Need for more regulations, but also innovation

  • Interview Dev Raj Adhikari

Aug 16, 2018-

The University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex regulatory body tasked with determining and maintaining the quality of education in universities, has time and again come under the scanner for failing to curb malpractices in the education sector. With 13 universities currently under its purview and more provincial-level universities in the pipeline, the UGC’s scope of work is slated to increase in the coming years. But how does the commission plan to broaden its authority? In this conversation with The Post, Professor Dev Raj Adhikari discusses the role UGC will play in a federalised education system and how it plans to crack down on malpractices in universities. Excerpts:

The Constitution of Nepal allows the establishment of provincial-level universities. This means that the number of institutions will increase in the new federal set-up. How will UGC’s role change in the coming years?

The statute envisions two types of universities, central and provincial, allowing provincial governments to establish their own universities. Some of the provinces have already formed committees for feasibility studies but the process cannot move ahead unless there is Federal Act in place that defines the working criteria for central and provincial universities. The Act will also have provisions on what status is granted to existing universities.

The role of the UGC will continue to be what is currently—that is, it will continue to play an advisory role while establishing new universities, whether that be at the central of the provincial level. It will also continue funding universities and community colleges, while regulating the quality of education provided.

Are there plans for parallel commissions at the provincial level as well?

I don’t think the constitution envisions it as such. Even in neighbouring India, which has a vast network of universities, there is one regulator that oversees all campuses across the nation. As we move into a federal set up, it is, however, necessary to broaden the role of the UGC. A change in the commission’s name, to Higher Education Commission, is also being mooted as it does much more than just provide grants to institutions.

Though it has governing role, the commission has often been criticised for limiting its scope of work to pushing papers between the government and universities. Is such criticism justified?

I disagree. The commission’s scope of work isn’t just limited to disbursing grants to universities. It has conducted several academic studies, provided recommendations on issues pertaining to university education, along with playing an advisory role while setting up new universities. It also has recently worked on finalising the criteria for officials in universities with new affiliations.

But what about cracking down on irregularities in institutions like the Lumbini Buddhist University (LBU) and booking miscreant officials?

The commission conducted a study on the irregularities at the LBU and submitted the report to the Education Ministry, but the recommended actions failed to move forward. Currently, the UGC can monitor and recommend actions against malpractices but it cannot take actions on its own. This is one of the changes that we are recommending in the new Federal Act. It is, however, true that the UGC hasn’t been able to maintain the quality of education across the board.

The Kathmandu University, Pokhara University and the LBU provide affiliation to colleges offering programs the universities don’t offer on their own. It is a practice that is unheard of anywhere else in the world. Isn’t that gross negligence on part of the commission?

Yes, these affiliations should have never been granted. We have written directly to the said universities and issued statements on such malpractices. However, like I mentioned earlier, the commission cannot initiate actions against universities, nor does it have the authority to stop their grants, even if malpractice is proven.

Six universities have already been established after country embraced a new political set up in 2006 and many more are in the pipeline. Why do we need more universities if they just continue to follow the blueprint laid out by Tribhuvan University?

This is a pertinent question. New universities have been mirroring the TU for years. Education systems have been evolving around the world and we need to keep abreast by introducing new programmes, not just maintaining the status quo. This is one of the primary reasons why students are leaving for foreign universities in droves.

Shouldn’t the UGC ensure these issues are addressed prior to green-lighting new universities?

The commission always recommends that innovate ways of teaching and learning be adopted in universities. There is huge demand for technical courses but none of the newly-established universities offer them. It is clear that there is no need for new universities if they fail to introduce programmes that are different than what is already on offer.

Published: 16-08-2018 08:45

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