Thursday, 18 July, 2024
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OPINION

Open Call For VC Recruitment



Mukti Rijal

 

A call soliciting submission for filling up vacancies for the post of vice chancellors of the six universities in the country has been issued the other day. Though some sectors have doubted relevance and efficacy of this move, it sets a new precedence in scouting for suitable and appropriate captain -- vice chancellor (VC) -- for leading higher institutions of learning in the country. However, in case of Tribhuvan University, process for appointing VC has been accelerated through conventional methodology as the panel headed by the Minister for Education, Science and Technology has already recommended the names of three aspirants by entrusting it at the discretion of the Prime Minister to select one of them for the coveted position. It is expected that the Prime Minister will rise above the partisan and crony consideration and cast his choice in favour of Dr. Bhagwan Koirala who has demonstrated his administrative and managerial caliber by rebuilding and restoring public institutions going through sorry state of downward spiral.
The initiative to recruit VCs for universities through public call should be hailed as it can make the process more transparent and throws doors open for all aspirants who meet the prescribed qualifications and conditions spelt out in the announcement. In fact, it is accepted that the selection and appointment of vice-chancellors should be conducted through an open, rational and transparent review and evaluation process. In fact, open and competitive methodology has been one of the important modus operandi for selection of competent and illustrious academic and administrative leaders in running the universities. Generally, VCs are required to be visionary with established leadership qualities, administrative capabilities as well as teaching and research credentials. These standards are universal in nature and they are generally pursued, adhered to and followed globally while scouting, selecting and appointing vice chancellors for the universities whether in India, US and other countries of Europe and Asia.
In fact, well before a vice chancellor is actually selected and appointed, search committee is formed by the responsible agency concerned. The committee is mandated to invite application from potential aspirants, select and recommend the names for the post of vice chancellor. Finally, vice chancellor is confirmed and appointed by chancellor of the university. In India, President of Union of India has been conferred as chancellor (Kulapati) of the central universities in particular since the central government allocates funding for their academic and administrative operation. In case of the state government funded universities Governors of the respective provinces are conferred as chancellor though the position is generally presumed to be formal, ceremonial and nominal. In Nepal, the prime minister is conferred as chancellor of almost all universities which is often alleged to make the universities prone to political meddling and interference. The practice in the US is different as vice chancellors are known as president. For example, in globally ranked and advanced Harvard University president (vice chancellor) is elected by trustee and institutional stakeholders autonomously keeping in view the university's overall interest and academic excellence.
Nepali universities are likely to face the void of academic and administrative leadership in the absence of duly appointed vice chancellor since the process for election and appointment has been just started. This process may consume some time since the task proceeds from open call and invitation for submission of application, testimonials and document and their careful vetting and scrutiny for short listing of the potential aspirants to fill the position. Then comes discussion and presentation from the short-listed aspirants outlining their academic visions and strategies. This will finally lead onto selection and confirmation of the appropriate appointees to entrust roles and responsibilities of the vice chancellor for public universities.
The existing practice in Nepal to form search panel under the leadership of the education minister for selection of the names of the probable candidates for vice chancellors is not beyond reproach as it is almost very ritualistic and perfunctory. The search committees are manned by the compliant and supine officials who cannot bypass the wish and choice of the prime minister and minister regardless the quality and competence. As a result, the potential names are listed in tacit connivance of the ruling authority breaching due and transparent process required for selection and appointment of vice-chancellor. As a consequence, academic and administrative leadership in the Nepali universities is drawn from the ranks of those who are loyal to political leaders at the helm of the state affairs.
The public universities are indiscriminately politicised where the academic and administrative authorities are appointed on the basis of their access to and influence in the power echelon. What generally matters is their loyalty and support to the party leadership, not the academic credential and record. Many public intellectuals and educationists who have intimate knowledge on the university affairs articulate on the need to separate academics from scheming politics and protect the sanctity and integrity of the academic institutions.
According to the news emanating from University Grants Commission (UGC) and independent studies conducted by academics it is learnt that hundreds of teachers play truant and do not attend the university classes nor do they get engaged in the academic activities. Unless academic institutions are allowed to work independently to uphold academic integrity, neither will the present day anarchy and anomalies will be contained nor the decline in the academic standards be arrested.
The process for identifying and selecting the VCs for universities through open call this time should be commended, and utmost care should be taken to ensure that competent and creditable academics are selected for heading the Nepali universities.

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