Higher education Need for a road map

Bidur Prasad Upadhyay:

Higher education is of paramount importance to developing countries for their economic and social development. Higher education is also closely related to the nation’s competitiveness. It contributes to the strength in producing and developing knowledge workers. Besides, the research and development of higher education can play a key role in equipping the individuals with advanced knowledge and skills and serving as a conduit for the transfer, adaptation and dissemination of knowledge generated elsewhere in the world.

This requires strengthening of academic centres with a strong capacity building as well as ample administrative flexibility, financial management and result oriented skills and innovation, which will ultimately help in helping the country to be more self-sufficient. To ensure genuine indigenous and sustainable development of the country, there is a need for development of a road map of higher education to enhance the knowledge of the society. This will help to attain efficiency in the administration and management as well as enable institutions to carry out effectively their assigned task in harmony with the national policy.

The nation has to frame concrete national policy and plans for higher education regarding human resource as well as research and academic services. This will serve as guidelines to prepare the road map for the development of national higher education based on the knowledge gained from the policy study and research as well as relevant analyses. Policy should be framed in such a way that they could enjoy flexibility in administration and management. Particularly, reputed technical institutions like engineering and medicine should be elevated to the status of deemed university. Also, these types of specialised institutions should be under a loose chain of Tribhuvan University.

As regards organisational structure, there is a need to articulate traditional discipline differently to respond to the emergence of new scientific and technical fields, the shift toward a problem based mode of production of knowledge enhancing interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary programme. At the same time, existing higher education institutions need to be able to react swiftly by establishing new programmes reconfiguring existing ones, and eliminating outdated programmes. In the meantime, with a view to improve access to higher education in remote areas, open university can be an instrument for democratising education and a mechanism for augmenting opportunities for higher education.

There must be an organisation for setting the criteria and proposing recommendations for budgetary allocation for higher education institutions. Here University Grants Commission (UGC) is playing an active role to supervise the functions of higher education institutions regarding the quality and standard. Campuses should also enhance their administrative and managerial systems to make themselves accountable to the society. This will be possible only if block grant to the institution/ campuses will be distributed directly from national budget through UGC on the basis of performance.

In addition, higher education should get mandate to offer both regular and other types of courses in order to respond to the need for informal education and career development. Opportunities should also be given for continuous acquisition of additional knowledge through cross-institution transfer of credit and learning outcomes. These measures should depend on the market requirements as well as social and public needs, with UGC playing a supervisory and monitoring regarding quality and standard. Higher education institutions should be encouraged to increase mobilisation of resources from various sources with the state providing supporting mechanisms. Also in conjunction with financial decentralisation, the government should encourage diversification of financial sources.

The government should give the higher education institutions more autonomy to generate revenue though research, consultation and other services and to raise private donations and social contribution. While the concept of cost sharing and cost recovery will be gradually recognised and accepted by the society, tuition and fee system is being step by step introduced in Nepal’s higher education system. Money raised by the institutions of their own efforts need not be spent so strictly as specified by the government and in a rush at the end of year but the remaining fund should be allowed to be transferred to the next year’s budgetary plan so that they could make longer term financial arrangements.

In the changing scenario of global economic policy, private sector should be encouraged to invest in the provision of higher education, especially in the fields responding to the market and social needs, with clear stipulation by the state regarding the proportion and target groups under shared responsibilities of the public and private sectors. Since higher education is responsible for developing human resources, creating knowledge leading to excellence, it could play a significant role in helping Nepal become a knowledge-based society in the future. Hence, there is urgent need to develop a road map of higher education in Nepal to fulfil the mission of higher education and vision of the nation.

Prof Upadhyay is chairman, UGC