Higher education : Prachanda’s perspective and realities

Mana Prasad Wagley

The vision of the head of the government plays the most significant role in the development of the education sector. Prime Minister Prachanda, for the first time, has expressed his views about the need to bring reformation in the education sector. He opened up his ideas not in front of his cadres but at a gathering of eminent academicians, prominent political leaders, representatives of the international community and the media.

During the 14th Convocation of Kathmandu University, where former president of India Dr. Abdul Kalam and the president of Mahidol University Thailand presided as chief guests, PM Prachanda appraised Thailand’s educational reforms and added that it should inspire KU in transforming itself as an institution of values and competency not only at the national but also at the regional and multi-regional level. He also valued the message given by Abdul Kalam and praised him for being “the source of inspiration for developing university education with value and wisdom”. If Prachanda is really impressed by the message and is committed to the value and wisdom of university education we can hope that he would be the first to contribute to the noble cause of improving the quality of higher education in Nepal.

Unfortunately, the sister organisation of his own party, ANNFSU (R), demanding representation in the University senate has been obstructing it from holding the meeting. Can the Prime Minister control such undesirable activities that have ‘de-systematised’ the entire educational system? Can he take the progressive step of depoliticising Nepali higher education by promoting value and wisdom more than anything else? Notably, the Prime Minister also praised the chief guests for their guidance in striving to achieve multi-dimensional effectiveness of educational governance with cultural, managerial and professional transformation. The prime minister deserves appreciation for expressing his commitment to the much-needed educational reforms.

The only concern is whether he will have enough time to reflect on his commitments. He outlined the need for universities “to emphasise that it is much an institution that builds on wisdom, and explores and experiments with knowledge.”

In addition, the PM also elaborated on “knowledge economy” and the significant role a university plays in bringing about social transformation.

This is not possible as long as the practice of appointing political cadres as university heads continues. Appointments at Tribhuvan University, PU, PoU, NSU, BPKIHS, NAMS and LBU are made on much the same lines. How can we ever imagine inculcating values and wisdom in our educational system as long as such practices take precedence over merit?

He has also said that educational institutions should not be commercially motivated. However, Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai has encouraged commercialisation of schools by levying a tax of 5 per cent. One wonders whether the Prime Minister and the finance minister, who coincidentally belong to the same party, do not belong to the same school of thought. The Prime Minister, however, extolled Kathmandu University for setting a high benchmark of the quality of higher education in Nepal.

Definitely, if Prachanda, who is also the Chancellor of other universities in the country, keeps his commitments on improving the quality of education, we can expect our educational establishments to undergo massive transformation.

For this, the government needs to understand the key to KU’s enviable success. The value system of the university has been the biggest contributing factor in this regard. The government itself should support the version of the Prime Minister and help KU and other universities focus on quality education. For this, all universities, including KU, should be given full autonomy and kept away from unnecessary interventions (including party politics) from outside. The Prime Minister has also judged KU’s role in areas of research, which is guided by its visionary professional team.

Urging other institutions to follow in the footsteps of KU, the Prime Minister said, “the institution has been moving forward with the cultivation of culture of decency, service orientation, self-esteem, value-based education and the culture of competition”. The support that KU has received should also be extended to other universities, so that they do not serve merely as the breeding ground of politics.

Judging by the tenor of Prime Minister’s seriousness, the PM expects universities to focus on education more than anything else. However, the maximum politicisation in academic institutes will not let PM’s dreams come true. So the academia, civil society and the media should all come together to persuade the government and political parties to commit to a common education policy.

Dr Wagley is associated with KU