BHK rented accommodation of Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai to the state of the art premises of CETTM-MTNL, Powai where it is located now. When I joined the University, I had a lot of ambitions with respect to the streamlining of curriculum, the launch of new courses, more outreach, etc.

However, since the University was still in its nascent stage, it took me some time to execute my vision. One year post joining in 2020, during the pandemic, we launched three master’s programmes – LL.M. Professional, LL.M. (Investment & Securities Laws) jointly offered by Securities and Exchange Board of India’s – National Institute of Securities Management, and M.A. (Executive) in Mediation and Conflict Resolution – first such course in South Asia. Further, to strengthen research, we have launched in-house Research Grants scheme for our faculty members which are yielding positive results.

However, the exercise of growth is going on. Our focus in the coming days will be on improving the curriculum with specialized teaching, creating freeships for students, improving research output, and having a state-of-the-art campus of our own.

3. What are the rewarding aspects of running an institute like MNLU Mumbai? What are the challenges?

The most rewarding thing is seeing each and everyone grow and become better day by day. Our students have won laurels in various national and international competitions, and are performing well in academics as well. This gives me an immense sense of satisfaction, realizing that today’s students will be tomorrow’s social engineers and that the University is going in the right direction.

MNLU Mumbai takes care of diversity and inclusiveness by following the reservation policy of the State of Maharashtra. We have zero tolerance towards ragging, harassment, or discrimination of any kind. We have entered into a number of MoUs with national and international institutions. The University has never shielded itself under infrastructural constraints, but used the nascent years to its advantage and has come out stronger.

However, the challenges are that we are yet to have a campus of our own, though the government is very supportive and we expect to materialize in this area very soon. Secondly, recruitments have taken a back seat due to the pandemic and recruitment ban by the government, which will be undertaken very soon.

4. How does one balance the needs of the administration and that of the students in a university space?

Running a University is not a one-man show, it is teamwork – done through building a good team of academicians and administrators who can work in collaboration with all the stakeholders. Within this, space has to be kept to have an open dialogue with the students, to seek their active involvement and opinion for the matters concerning them. This can be done via having student bodies, having parent bodies, and ensuring regular consultation with them.

Good legal education making students independent via education and knowledge so that they can make a career of their own and find solutions to real-world problems. It can be a solution to poverty, inequality, injustice, etc. The aim should be to inculcate better values and create gems that strengthen and uphold the nation’s constitutional values. Universities should strengthen their clinical programmes, have active involvement of the legal fraternity so that this gap between theory and practice can be lessened. I do think that these days curriculums are being prepared with this in mind. Further, by providing opportunities to acquire knowledge beyond books, through internships, assistantships, etc. students can be prepared for the career ahead.

I believe that legal literacy should be made compulsory at the secondary and higher secondary level so that we can have aware citizens and inculcate in them respect for the law. In this pandemic, the divide between theory and practice is widening as a large number of students are not able to cherish the flavour of attending physical courts, due to the constraints posed by the pandemic. I pray and hope that things come to normal soon in all walks of life.

I personally miss seeing students on campus, as they are the soul of the institution. However, the pandemic has changed three things: teaching structure, learning method, and research patterns.

Adoption of digital technologies was a long-term need that got a boost during the pandemic. Through webinars, certificate courses, workshops in online mode, new possibilities have been created where distance has been reduced enabling students to get access to knowledge without infrastructural barriers.

However, it cannot be negated that due to pandemic, a greater knowledge gap has been created, though not in NLUs as such, but at the grassroots college level where neither the colleges nor the students were adept at online teaching. This was a big challenge, hopefully, things are improving now.

I think that the whole 5 years integrated programme needs an overhaul. We should think of having a 4+1 year model wherein 4 years are kept for theoretical (cum practical) learning and the last year should focus purely on practical aspects and research. This will help the students to get a jet start in their careers.

I think consultation is required in this regard between academia and the regulators. Further, MNLU Mumbai takes care of diversity and inclusiveness by following the reservation policy of the State of Maharashtra. This diversity strengthens our core values. Access to justice and access to quality education should be the core philosophy to provide holistic learning. Steps must also be taken to make legal education multilingual, which is in line with our National Education Policy as well. This will enable students to serve even at the grass-root/ rural level which will strengthen our legal system as a whole.

8. What are your thoughts on the two-year LL.M. programme which the BCI is contemplating?

We need to holistically think about this. Largely, LL.M. is preferred by students who wish to enter academia. Already, they have either spent 3+3 years or 5 years in their under graduation. Further, adding 2 years will take them to the back seat. One year LL.M. is an internationally accepted norm.

I think that rather than reinventing the wheel, we must focus more on the development of our teachers. Universities must increase research output. Cooperative teaching must be practiced which will strengthen young teachers. More teacher training programmes must be conducted and the Universities must enable an atmosphere where teachers can grow. 

Commitment, dedication, and hard work is the key to success. You may study in any school or college, but, never sacrifice your values, principles, and there are no shortcuts. MNLU Mumbai takes care of diversity and inclusiveness and we have entered into several MoUs with national and international institutions. Also, we aim to create a world-class university that creates a balance between international demand and regional needs.

For aspiring candidates, my advice would be:

  • Make reading a lifestyle, focus on reading horizontally and writing vertically. 
  • Read beyond the law, inculcate interdisciplinary approaches and correlate history, philosophy, economics, etc. with law.
  • Be inquisitive.

I recall a famous quote of Paulo Coelho, ‘the secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times. Failure is necessary to cherish success. One has to have a lot of patience, perseverance and consistently do hard work in a reasonable and diligent manner. Similarly, one has to have a very positive attitude and utmost self-confidence (not overconfidence) to excel.

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