Quality education: Politicisation of universities must end

Each and every institution has its own rules and regulations. And these rules, in turn, are based on the country’s rule of law. That’s why the overall development of a country depends mainly on development of institutions serving the country’s need in general and satisfying costumers’ needs in particular. The development principle calls for functional autonomy of the institutions, especially educational bodies. Unless the educational institutions run on their own, development is impossible. In a context where eight university level organisations and thousands of other schools and colleges are affiliated to the government, the question is whether these organisations are free to run as per their own rules.

Universities are established under the Acts passed by the parliament. Each University Act calls the universities autonomous bodies. Schools, on the other hand, are running based on Education Act passed by the parliament. Similarly schools affiliated with Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) are running according to the Higher Secondary Education (HSE) Act. Moreover, the HSE Act clearly spells that HSEB is also an autonomous body. All these evidences tell us that educational institutions are free to conduct their activities within the framework of the related Acts.

The big question, in this context, concerns the disturbance in educational institutions caused by trade unionism. There are no differences between trade unions of auto industries and those operating in educational establishments. Hence educational institutions are not able to exercise freedom. Shouldn’t a teachers’ union be different to that of labourers’ trade union? How much pressure can be exerted on educational institutions without compromising on quality? Can educational institutions be victimised only because personal interests of a few are not met? Should the teachers and students organise strikes in schools and colleges? Drawing monthly salary as regular staff but betraying the institution in the name of personal right is a crime. These incidents are leading to criminalisation of education. Chaos, disturbances, strikes and chakkajams are crippling our future generation. At least the educated mass should understand this basic fact. We can look at Sri Lanka and Bosnia-Herzegovina as nations maintaining educational sustainability even during civil wars.

The other important issue is the moral ground of the agitators. Should they not think of institutional rights while asking for their own rights? The history of student and teacher agitations has been characterised by one-sided demands while not heeding the view of the other side. At the extreme, they have shown insensitivity towards the rule of law. The agitating students and teachers do not seem to have much respect for the authorities working according to the rule of law. Instead, the authorities are subjected to mental torture and sometimes physical abuse.

The cases of beating of district education officers, campus chiefs and/or gheraoing responsible authorities, threatening them and sometimes locking them up have

become common. The practices of burning tires, chanting slogans, taking up political agendas, locking up main offices, conducting political programmes in the institutions when classes are on have increased. Moreover, the behaviour of these agitators towards the heads of institutions demonstrates that they do not feel a part of the institution; hence the burning of college equipment and libraries, destruction of national property and other undisciplined activities continue in the name of agitation. It seems as if the country has no rule of law and everyone has the right to do whatever he likes.

Every institution has its own set of laws and regulations that are enough to take care of various situations. But why are the heads of such institutions reluctant to act strong? Is it because they are afraid of losing their jobs? Or do they support such undesirable actions? The heads of institutions should be bold enough to make decisions based on the legal provisions. Nothing can be stronger than the Act itself. The tendency of putting undue pressure on administrators to fulfil narrow interests and demands is a barbaric act. But if the demands are genuine and put forward with due respect for the rule of law, the authorities should heed the aggrieved parties.

The eight parties have established consensus on decision-making. With some exceptions, this united front now seems successful in leading the country towards constituent assembly. It will be very good for the country if the eight parties come to a consensus on minimum standard in education as well. Moreover, if the parties instruct their activists, mainly the teachers’ associations and student unions, not to politicise educational institutions, Nepal’s development through this vital sector is inevitable.

Dr Wagley is Dean, School of Education, Kathmandu University