Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Gandaki Varsity Can Go The TU Way

Mukti Rijal


The federal constitution has placed a significant emphasis on devolutionary arrangement for the management of education in the country. Local governments have been entrusted with authority and responsibility to govern and manage education up to secondary level at the community level. Similarly, provincial governments are authorised to set up and manage the universities at their respective jurisdictions. The federal government is constitutionally expected to be exclusively active to focus especially on building excellent educational institutions for research and development. Moreover, governing and management of the central universities like Tribhuvan University (TU) too falls under the mandate of the federal government. The constitutional arrangement is thus more or less clear and unambiguous in allocation of the functions with regard to management of education in the country.

No policy criteria
The constitutional arrangement provides clear cut allocation of functions among three tiers of the government in respect to the management and governance of education in the country. However, the government has not articulated any policy criteria and standards to define and differentiate the provincial university from the central university as spelt out in the constitution. What makes the central university distinguished from the province-level university has to be clearly articulated both in terms of scope, jurisdiction, disciplinary focus and standards to ensure that they have distinct identity and standards in terms of disciplinary focus and specialisations.
Even today, TU towers over the landscape of higher level education in the country. Its constituent and affiliated campuses are entrenched and spread across the country, and they have been administered and governed by the rules and regulations framed by it. TU Service Commission recruits teachers for all the campuses operating under its jurisdiction. It lays down and prescribes curriculum and calendar of operation for conducting studies at different levels. TU constituent campuses operate and provide institutional facility for higher education within the jurisdictions of almost all provinces in the country.
However, a new development has occurred in the higher education scenario as provincial governments have also taken initiative to establish university through enactment of the statute through the Province Assembly. The foremost among the province government has been the Gandaki Province government that has instituted and commenced the establishment of much-talked about Gandaki University. It is also reported that a huge area of land is acquired and allotted in Tanahu to construct and establish the Gandaki University complex.
However, questions can be raised about the rationale of the establishment of the Gandaki University as the large sized Prithvi Narayan Shah Campus operating in Pokhara for around six decades could meet the higher education need and requirement had it been equipped with necessary logistics and facilities through organisational revamping and institutional reform. Moreover, given the unwieldy size of the TU itself, it would have been rather wise to unbundle it and convert its constituent campus like Prithvi Narayan Shah Campus in the form of provincial university. This could serve two purposes namely, divesting TU of its load to the province government with new orientation and institutional arrangement. Moreover, it would save resources that have otherwise been spent for the establishment of the new Gandaki University with additional frills and fanfares without much substance.
The establishment of the new university in Gandaki Province would make sense only if it was structured and modelled along the new and innovative institutional and structural arrangement popular in the developed democratic countries. In fact, a comprehensive study was needed to conceptualise and fabricate the design of the new university so that the Gandaki University could be one of the best and competitive universities at least in South Asia. The natural beauty and cultural ambience in Pokhara is so attractive and enticing that it could offer a hub of learning for international students. However, the quality, excellence of the university and academic environment does matter when it comes to attracting the international students.
A casual glancing over the provisions of the Gandaki University Act 2020 shows that it is also going to be a very conventional proposition not different from TU. If its governing structure is carefully assessed, the university is not going to be an institution of higher education with a difference. The control of the provincial government is so carefully crafted that the government ministers and bureaucrats can easily dictate the affairs of the university.
The set of people appointed in the highest echelon of the university indicates that the ruling Nepal Communist Party has exercised its major say in their selection and placement. When the draft of the bill to set up the new Gandaki University was discussed, it was expected that it would be allowed to grow and develop as an independent and autonomous academic centre led by the people of high academic integrity, excellence and credentials. But finally in its current form, it does not look much different from the setup of TU that has been severely hit and afflicted due to political mismanagement and meddling.

Need to review provisions
Chief Minister, ministers and secretaries in the provincial government are provisioned to occupy powerful positions in different setups of the Gandaki University which will finally reduce it into an institution running at the beck and call of the provincial government authorities. The Gandaki University subscribes and provides a continuation of the obsolete practices and traditions that have decayed TU. Today as the country has become federal democratic republic which calls for independent robust academic institutions to respond to the imperatives of the new political milieu, time has come to review the provision that vests in the government authorities irrespective the levels the prerogative to meddle in the affairs of the academic institutions. As public universities and campuses are indiscriminately politicised, there is a need to separate academics and politics and protect the sanctity and integrity of the academic institutions.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.