Flasks half-filled

  • Chemical science in Nepal awaits serious investment in research
- KOSH NEUPANE
Flasks half-filled

Jan 26, 2015-

In most countries across the world, universities are drivers of innovation. But in Nepal, 55 years since the establishment of Tribhuvan University (TU), the country’s oldest university, there has been little focus on intensive research into science and technology. Most, if not all, faculties are hiring lecturers with Master’s degrees but with no or little research experience. Unlike in developed countries, the hiring process is primitive and takes years to complete.

Not a priority

All  nine universities in the country are keener on handing out affiliations to new private undergraduate schools rather than empowering themselves. TU has 60 constituent campuses and more than 800 affiliated colleges throughout the country. The University has central departments in most disciplines at its Kirtipur campus, which enrolls 90 M.Sc. students each year. But only a few get the opportunity to write a Master’s thesis in chemistry. Moreover, the department has not been able to expand itself beyond the traditional physical,  inorganic and organic chemistry disciplines, probably due to the lack of funding and expertise. Recently, TU expanded its M.Sc. programme in chemistry to its regional campuses but these programmes too are mostly teaching oriented. The situation is not very different in other universities either.

Kathmandu University, the second largest university in Nepal, has most of its undergraduate programmes in medicine, engineering, pharmacy, and biotechnology but not in chemistry or physics as a major subject. All other universities are in the primitive stages of research and development in science and technology. Yet, the country continues to give least priority to the development of basic science.

Modest efforts

A handful of energetic and young chemists are working to develop chemical science in Nepal. The Nepal Chemical Society and TU organised a big international chemical science conference, called ‘Chemical Congress’, in 2008 in Kathmandu. The conference brought national and international exposure to many students, chemists, and professionals in the advancement of chemical science. Since then, other conferences, such as ‘Polychar International Conference on Advance Materials and Nanotechnology’ and ‘Kathmandu Symposia on Advanced Materials’ have been organised every year and are led by a prominent professor of chemistry at the TU Central Department of Chemistry, Rameshwar Adhikari. These conferences have been successful in bringing many international scientists, including Noble laureates, to Nepal from more than 20 countries.

A research lab is now being established at the Department of Chemistry in the Mahendra Morang Adarsh Multiple Campus of TU at Biratnagar under the initiation of a very energetic chemist there, Ajaya Bhattarai. Unfortunately, the university dean’s office provided a minimal amount of funds, approximating $250, to buy basic instruments for the chemistry lab—UV-Visible spectrophotometer—which cost about $8,000. So Bhattarai had to appeal for funds from friends and other chemists who are studying abroad and was thus able to buy the instrument in a few months. This clearly shows that research is not a priority for the university when such research labs should be established in all campuses that teach chemistry.

While neighbouring countries have been helping Nepal with numerous other disciplines, there has been little assistance for science. It would do well for Nepal to learn from governments and universities in neighbouring countries that are making significant progress in science and technology and are attracting scientists from all over the world.

Politicians, stay out

In Nepal, the prime minister is  also chancellor of Nepal’s university system. Similarly, the Education Minister holds the office of pro-chancellor. To hire the top brass of the university, a search committee, recommends names to the associate-chancellor. Then a vice-chancellor is recruited by the prime minister upon the recommendation of the pro-chancellor. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, the top posts of vice-chancellor, rector, and registrar have been distributed among the major political parties.

A sensible fix to this crisis would be to create an educational system where the vice-chancellor and other top policymakers are appointed by a non-political committee composed of experienced and capable scholars with expertise in a variety of fields. If efforts are made to hire candidates with vision beyond politics, many of the current problems facing the Nepali education system will be resolved. Only then will Nepal’s universities be fast movers in research and innovation. We should set ambitious goals in science and technology; some great initiatives have been undertaken but more need to be done to reform chemical science studies in Nepal.

Neupane works at the Environmental Science Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the US

 

Published: 27-01-2015 09:03

Next Story

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment