Saturday, 24 July, 2021
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OPINION

Ailing, Politicised Universities



Mukti Rijal

 

The higher education is in a state of disrepair in the country. Almost two months have elapsed since the TU vice chancellor has exited following the expiry of his term of office. Though a panel was formed to recommend the name for appointment of new vice chancellor to replace the outgoing vice chancellor, this body seems dodging the issue. There have been demands coming from different sectors emphasising that vice chancellor should be an academician with accepted credential and integrity. The government is yet to act on it.
This indecision on the part of the government allows the university administration to languish in inaction. Meanwhile, the government is reported to be going for enacting umbrella law to govern universities in the country. Needless to say, the Nepali universities are ruled and governed by separate statute-- each articulating their own set of officials, curricula and system of evaluation. This move on the part of the government can be welcomed since an uniform and comprehensive university legislation will set standard terms and conditions for management of the universities. Almost a dozen universities exist in Nepal but almost all universities have been plagued by one or the other malaises.
Experts have identified and articulated that the political meddling and interference has been the fundamental reason responsible for the sharp deterioration in the quality and standard of higher education in Nepal. As commented in the media, the proposed university law if enacted will provide more room and avenue for political diktat and control since it is going to vest more power and authority in the chancellor of the university. Normally, in our context prime minister by virtue of his official capacity as the executive head of the government automatically becomes the chancellor of the public or government aided universities as a continuation of the previous practices and traditions that was set when the first and foremost Tribhuvan University was established during early sixties. The then King used to be the chancellor of the university. At a time when strong voices have been raised against the provision for making prime minister as the chancellor of the university with a view to minimise and scale down the involvement of political authority in peddling influence in the operation and management of university in the country, the proposed law instead seeks reportedly to buttress political meddling.
If the law is enacted chancellor can sack the vice chancellor and other authorities of the university in case the executive head of the government finds some reason to be displeased and dissatisfied with apex level university officials. Many fear this provision will further embolden and empower prime minister to use his or political discretion and interest to decide the fate of the university authorities. Apart from this there has been a public outcry and resentment expressed on the haphazard and politically motivated manner with which universities are reportedly awarding affiliations to different private colleges and institutes by the without any regard to minimum academic purpose, norms, requirements and standards.
The Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University indeed seem bent on granting affiliations to sundry private colleges and institutes to introduce and run classes on different subjects and disciplines. Likewise, Nepal Sanskrit University is set reportedly to award affiliation to agricultural campus but neither does it have the human resource to formulate curriculum on agriculture studies nor is it the subject of relevance for it.
Likewise, the agricultural university of Rampur Chitwan has decided to establish and operate ten constituent campuses. Moreover, it has also decided to award affiliation to private agricultural campuses sharply compromising on the standards and norms set for the agricultural campuses in the past. In the same way, the Tribhuvan University has allowed the private campuses to introduce program in different courses and disciplines with a view to attract and swell students. The above information related with the University activities and priorities tends to reveal that the institutions established for higher education in Nepal are occupied with doing business through affiliation deals instead of keeping concentration for improving quality of higher education in Nepal. It is alleged that the university authorities prefer to deal with the private colleges and institutes since this can give them allegedly undue and ill-gotten benefits and advantages.
Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that the private education lobby in Nepal is very powerful and exercises access to the high offices of the powerful minister. This lobby can peddle influence in changing and reversing policy decisions of the government. Public universities and colleges in Nepal are indiscriminately politicised where the academic and administrative authorities are appointed on the basis of their access to and influence in the power echelon. Many intellectuals and educationists who have intimate knowledge on the university education articulate on the need to separate academics and politics and protect the sanctity and integrity of the academic institutions in Nepal.
It has been reported time and again that the academic integrity and capacity of the universities has witnessed a downward spiral especially during the multiparty democracy era as trade unionism made inroads into the realm of both teachers and students. The recent move to strengthen the hand of the state authority seems directed to further politicise the academic institutions. Regarding the role of university during the contemporary times a UNESCO document mentions "Universities have the social responsibility to advance our understanding of multifaceted issues, which involve social, economic, scientific and cultural dimensions and our ability to respond to them. It should lead society in generating global knowledge to address global challenges, inter alia food security, climate change, water management, intercultural dialogue, renewable energy and public health.” It is time we worked to make our universities effective and credible for generation of useful and competitive knowledge.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at rijalmukti@gmail.com)