Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

Higher Education Policy Highlights

Prem Khatry

The Government of Nepal issued the National Education Policy in December, 2019. The high level committee was created and entrusted for the purpose. Amidst speculations of its successful completion of the assigned job, it submitted the final product: The Education Policy of Nepal, 2019.
There had been similar or a bit traditional style policy papers and books compiled under the leadership of two prominent personalities– Dirgha Raj Koirala (Nepal ko Sikshya Bidhan), and Dr Iswari Raj Upadhyaya (Education Policy in Historical Perspective) – both secretaries of education in different time periods. Koirala assumed the job right after the fall of the Rana Regime whereas Upadhyaya served the Ministry of Education in the early 2000s. Upadhyaya, a Prof. of Mathematics was known as a very technical minded and efficient person. This scribe enjoyed working in the policy formation team along with other dignitaries and TU colleagues.
Time flies but the reports prepared with a vision and objectives to bring about substantial and measurable changes in the system either rot in the shelves or fly even faster and disappear only to hear the story repeat once again. This time also the policy was initiated by the government to address the need of a working policy in the changed perspective, especially the dawn of republicanism, the restructuring of the state and the ever growing world of education requiring a system to make the world function effectively.
The newly released policy has 17 titles as given in the content of the book. It says the pre-primary gross enrolment rate is 84 per cent which is encouraging but as children climb up in grades drop-out rate also increases. Next, according to the policy report, there are 35,055 private and public, with the private sector sharing 23 per cent of the bulk of student at school (p.3). In the higher education sector the enrolment rate as of now is 15 per cent which needs to be improved in order to make manpower with higher education a part of development process.
The policy book has a long 'shopping list' of problems at the sector. For the purpose of this discussion, let us pick up higher education. The report says the higher education of Nepal fails to be production- and research-oriented, and has not attracted adequate investment to the sector. It also mentions that higher education has not been people friendly; it is rather exam-oriented. Most importantly, higher education has not attracted the local community to feel ownership in this sector. What is needed, the policy says, is a) alignment of education with employment and creation of the environment where the community has trust in higher education, and b) effective implementation of the fundamental rights as stipulated in the constitution (p.5).
News, comments and stories have appeared in the media from the moment the policy was made public in the form of a project report and handed over to the ministry by the team. According to Biswokarma (Nepal weekly, 20 Magh, 2075), the high level commission submitted the report with 24 major points related to school reform. Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokhrel said the report contains issues that are practical and doable. These can be implemented in the context of Nepal. There is expectation in the academic circle that a new law could be in the pipe line and this report will come handy in the preparation of the legal frame.
From 1950 onwards, school education has always been the concern of the community as the provider, stakeholder, manager, and guardian. With the higher education, the story is different. The overriding concept is that higher education is mainly for upper, upper middle and middle class citizenry. This is also the reality in the demographically predominant lower middle and lower class, disadvantaged, remote dweller, females, ethnic minorities, and low income Nepalis. It is not only hard but impossible for the people coming from these categories to believe that the TU in the 50s or the newly founded (and including those in the pipeline) universities will see significant number of this population enrolled, graduated and entered in the job market. Class, creed and social status will almost always determine the enrolment, retention, and employment. The class and caste virus in the brain of many Nepalis at higher chairs such as the parliament, ministry, village school, or in the houses with rental rooms are not very different than the Covid-19. This is unfortunate but very few cases reported show this.
The need, as stipulated in the Policy book, is to engage community at all levels of education and expand the barriers in higher education for females, deprived and low income earners. The book doesn’t speak much and in clear tone about the need of female graduates in general and technical education so that a corruption free, transparent, moral and progress-oriented society could be created. If the historic opportunity of the last local election is taken into consideration, females have been cut to size as vice-chairmen of 'palikas' but they have excelled in their performance as clean, non-corrupt, stubborn and development oriented. A fair election next time around may catapult many females as 'Chiefs', not 'Deputies' in the pocket of the Chiefs. A quick study tour of feminine performance in Rolpa district will show what the scribe wants to communicate here.
Finally, the policy introduced and discussed here in this short article needs ownership in the implementation phase not by the government but by the community at large. The community is waiting for the opportunity to lend hands to contribute not just as a springboard for the politically motivated ever-hungry power mongers, but for the over transformation of education from a certificate factory to employment provider. In terms of new names in the list of universities, the more is not always 'merrier'; it is so only when there is fair competition for a saleable, quality product that can sustain the economy and brings higher education to higher planes to form a culture and civilisation to be reckoned with. In any case, we must see that our youths don’t knock the visa windows any more but find their wish fulfilled on the soil our forefathers have toiled hard to bring us all here.

(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU, Khatry writes on cultural issues.)