Academics are planning a university of excellence, but keeping politics in check is a challenge
There are around a dozen universities in the country.
Half of them – Lumbini Buddhism, Far West, Midwest, Agriculture and Forestry, Nepal Open, and Rajarshi Janak – came into operation after the country introduced a new political system after the 2006 movement. Each of them promised academic excellence when they were founded, as all of the country’s existing universities have largely failed to provide quality education.
But they too failed in their declared missions.
Now a group of academics and civil society leaders have conceived a multidisciplinary university that can be a center of excellence.
“We took on an extremely challenging responsibility of our own choosing,” said Dr. Arjun Karki, former Vice Chancellor of the Patan Academy of Health Sciences, who leads the team. “The country urgently needs to improve its higher education. The University of Nepal could be an example for others. “
Conceived three years ago, it was on 15th of June that the Cabinet formed the preparatory body for the infrastructure development for the establishment of the University of Nepal. The planned university will be built in the community of Gaidakot, Nawalparasi.
It has an 11-person board of directors and includes, among others, Bipin Adhikari, former dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, writer and engineer Dovan Rai, and Surya Raj Acharya, former member of the visiting faculty at the Institute of Engineering.
The members of the Board of Directors have claimed that the University of Nepal will be different from the existing ones because it will be completely autonomous.
“The University of Nepal will be autonomous,” Adhikari told the Post. “We are aware that building a university for top training is not possible without the shadow of politics.”
In fact, Nepal’s universities have hit the headlines with appointments of vice chancellors and other top officials based on candidates’ political affiliations.
All existing universities in Nepal operate under their own laws with the Prime Minister as Chancellor and the Education Minister as Pro-Chancellor. The rector is the executive director of the university.
As Chancellor, the Prime Minister ex officio appoints the Vice Chancellors on the basis of the recommendations of the Search Committee led by the Minister of Education.
However, according to Karki, the proposed university will operate under a board of trustees and have full authority to run the university including the appointment of its vice chancellor.
“Aside from formulating the laws necessary to establish and monitor them, the government will have no role in their operations,” Adhikari said.
In addition to appointing senior university officials, including the Vice Chancellor and Rector, the government also allocates most of its budget to the 11 existing universities.
According to the University Scholarship Committee, The government allocated a total of Rs.11.30 billion to them in fiscal year 2019-20, the last year for which figures are available.
From them, Tribhuvan University received around 750 million rupees, while other universities received between 82 million rupees and 700 million rupees.
Mid Western University received Rs 140 million in 2019-20 while Rajarshi Janak University, which has just started operations, received Rs 82 million.
More than 70 percent of these amounts are spent on salaries for faculties and other staff.
But Adhikari says they will not ask the government for funds for the University of Nepal even though they will accept it if it donates voluntarily. He said an estimated 250 million rupees will be needed to build infrastructure and other costs initially.
“We will initially offer Bachelor courses and gradually build them up,” says Adhikari.
The Gaidakot community has already made the land available.
“We believe the university will be a nation’s pride,” said Chhatra Raj Poudel, mayor of the township, the Post. “We are happy that it is finally becoming a reality.”
The public university will begin with an emphasis on the liberal arts – language studies, culture, history, music, and the visual arts – and although technical courses will be introduced later, liberal arts education will remain the focus, according to Adhikari.
In contrast to existing universities, it does not grant membership in other universities.
“There will be no affiliations,” said Karki. “Membership has now become a source of money for various universities and this is one of the reasons for the poor performance of the existing universities.”
Universities generate additional funding from tuition fees from students on their premises and constituent colleges, affiliations with private colleges, and examination fees from students at the affiliated colleges.
For example, Tribhuvan University has 1,081 affiliated colleges, in addition to 61 constituent colleges. In contrast, Far Western University has an affiliate college in addition to its 15 constituent colleges.
According to the University Grants Commission, Tribhuvan University has 335,543 students studying for their degrees in its constituent colleges and affiliated colleges. Pokhara University is the second largest university in terms of enrollments with 30,542 students. Far Western University has 10,113 students while Mid Western University has 7,353 students.
Although promoting innovation and research-based education was the main goal of the universities established after 2006, they all follow the example of the oldest university in the country.
After Tribhuvan University, with the exception of Mahendra Sanskrit University, the oldest in Nepal is Kathmandu University, founded in 1992 after open politicization among students during the Panchayat days when colleges were centers of anti-establishment activities, when political parties were banned.
It was also founded on the initiative of academics such as Suresh Raj Sharma and Bhadra Man Tuladhar, among others. Although it is still the best school in the country, the politicization and the lack of transparency in financial matters and the granting of memberships have recently eroded its image.
Politicization has also recently resulted in faculty members and students closing the university.
Karki understands the difference it makes to a university when academics are the brains behind it.
“With the exception of Kathmandu University, no other university in the country was developed by academics,” he said. “Therefore, they lacked the long-term vision.”
Not only academics based in Nepal but also those who work in prestigious universities around the world will not only help as faculty members but also in generating funds, according to Adhikari.
“We have received very warm responses from the Nepalese diaspora in various countries,” he said. “We believe that we can generate the necessary resources and find faculties to operate a university of international standard.”
The Nepalese government, the province of Gandaki and the municipality of Gaidakot have promised to contribute part of the funds needed for the construction of the university campus. However, the majority of the funds are to come from national and international donors.
Karki said they believe there would be no problem with funding the good works and all 11 members of the development committee will volunteer while contributing funds according to their capacities.
But potential pitfalls have not escaped the observer.
“There is no point in adding another university if it is following the existing ones in its operations,” Tanka Nath Sharma, professor at Kathmandu University, told the Post. “I’ve heard good things about the university to be founded. However, there are major challenges in making it a center of excellence, with political interference being the biggest potential problem. ”
Karki, the former dean of the Patan Academy of Health Sciences, sees the University of Nepal as a long-term project.
“Good universities don’t come about overnight,” says Karki. “If we lay a good foundation, the next generation will take them to new heights.”