Thursday, 29 September, 2022

Reform Agenda Before New VC

Mukti Rijal

The government has appointed the vice chancellor for Tribhuvan University after a prolonged wait. The position had been lying vacant for some time affecting the key academic and administrative functions of the university after the exit of the outgoing VC Tirtha Khaniya. Since the key and apex position of the university is said to be important and strategic for the political parties, the parties tend to cast their eyes on them, and indulge into haggling unnecessarily to bag the position through a kind of spoils sharing arrangement. This time it is very difficult to say if spoils sharing arrangement would dictate authorities to divide the plum university positions since the posts of registrars and rectors are yet to fall vacant.
However, Nepal Communist Party is in an unassailable position in the government and no such compulsion exists for the government to keep the practice of spoils sharing (Bhagbanda) continue as in the past. In the run up to the informal and backchannel negotiations and bargaining for the appointment of TU vice chancellor, media reports and articles had depicted the poor state of the university blaming politics and party interference as the major cause for its deterioration and poor performance.
The views articulated in the media voice for the need of an independent, competent and effective administration in the university which can be assured only when vice-chancellors, rectors and registrars are the persons of academic integrity and administrative competence. Newly appointed TU vice chancellor Dr. Dharma Kanta Baskota need to be aware of the problems and anomalies faced by the University. The new VC has floated fifteen point agenda for executing reforms in the university. Most of the measures contained in the agenda are relevant and they are in line with the performance contract he has entered with the government.
If track record of the new TU Vice Chancellor is taken into consideration, one can be optimistic of his capacity to deliver. He has reportedly carried out some laudable reforms in mitigating the problems faced by the Nepal Medical Council. But given the scale and intensity of the problems and malaises confronted by Tribhuvan University, it cannot be said that he will repeat the same level of dexterity for his new assignment.
A VC should combine both administrative acumen and academic integrity. Rules and regulations need to be enforced in such a manner that the academic and non-academic personnel and students abide by them in their letter and spirit. Some internal reforms and improvements with proper sight on enhancing academic profile can go a long way to yield fruitful results and spruce up image of the university. Some tips are presented here for the newly appointed TU vice chancellor to arrest the ever sliding decline of the premier seat of higher education- TU- that still holds the dominant share in the overall production of the educated and competent human resources in the country.
Nonetheless, in the drive to improve the academic environment, the vice chancellor alone cannot do much and he needs to secure and elicit the cooperation of the rector, deans, professors, lecturers and non-teaching personnel as well. The first task the newly appointed VC should carry out is to rein in on the role and prevalence of the students unions and their extra- academic activities in the central campus and constituent campuses. Needless to repeat, the student unions as they are the frontal wings of the political parties often times tend to resist when some initiatives to reform the academic ecology in the university are initiated. The TU authorities should summon courage not to kowtow at the threats of the student unions and other political forces and go ahead with measures that aim at bringing about structural changes and institutional reforms in the university. The semester system currently implemented need to be executed in all the constituent campuses of the Tribhuvan University effectively.
Experiences have shown that the semester system has contributed much in improving the teaching learning environment in the central campus, Kirtipur and many other campuses with the growing commitment and motivation of both the teachers and students. Another very vexing issue that the Tribhuvan University has to confront with is the question of regularising and confirming some of the teachers who are still working on contractual basis. They are working on contractual terms for decades on the hope that their tenure in the university services will be regularised. It is alleged that these teachers were hired purely on political grounds, and not all of them possess requisite competence and rigor to handle teaching learning situation in the campuses
Without the critical and competent faculty, it is not possible to enhance quality in the academic operation of the university. The TU authority should take bold steps to conduct competitive exams for these ad hoc teaching staff and those who fail the scrutiny need to be given respectable exit forthwith not to compound the problem further. But this needs courage and boldness as political pressures has to be withstood.
Furthermore, the university should motivate and ask the senior teachers like professors and readers to give their time for handling classes and sessions in the real sense. This will help create a situation of ownership and commitment and help improve the academic quality of the university. Though these are very minor routine aspects of the day to day functioning of the university they are very critical and important for setting the academic calendar right.

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