Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

Challenges Of Higher Education

Mukti Rijal


The budget statement articulated for the financial year 2000/2001 has made several provisions with respect to higher education in Nepal. The budget proposals if implemented in their clear sense of the term can be expected to go a long way in making headways in the development of higher education in Nepal. The government has explicitly mentioned to institute two new universities as Madan Bhandari Technological University and Yogmaya Ayurveda University which can set new dimension in producing human resources relevant to development in the country.
Moreover, mention in this context can be made of the announcement in the budget statement to revise the UGC’s policy with a view to make it conditional on quality outcome, standards and results. The budget statement has also committed to developing the TU and its constituent centres like CEDA and CNAS into the country’s leading research hubs with proper emphasis on quality and excellence. It also intends to bring and incorporate engineering and medical colleges in Karnali and Sudur Paschim Pradesh within its ambit.

Institutional basis
Though there is nothing to contest and criticise the new proposal in regard to higher education endorsed in the budget statement, the increase in the number of universities without ensuring their institutional and structural basis for autonomy, quality and integrity may not make sense. Moreover, the challenges posed by COVID-19 are so serious and terrific that the entire education system in the country is set to crumble without any possibility of full rejuvenation in near future. Amid this disconcerting scenario, the proposal to create new institutions with greater expectations is seemingly difficult to take off. It with be rather logical to make necessary reforms to provide quality twist to the existing institutions of higher education in the country.
In fact, going by the reports of various media over the years, almost all the universities in Nepal fall short of minimum academic standards and suffer from the governance deficit. Despite the voices raised time and again against the resort of Bhagbanda (share and divide) practices with a view to institutionalising the fair practice of appointment of academics based on integrity and credential as VCs, rectors and registrars, the government succumbs to the pressure of political lobbies to appoint people closer to the ruling party. This is said to be the reason why academic integrity and fair governing practices in the universities have not received needed attention. The universities are known and revered as the fountainhead of moral values and ethics where learners are inculcated with the strong sense of civic probity, integrity and propriety.
Conversely, the universities have deteriorated themselves into forums that allow room for unscrupulous activities. One can easily imagine the scale and magnitude of moral degeneration in other spheres of society in the context where the universities have been ethically poor. The universities whether they are the Purbanchal University Pokhara University or the Mid-Western University, they have fallen into the trap of academic decline. Moreover, the academic environment had been expected to improve following the introduction of semester system in Tribhuvan University.
But the TU authorities are allegedly oblivious of the situation obtaining at the ground level. They pay no heed to the difficulties and challenges that place constraints in improving teaching-learning situations at the class room. The teachers’ performance is not monitored and appraised properly. Even the basic teaching aids and are not reportedly available, not to talk of such technological aids like LCD and multimedia projectors which have gradually becoming essential logistics to improve delivery in the classes. As the public university like TU should offer the role model for others, its shabby conditions speak volume on its poor governance and academic standards.
Most of the teachers follow the traditional and conventional teaching modes with the help of their moth eaten notes containing obsolete knowledge and information drawn from the text books written decades ago. Needless to say, the recruitment in the faculties of the university are also, said to be politically motivated and carried out basically resorting to negotiation and bargaining tactics. The students have never called strikes purely for demands towards improvement of academic environment and teachers never cajole the authority for initiatives and measures towards improving the facilities.
Student unions have been alleged turning themselves as the breeding ground for all kinds of anomalies to foul the academic environment in the university. The unions do peddle pressure for admitting bogus students into roll of the universities especially with a view to swell their support base in the elections. This has further strained the capacity of the university to maintain the basics of the teaching-learning environment.

Seat of learning
Tribhuvan University was established during the late fifties as the first modern seat of learning and it has the credit of ushering in a new and modern era of education in the country. It had laid out a path and pioneered the trajectory of educational development in the country. The university had enjoyed the rare distinction of being as one of the important and excellent seat of learning but today it has witnessed decline in its standards and norms. The promise that was placed in new universities established not very long ago has been shattered as well. Unless properly designed with appropriate institutional arrangement, the new universities envisaged in the budget statement will not be able to satisfy the emerging needs and requirements in the country.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. rijalmukti@gmail.com)