Nepali universities: Lessons they should learn

For many years Tribhuvan University played a huge role in producing human resources needed for the country. After the people’s movement in 1991, the National Education Commission recommended multiple universities. Moreover, Nepal Sanskrit University has also been churning out Sanskrit graduates for a long time. Now there are six ‘full’ universities and two deemed ones. Some more universities are in the pipeline and the government has already prepared its higher education policy for submission as Higher Education Bill in the Parliament.

The success of any university depends upon its success in implementation of programmes and policies at par or better than other universities around the globe. Success equally depends upon smooth running of the institution without many disturbances. Has the university been able to complete its annual programmes on time? Has it been producing the expected number of graduates? Has it employed the best teachers for teaching, research and service-related activities? How many foreign students has it been able to attract? How many international universities are associated with it? How many foreign faculties has it employed ? And how often does it revise and update its curriculum?

These are the crucial criteria that determine a university’s status on the international front. Other measures might be the number of university publications and their international use, research activities and the funds generated for the purpose, concern of internationally renowned institutions for its wellbeing, number of joint degrees offered, and the recognition of the graduates produced in the global market.

After 12 years of schooling, students inquire of their peers and seniors places to obtain quality education and programmes yielding immediate and rich fruits after graduation. Students opting for TU programmes will have selected the university only because it is cheap, not because it offers quality. TU, in fact, is a de facto State University with the government subsidising 85% of its expenditure. Political intervention is rampant. The vacancies at the top for more than a year followed by the recent appointment of temporary registrar and rector are burning examples of TU’s countless woes. No wonder people have lost their faith in the university.

Nepal Sanskrit University does not fare much better either as it too runs almost exclusively on government subsidies. The government also provides some grants to Purbanchal, Pokhara and Kathmandu Universities. But the amount given to KU is negligible compared to other two. Lumbini University, which has yet to start its programmes, will get government priority vis-à-vis Buddhism. The two other university-level institutions, namely, BPKIHS, Dharan, and NAMS, Bir Hospital have got scant government attention. This might be indicative of divergent characteristics of universities that lead to the production of graduates of disparate capabilities.

The important question to ask is: Should student and teacher unions intervene in university matters when the very survival of these universities depend on student fees? Shouldn’t the government come up with clear policies regarding the ownership of the universities? If KU, PU and PoU are community-level universities, then what level of government and political interference should be allowed?

Looking at the dismal failure of TU, there remains no doubt that universities should be autonomous and run by their respective Board of Trustees. If the government wishes to ensure quality education through the country’s universities, proper categorisation of universities, including their ownership status, is highly essential. More autonomy generates more quality. This has been seen in KU, but in the last couple of years, dirty politics has eaten away at the quality of KU education. People who are behind this are ignorant of the KU’s history and the remarkable progress it has made only within 15 years of its establishment.

Other universities too can learn from KU’s practice of credit-based semester system, national and international faculty-led programmes, collaboration with renowned universities of the world, involvement of expatriates, resource generation that goes beyond student fees, awarding of joint degrees with renowned international institutions, producing quality graduates with maximum potential for employment, research-level human resource production, implementation of academic calendar without interruptions and faculty development programmes.

PU and PoU can also benefit if they change their affiliation policies. The contribution of PU in IT sector can be a lesson for other universities. Similarly, the management programme of PoU has become very popular. Thus it is the responsibility of the government to give these universities maximum autonomy so that the acute shortage of human resources can be met.

Dr Wagley is Dean, School of Education, KU