Nepal | April 20, 2019

Are educational institutions just political labs?

Sunita Lohani
protest outside Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus

Photo Courtesy: Rajkumar Rai

Kathmandu

There has always been a debate — should students be allowed in politics, or not? Despite the debate, many college students are involved in politics. Many say politics itself is not a bad thing, but the wrong system practised in the colleges is ruining the educational environment. Some students and experts claim that our colleges and universities are turning into a political laboratory.

The Free Students Union (FSU) is the representative body of students to advocate for their rights in colleges, and every government college has an FSU. The students who are members of the student wings of various political parties usually are the representatives in FSU. These student wings deny ruining the education environment or the flourishing of malpractices — instead they claim of being involved in politics for the betterment of the education system.

Hold over government colleges

Ravi Acharya, 21, is pursuing BA IInd Year at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus (RR Campus), Exhibition Road. Sharing his classroom experience he said, “They (student leaders) usually enter the classrooms and promote their political agenda even when the classes are running.”

The classes are disturbed but they do not care about that fact. Thus, Acharya is “afraid our college is turning into a place that grooms hooligans, promotes corruption, and encourages political rallies and agendas”.

But Rajkumar Rai, President of All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the student wing of CPN-UML, RR Campus, disagreed with the claim that student unions are ruining the college environment. He argued, “We never disturb classes — we conduct rallies, call for strikes, and other activities outside the college premises. So, students who want to study can continue doing so in classrooms without any disturbance. If any student wants to join such activities, s/he can do so. And we are doing everything for the students.”

Himal Sharma, former president of All Nepal National Independent Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R), student wing of CPN-Maoist) at Tribhuvan University (TU), echoed a similar view — of working for students to improve the education system.

“It was our initiation that made it possible to start the semester system in TU,” he stated further informing, “Now we are fighting to implement the age-limit for students willing to fight for FSU elections. We are demanding to make the maximum age limit at 28 years.”

Ironically, when Sharma won the FSU elections of TU in 2008, he was 37 years old. He resigned from the post four years later. But as the FSU elections have not been held for the last eight years, he is responsible for all activities even today.

But then working all these years he has realised that “FSU is for fresh and young students. So, I’m advocating age limitation”.

Influence on private institutions

Students participate in protest

Photo Courtesy: UP Lamichhane

In recent times, private colleges have also been influenced by political parties.  Recently, when the CPN-UML launched their protest programmes against the amendment of the new Constitution, tens of thousands of people gathered. Among them was 18-year-old Astha Adhikari. She was present at the event in Bhrikuti Mandap carrying the party’s flag, together with her entire class.

“We came here on our own, after finishing an internal exam, to support the demands of CPN-UML,” Adhikari shared. Sadly, she was unaware of what things in the Constitution were recommended for amendment and why the CPN-UML was protesting it.

She is a member of ANNFSU unit of her college. The BSc Ist Year student at Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (HICAST), informed, “When I joined BSc, the college already had ANNFSU. I liked its activities so I joined the organisation.”

Whenever they do not get required educational materials at college, the ANNFSU protests by complaining about the problems to the college authority, and the problems have been solved.

“But we do not burn tyres for protest,” Adhikari stated.

An outdated practice?

protest of students body

Photo Courtesy: Himal Sharma

College and university students are the catalysts who have often played a significant role to bring about social/political change in world history or to fight against the existing system. In case of Nepal — be it the national referendum of 1979, mass revolution of 1990 for the restoration of democracy, or the mass movement of 2006 to oust monarchy, students have played a vital role to bring about the changes. Organising rallies and other activities in support of political parties, the students (via various student unions) have played a major role to bring about these changes during these periods.

“Our colleges had become political laboratory to practice mini-politics to change society before the restoration of democracy in the country. That was the need of the hour to bring democracy in the country,” said Prof Dr Surendra KC, a historian and political analyst.

The goal was achieved — democracy was established and again there was mass revolution of 2006 which made Nepal a federal democratic republic nation.

With these changes Prof Dr KC argued there is no more need for colleges/universities to act as political laboratories. And this practice had to be stopped soon after the democracy. “However, that didn’t happen. As a result, our educational institutions these days have become centres to serve the vested interests of political parties — they have turned students (involved in politics) into opportunists, who are nurturing political malpractices in the country,” he stated.

But UP Lamichhane, former spokesperson of Nepal Students Union (NSU), a student wing of Nepali Congress, has a different opinion.

“I joined student politics since school but started to work full time in 1999,” informed Lamichhane, now a central-committee member of NSU.

He is of the opinion that only politics can change society. “I worked in media and other fields too and I can’t influence the entire society by working in one particular sector. But that is possible in politics — you can make an impact on entire nation through your work as a politician, be it student politics. Thus, I feel politics is one of the best careers,” he added.

Has politics affected the quality of education might still be a subject for debate. Every year the Educational Committee prepares reports after monitoring the education quality of colleges/universities, but they are not implemented, according to Prof Dr KC. The malpractices like political appointment of teachers and those in decision-making level of colleges and universities are rampant, as per him. “Thus, to make the education environment free from political influences and improve education system, political parties and  leaders need to come clean first,” he concluded.


A version of this article appears in print on January 11, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.


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