Print Edition - 2015-11-22  |  Free the Words

A failed institution

  • Higher education in Nepal needs a complete overhaul to make it relevant to the present
- Dr Govinda Prasad Acharya, Kathmandu

Nov 22, 2015-

All over the world, higher education holds paramount importance for development. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure its accessibility, relevancy and quality. The operation of universities to enhance academic excellence and to make a sustainable contribution to development in national and global economies has become the need of the hour. But over the years, the credibility and quality of education in Nepal has been deteriorating. The few month old episode of the appointment of vice chancellors to various government universitites and the controversies that followed is a case in point.  

Tribhuvan University (TU) is synonymous with higher education in the country. However, the lack of comprehensive plan and policy has hampered the capacity of TU and other government universities to impart quality education. And this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed urgently. No matter how and who is appointed as the head of these institutions, the challenges ahead are tremendous. The problems faced by the government universities can only be resolved by devising a comprehensive plan, policy and action in close coordination with all the stakeholders.

Programmes and quality     

To begin with, needs accessments are not carried out before introducing academic programmes. Instead, most institutes merely replicate programmes already on offer. Neither are courses tailored to local needs nor do they meet the standards of the global job market. The only way to fix this problem would be to conduct a thorough research of academic programmes, determine their relevancy and only then design a curriculum or modify it. Programmes demanded by the job market should be

core subjects of universities

and promoted by tailoring it to domestic and global demands. Currently, colleges place less emphasis on technical education, this has to change. There is a need to place more importance on technical subjects and less on generic subjects.  

Furthermore, the deteriorating academic environment which has been largely attributed to political maneuvering is lowering the quality of education and instead rewarding mediocrity. While a few technical and professional courses have been introduced in Nepal, there is still a long way to go in terms of introducing courses demanded by the market. Against this backdrop, the priority should be to transform existent institutions into creative, innovative and research-oriented entities.  

Nepal’s experience on efficiency and efficacy of academic institutions is not very encouraging either—whether we consider the resource constraint; utilisation of available resources; compliance to academic calendar; ratio of working hours and holidays; library services; subsidies to students or fee structure. Universities need to enhance their performance.

Almost 48 percent of the total population of the country belongs to the Dalit and marginalised section of society; they continue to have limited access to higher education along with indigenous groups and a large section of females. Clearly, there is a need for the country’s education policy to keep this reality in mind and to ensure wider access to higher

education. Meanwhile, the increasing cost of higher education

is widening the gap between private and public institutions both economically and socially. Enrolment in higher education has been rapid but it remains a far cry for many, even today.

Policy matters

What’s more, higher education in Nepal suffers from a haphazard trial-and-error syndrome. And the absence of sound policies and a clear vision for the sector has only made good governance impossible. So, it is urgent to gain clarity about what is that we are seeking from our higher education system.  Mismatch between the programmes, students’ number and available infrastructure is

common. And the recent devastating earthquakes have only exacerbated this problem.  

And of late, the university management body instead of addressing these problems behaves like a body whose sole objective is to grant affiliations to new colleges. The glaring absence of a comprehensive policy at the centre and lack of transparency at affiliated institutes or faculties only makes matters worse. The need of the hour is to agree on a scientific basis of granting affiliation backed by needs and common or specific parameters of academic programmes. Besides, the affiliation period, monitoring mechanisms, de-affiliation, transfer of ownership, among others, also require functional clarity.

Universities have also failed to maintain the right ratio of permanent and other faculties to ensure quality education. Triangular consensus from professors’ associations, universities and the government, however, could be a mechanism to deal with the problem amicably. The sooner the universities take steps to come up with this provision the better.  

A new beginning

The role of students and teachers is equally important. There is a need to revive the culture of abiding by the established rules of an academic institution as frequent violations of the code of conduct by both students and teachers are detrimental to it. Student unions should also work for the welfare of the students and academic excellence. Similarly, teachers’ associations are envisaged for enhancing academic standards. However, these primary duties of the unions have been sidelined by both. So it is imperative to transform these institutions as per the spirit of their formation.  

In addition, there is a need to manage the university’s assets and ensure their utilisation, deploy income centres, form alumni associations, develop research centres and research capability, expede research and academic activities, and revisit human resource

policy in enhancing the quality and standards. As a new discourse on higher education in Nepal has begun in the context of federalism, it could be an opportunity to do away with the tradition of ‘poliical’ bhagbanda and institute meritocracy in higher education to deal with the challenges of the 21century.

Acharya is Professor Emeritus at Faculty of Managemement, Tribhuvan University

 

Published: 22-11-2015 08:22

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