Professor Dr Tirth Raj Khaniya is an Educationist. Former Member of National Planning Commission, Nepal, he is also the Former Vice Chairman of Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB). Khaniya spoke to Surendra Tandukar of The Himalayan Times about the current scenario and the higher education system in Nepal. Excerpts:
How do you observe the current scenario of higher education system in Nepal?
The current scenario of higher education in Nepal does not depict a clear road map for development; rather it demonstrates a bleak state of the whole process of policy-making and management. Since it lacks comprehensive policy on higher education, powerful politicians’ interest prevail while making policy decisions; a college with a small number of students can be proposed to be a university whereas a college with a strong background in terms of student numbers, location, and academia gets no proper attention.
There is absolute absence of criteria for establishing a new university and setting funding policy. Similarly, in the absence of criteria and genuine process for the search for leadership for university governance, academic and administrative standards are becoming feeble. Incompetent governance expects funds from the government but does not know how to exploit available resources to generate funds which is desperate for quality education. Higher education is supposed to be abundant with talent (talented professors and talented students), but that is not the case with our higher education.
Where do you see the major problem in our education system?
As I indicated above, our higher education system lacks priority in terms of financial allocations, visionary leadership and the process of its integration with socio- economic development, and school education follows a routine work.
We have failed to gauge the effect of mismanagement and routine work in education on the progress of the country. How can we develop Nepal without being serious about strengthening the quality of our public education and regulating the private sectors.
It is also necessary to make the system and those involved in it accountable for what they do. For example, see the SLC results of this year; so many schools’ result was nil; who is responsible for this and what action will be taken?
We are not responsive to the changing world. Take an example of our political change and its effect on education. It has been a decade since Nepal has been declared a republic. One would ask whether the concept of republic has been brought to any classroom. Obviously not, because we have not brought about reform in our education system for a long time. Republican politics does not make much sense unless future citizens practice its basics in the classroom.
What are the measures that we need to incorporate so that these problems can be resolved?
Nepal must move toward modernising its system of education by incorporating changes taking place in the field of educational learning and educational technology, in order to produce globally competent human resource.
Our students must be equipped with modern skills and abilities in order to be competent in the global arena. For that, it is necessary to constitute a high-level education commission and get inputs from scholars, educationists and social scientists to bring about reform in the existing system of education in the changing world. Now the time has come to update our education system with modern technology and learning procedures. For this, we need our educational institutions to be led by visionary and committed educational leaders.
Education sector in Nepal often faces complaints of being commercialised. What is your take?
It is absolutely true. In one way or another, many political leaders and influential people in Nepal are involved in private education. It seems that the private sector is powerful in influencing educational policy. When parliamentarians and political leaders become owners of private schools and colleges, how can we professionals make rules to control them?
This is why the governance of education is weak and regulators have no courage to regulate the private sector. In such a situation, people have the temptation to earn money, when there is opportunity -commercialised education. Moreover, the nature of private institutions in Nepal is different from many other countries. Harvard and Oxford Universities come under private the university category, but the Vice Chancellors of those universities do not share the profits as dividend – the profit is used for the betterment of the university. But, in our case, most private institutions are profit-oriented. As you know, profit drives towards commercialisation.
How should colleges ensure quality education?
Whether we like it or not, education has become a commodity, which can be sold or purchased. Investors are doing everything to make money out of education and the government has become a mute spectator. The government appears to be weak because powerful people with strong connections with political power centres are running educational institutions. The government does not dare take the risk to bring the private sector back on track.
What is your advice to aspiring plus two students and guardians when trying to choose the best college?
I think the parents and students should look for those higher secondary schools which have good track records, which are moderate in looks (schools should not be very fancy and artificial), good and caring teachers, good academic environment, appropriate, applied education, proper exposure to practical approach, et cetera. The basic thing is that students should identify their interest and inherent quality before choosing a college.
A version of this article appears in print on June 29, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.