Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Freeing TU From Politics

Mukti Rijal


Tribhuvan University Vice Chancellor Dr. Dharma Kant Bastola admitted, the other day, the fact that the party politics has deeply been engrained in the body politic of TU. It has posed difficulties for him to carry out necessary improvements in the structure and functions of the university. In an extensive interview given to a national daily, he disclosed that he was trying to persuade the political leaders to refrain from using both teachers and students for political ends to ensure that academic activities were kept and operated according to the calendar of operation.
He made a commitment to end the practice of much impugned Bhagbanda (negotiated sharing of the plum academic and administrative posts) to maintain the standards of teaching and learning in the university. TU Vice Chancellor has thus properly articulated and made a diagnostic elaboration of several problems plaguing the apex institution of learning in the country. But to what extent he will be able to confront and resolve them has been a matter of big question. However, the TU Service Commission exam given for the lecturers can be interpreted as a case to bolster his credibility.

Ethical compromise
The Commission’s examinations results announced last fortnight gave some indications of the strictness and academic rigour seemingly maintained as a majority of examinees could not get through the tests. Many TU onlookers and stakeholders have commented that the rigour of exams and objective scrutiny of the answer sheets without compromising the standards and norms should have been the reason for such an austere result even as the minimum number could not be met to fill the slot. During the previous years, the TU Service Commission's image had taken a beating due to alleged widely reported compromise on the exam ethics and integrity. However, present exam results have helped to repair and restore the bruised image of the commission to some extent which is a good omen to the tenure of the incumbent VC.
In this context this writer would like to recall the meeting he had with the outgoing TU Vice Chancellor Dr. Tirtha Khaniya. The interaction was held after he had assumed the post of VC some years ago and his observations about several promises had been quoted profusely in a write-up published in this daily too. He had also expressed similar commitments to improve the academic environment through some functional reforms. But today many point out the fact that he was not able deliver much expected of him because of the academic background and rich experiences he had held with him.
Though the incumbent VC Dr. Bastola may not be a politically identified and noticeably involved person, his access to levers of political power and cozying up with incumbent executives of the country had been reportedly instrumental for his appointment in the position he is holding now. This may be the reason why many take his commitment to especially insulate the university from the clutch of politics and partisan interests with a pinch of salt.
The partisan tendencies and disruptive acts came with a vengeance sometime after Dr. Baskota had taken over the rein of TU administration. The offices of registrar and rector were padlocked creating obstructions in carrying out routine and regular functions of the higher seat of education. It is reported that the university teachers’ union affiliated with one of the major political parties had executed the obstructive act putting forth several demands.
None of the demands put forth by teachers had any relations with reforming academic environment and management of the university. Moreover, at a time when the entire education sector has been badly battered due to corona menace and educational institutions have been shut down for almost a year, it is not suited and appropriate on the part of academics and teachers to put forth demands that could add resource load and vitiate academic environment.
For almost a year, the university teachers have gone freed from their routine work to physically report, teach, interact with students and handle assignment accordingly due to prolonged shutdown. Though some colleges have managed to run online classes through virtual space, its efficacy in producing learning outcomes is yet to be assessed. TU thus seems to be struggling to enforce ones’ own calendar of operation and conducting the examination. Admit it or not, the partisan politics has dictated the destiny of the Tribhuvan University for long. There is a pressing need to let the academic institutions like TU exercise more autonomy and make it accountable to its performance.

By the provision of law, 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. It is a continuation of the previous practices and traditions that was set since when the university was established. Today as the country has become federal democratic republic which calls for an independent robust academic institution to respond to the imperatives of the new political milieu, time has come to review the provision that vests in the Prime Minister, the role of Chancellor.
As public universities and campuses are indiscriminately politicised, public intellectuals and educationists articulate the need to separate academics and politics and protect the sanctity and integrity of the academic institutions. The trade unionism that has made inroads into the realm of both teachers and students should be properly regulated and managed.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.