The provincial governments are rushing ahead to establish universities at their respective jurisdictions in line with the mandate given by the federal constitution of Nepal. The Gandaki Province has already incorporated the university through an Act of Provincial Assembly, and it has raced ahead and operated some of the academic programmes under the rubric of the newly incarnated sub-national university.
Other provincial governments seem to be working in the breakneck speed to establish the universities in their respective vicinities as if it is their most preferred mandate and task defined by the Constitution of Nepal. The Bagmati Province is reported to be drafting the enabling law for establishment of Province University while Province 2 has announced to create new universities in two locations -- Janakpur and Bigunj -- within its jurisdictions soon. But these plans of the provincial governments have been taken with a pinch of salt particularly owing to the fact these are being contemplated and pushed forward haphazardly without sufficient preparation, deliberation and contemplations.
Thorough analysis At a consultation programme organised by Policy Research Institute (PRI) - the government think tank - the last fortnight, the nation's foremost educational experts and academics raised several pertinent issue in regard to the province university incorporation and establishment. They emphasised the need to undertake a thorough analysis and comprehensive feasibility assessment before the ideas for the establishment and operation of the universities are conceptualised and operationalised.
The event aimed at eliciting ideas and suggestions in regard to financial resources, infrastructures, human capital and pedagogy for the provincial universities, experts and educationists offered several pertinent views and suggestions which need to be taken care before the new schemes for the establishment of university are mooted and taken forward. Experts were unanimous on the view that the concept of universities should not be taken up on the mere whims and wishes of political leaders and expediencies but based on the comprehensive and objective understanding and evaluation of the needs and demands of the situation.
They also pointed out that the proposed universities should assess and locate their competitive niche which can justify their establishment and ensure their viability and operational resilience. They also reiterated the fact that the new universities should not be the repetition or the carbon copy of the conventional and obsolete academic institutions like Tribhuvan University and many others in the country. In order to ensure a distinct departure from the traditional and decaying academic institutions, the new provincial universities should be so instituted that they will not be an affiliation manufacturing granting and residential bodies since priority will have to be placed on the research and development.
Our experiences have shown that however strong one's course contents might be, until and unless the deliverer (faculty) is competent, the message encapsulated in the content simply does not get across. It needs to be told that the quality of faculty in our universities has gone down phenomenally. The quality of faculty is our public universities and campuses are abysmal because our academics institutions have not given priority to promote and institutionalise research culture. A saying "If you do not research, you keep teaching things over and over again” characterises the nature of our academic circuit. There is no repeating the fact that research is the process of discovering and nurturing new knowledge.
In a write-up published in an Indian magazine titled Business and Economy, an academician quips: "If you do not research as a faculty, you don’t read and you teach the same thing.” It is, therefore, that the new provincial universities should be so proposed to promote and nurture the tradition where faculty members do independent, creative and intelligent research. The universities should create the right incentive to build a research climate to put up the competitive faculty in the academic institutions. In fact, the provincial universities should create an ecosystem which fosters the right incentive, recruit the right kind of faculty and promote them only when they do undertake academic research.
Another point that was stressed in the interaction is that the proposed provincial universities should harness and tap funding from different state and non-state sources. In order to ensure independence and autonomy of the state control and diktat, an independent board of trustee should be created making it responsible for recruitment of the academic and administrative executives to run the universities. An endowment fund with resources collected through different domains could be instituted to warrant and ensure resource autonomy- a critical part of running the academic institution.
In fact, in the European tradition, the universities established or slated to be created in the provincial areas outside the metropolitan cities have been characterised as civic universities in the sense they depend less on the state funding and control and serve the civic needs and interest. Their foundations have been laid by the voluntary effort. Charles Grant Robertson, in his article published in a journal of sociology, mentions that all that state can do is to satisfy while formulating an Act is that the demand for university is genuine and the Act will result in an institution of university which will comply with approved standards. But the approved standards cannot be the creation of the state but the creation of those who have created or wish to create universities.
Autonomy This shows how important are autonomy, independence and liberty for the provincial universities. The academics and intellectuals should therefore guard jealously by setting these types of standards and norms essential for the provincial universities. Another point of importance raised in interaction organised by the PRI has been that the universities should be so conceived as to be relevant to the needs, resources and potentials of the provinces concerned. For example, since the Gandaki Province is rich in sources and endowments for the development of tourism, the Gandaki University curricula, pedagogy and resources need to be directed to this end.
Similarly, the university in Pradesh 1 should be so modeled as to contribute to the research and development of the industrial technology considering its resources, infrastructures and potentials. Provincial governments are thus advised to undertake serious study before conceiving the idea of establishing universities in their respective spaces and spheres.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. firstname.lastname@example.org)