Institutes of higher education or even schools cannot be a playing ground for the political parties any longer

Nepal's political parties see institutes of higher education as their extended domain, and constant political intervention has crippled our universities and colleges. Every college or university has student and teachers' unions affiliated to one or the other political party, whose whims dictate how the teaching-learning process should proceed. This has given rise to indiscipline and unruly behaviour among the teachers and staff, organisations and unions, compelling the vice-chancellors or the campus chiefs to spend considerable time and energy in appeasing them so that there are no disturbances. Thus, it wasn't without reason that vice-chancellors of 11 universities of the country called on the Minister for Education, Science and Technology the other day for positive intervention to put an end to the political interference in the academic institutions. Minister Devendra Poudel responded positively, but will his party and the others see reason? Barring a few, most of the leaders have risen to prominent positions in the party and in the government through student politics. And the hundreds of thousands of students who pledge allegiance to one or the other party make up a sizeable strength of the parties, ready to carry out their agendas, including engaging in disruptive activities. That is why the parties are unwilling to raise a finger against the unions when they are involved in padlocking, picketing the offices of the campus or university heads or other protest programmes. Politically-motivated closures of colleges, protests and disturbances make it difficult to complete the courses on time. Politics has also seeped into the recruitment of teachers, many of whom enter service as temporary ones through political influence, and gain permanency over time without having to undergo the competitive process. The entry of incompetent teachers has had telling impact on the quality of learning in the universities. Thus, financially well-off students go abroad, mostly to India, Australia, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States, for higher education, which is a colossal drain on the country's scarce resources.

Countries spend heavily on education to produce the best of human resources to compete globally and stay ahead in this competitive world. But we are squandering what little resource we have so that the political parties can have their way in the academic institutions. This must stop. Institutes of higher education or even schools cannot be a playing ground for the political parties any longer. The parties must show that they are for reforms in higher education, and not just pay lip service to it as they have been doing for decades. The big parties, namely the CPN (UML) and the Nepali Congress, have just had their national conventions which chose a new set of leaders.

The two and other parties must part with the old ways of doing politics and bring innovation to put this country at the forefront of development. The education minister has pledged to form a high-level commission to resolve the issues besetting the universities that also include land grabbing by cadres of the political parties. Let the recommendations of the commission be binding to all, including the parties.

Tech institutes

We need more technical institutes than universities to train our youths in various sectors, including construction and agriculture. In the developed countries, most youths are trained in areas where skilled human resources are urgently needed.

However, Nepal has not been able to produce trained and skilled manpower in construction and other sectors that can absorb thousands of youths and offer job opportunities within the country.

In order to bridge this yawning gap between demand and supply, the Government of Nepal and the Government of the Republic of Korea recently signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a polytechnic institute for producing a construction workforce at Bardibas, Mahottari. The Rs 1 billion project aims to produce a competent and efficient workforce capable of meeting the domestic and global needs of the 21st century. If this project is well-implemented, the workforce will contribute to economic growth through the development of a skilled workforce to meet the needs of the construction industry by increasing their employability. This project will be developed as a technical hub and will also be developed as a technical institute for technical instructors. We need at least one such institute in every province.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 17, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.