It was reported in some media this week that four universities — Tribhuvan, Nepal Sanskrit, Purbanchal, and Pokhara — were being divided among the four parties — the CPN-UML, Nepali Congress, Nepali Congress (D) and CPN-Maoist respectively — for appointing vice-chancellors (VCs).

Although the credibility of the news may be questioned as there has not been any formal decision on this front, similar gossip has been doing the rounds for sometime now. It is true that the main stakeholders of these universities — teachers, students and administrative staff — have been asking for immediate appointment of VCs. It is unusual to find the VC’s position vacant for several months when reputed universities have the tradition of appointing the new VCs three months before the incumbent VC’s time expires. Though the need for political consensus in education is appreciated, what is emerging in the name of political consensus regarding the appointment of the VC is something academia would strongly oppose.

At present, it is accepted that without political consensus there is no possibility of managing higher education. If we want to reduce political costs of educational reforms, it is essential that parties agree on what we should and should not do in higher education. In this context, the parties arriving at a consensus is praiseworthy. However, the parties are expected to reach an agreement through transparent and acceptable criteria for appointing the VCs, rather than assigning a particular party to recruit the VC of a particular university. If the news reports are true, our higher education institutions will become parties’ playing fields rather than independent academic institutions. It is reasonable to assume that a party-appointed VC will work more for his party than the university. Even if they are appointed, such persons will not be able to gain the respect of the teachers, students and administrative staff.

For the first time, the prime minister is the chancellor of all the universities.

The chancellor is the final authority in appointing the VCs. It is high time we established credible procedures for appointing the VCs and set the precedent for future governments. We should not adopt any procedure in the name of political understanding that establishes a wrong precedent. The political parties have no right to initiate anti-academic and anti-democratic processes. We cannot practice the custom of appointing VCs by the parties, which will ultimately encourage small parties to appoint campus chiefs by registering a campus in the name of the party.

Different universities around the world follow different procedures for VC selection. What is common among advanced universities is that they follow competitive procedures using transparent criteria. Generally, the Governing Board of the University or the Senate of the University first visualises the future direction of the university through its long and short term plans which provide, in a way, a framework for determining what kind of person with what general and specific skills and abilities is appropriate for the position of the VC. It institutes a “Search Committee” to look for such a person and determines the processes to be followed. The potential candidates can be asked to present to a group of professionals their visions and commitments.

For example, Oxford University appoints the VC on the basis of the election held by the university “Congregation” from among its members. In Lancaster University, a VC search committee is formed by the University Senate. The committee invites applications from competent academicians. Following competitive processes of selection, the committee recommends 2-3 candidates to the chancellor for the post. University of Edinburgh maintains a glorious history of electing the Rector by all the teaching and administrative staff and students. In some Scandinavian universities, the VC is selected on the basis of his/her presentation to competent audiences involving senior academicians. America universities also appoint the VC through competitive procedures.

We should establish a tradition of a competent and competitive process of appointing the VC by inviting potential candidates to make presentations to competent audiences involving academicians, politicians, students, professors, administrators, researchers, etc. on how they

visualise the future of the university, what plans they have to improve the situation of the university, their implementation strategies, how they would promote university’s fiscal independence and how they would lead the university to compete with international universities. The search committee should also examine the candidates’ track records. Then, the committee should proceed to select competent candidates irrespective of their political affiliations and recommend the names to the chancellor.

Dr Khania is an educationist