Peopleâ€™s movement of some sort has become a constitutive part of Nepali society. The country has gone through different types of movement since 1950. However, after the Jana Andolan II, the people hope that this is their last movement considering all that they had to go through. They also believe that the historic change brought about through peaceful means will herald a durable peace and democracy in the country. They are now in favour of a new perspective of nation-building rather than recurrence of another movement. However, the frequency with which a periodic cycle of movements has occurred during the last 50 years in Nepal makes it difficult to talk about post-conflict development as a guarantee against another movement.
Educational reform as a part of post-conflict development can break the historical cycle of movements because education is connected with some of the root causes of the conflict. But educational reform is a difficult task. It is often more political than pedagogical. Besides, reform in education should be compatible with national goals â€” political, economic, social and cultural policies acceptable to different socio-political groups. At the same time, the policy should be characterised by universal access and high quality. The government should ensure that there is a stable, planned, well-funded and accessible education system. To this end, it is necessary that higher education institutions be integrated with the needs of the society and the global community.
In this context, Tribhuvan University (TU), being the largest university with its nationwide network, should be an ideal institution to start the reform process at the higher level. Special attention should be given to TU if such reform is to contribute with national impact to any post-conflict development programme in higher education sector. However, a number of questions should be raised. What should be TUâ€™s role in post-conflict development? Why could no proper reform take place at TU in the past? What can we learn from past experiences? What types of reform are important? How and who should tackle reforms?
During the 1990s and beyond, higher education as a sector was not given necessary attention. In the name of structural adjustment programme prescribed by the World Bank and the IMF, budgetary support was reduced. Data on financing higher education shows that the increase in educational expenditure was far more substantial in the 1970s and 80s than in the 1990s. As a result, the heyday of TU started gradually losing its ground. TU is earning poor scores from its stakeholders. It reflects the crisis of Nepalâ€™s archaic state-funded university system. It is overcrowded, under-funded, disorganised and resistant to changes. Students are driven by the fear that their education is worth little and they will not find jobs. There is no provision for office hours for teachers. Research among faculty is not a priority. Part-time teachers have become the mainstay of whole academic programmes, but they lack the standing and salaries of even contract teachers. Although TU excels in some technical fields, courses of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law are becoming obsolete.
Also, higher education policy is caught between its official promotion of the â€˜massificationâ€™ on the ground of social justice through TU and its commitment to the nurturing of elite cadre by funding private universities. Whereas only four per cent of students make it to the private universities. But these universities other than TU absorb 10 per cent of the public budget allotted for higher education. Private universities are said to be well-organised, well-equipped and overwhelmingly upper-middle class. The growth of such universities at the national level is yet to prove their credentials for equalising educational opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged but meritorious students. Whatâ€™s more, the expansion of higher education is concentrated in and around urban areas unevenly. Disparities of such kinds need to be rectified. Equally important is the need for harmonisation of university education and job opportunities. The process of rectifying the weaknesses should start from reorganising the academic programmes and reorienting the existing curriculum contents. To tackle the problems of accessibility, quality and equity, restructuring of TU may also be taken into consideration.
Meanwhile, attention should be given to improving the professional and moral qualities of teachers and other staff. Attention should also be paid in the areas of recruitment, training and material incentives. The political leaders should change their attitude to what TU is all about by revising past experiences, mistakes and successes. The teachers, staff and students of TU, who are the decisive actors of the reform process, must be prepared to contribute further to the follow-up process of TUâ€™s reform. The restructuring of TU and its education policy is difficult, but is an important task in the wake of the Jana Andolan II.
Dr Singh is former rector, TU