Print Edition - 2017-04-02  |  Free the Words

Blackboard jumble

  • There are more political activities than research and scholarship on college campuses
- David Kainee

Apr 2, 2017-

The two-yearly election to the Free Student Union (FSU) was held after a gap of eight years amid clashes and sporadic violence. The voting had been put on hold since 2009 due to differences among student unions affiliated with mainstream political parties. There are altogether 350,000 students from 60 constituent and 1,084 affiliated campuses under Tribhuvan University (TU) who are eligible to vote in the FSU election. The fighting and injuries during the election have tarnished the image of student unions in the country. In fact, their reputation had started going downhill after the Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008 when hooliganism, financial embezzlement, criminal activity, clashes and violence became the hallmarks of student politics. 

Instead of fighting among themselves, student unions should have fought for their rights in their parent parties and worked together to improve the academic environment on college campuses. Of late, government or community colleges have become breeding grounds for cadres of political parties instead of skilled manpower for the country. Our campuses are over-politicised, and more political activities take place than research and scholarship within the hallowed grounds. It is even reported that university officers are appointed on the recommendation of student unions. 

Exodus of students

Many students joining government colleges seem to have enrolled with the aim of changing the country instead of studying. Many measures launched by TU to improve the academic environment, such as the semester system, have been vehemently opposed by student unions. Similarly, the age limit for candidates for student elections was rejected by major student unions to the dismay of many.

FSUs were envisioned to act as a representative body elected by students to keep a watch on administrative actions and question financial irregularities, misuse of authority and arbitrary appointments. If the unions had done their job, our academic environment would have become much better for research and study. But their utter failure has resulted in billions flowing out of the country due to the exodus of students to foreign countries. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Education, 32,889 students went abroad for higher studies in 2015-16, up from 30,696 students in 2014-15. 

University education in Nepal has become uncertain due to over-politicisation. We have seen politicians exploiting students for their vested interests. They care more about their political careers than the future of the students. They prowl the colleges like wolves and spoil the students. We do not have a congenial academic environment in government colleges. There are frequent strikes and shutdowns, and colleges are politically contaminated. The woes of students don’t end here. They have to wait for ages for their exam results, which takes a severe psychological toll on them. Their enthusiasm to do something in the future slowly evaporates. 

TU Rector Sudha Tripathi, also the co-coordinator of the election committee, had said, “We have suspended our academic activities to facilitate the election.” Since FSUs have failed to create a conducive environment for academic excellence, it is meaningless to spend time and money on student elections which only create chaos and confusion. Now is the time to seriously rethink the future of FSUs. When the long cherished goal of a federal democratic republic has been achieved, over-politicising educational institutions will only backfire in the near future. In order to attain the goal of a prosperous Nepal, we need to focus on producing skilled manpower to run the state machinery efficiently. 

Historical role

Nepali students have long played a key role in Nepal’s political development. Many of the participants in the rebellion led by the Nepali Congress (NC) that ousted the Rana autocracy and established democracy in 1951 were students who had been exiled to India in 1947 for joining the Jayatu Sanskritam student movement. This student movement was the first recorded organised protest against the Rana oligarchy. 

Again during the autocratic Panchayat system when political parties were banned, student unions acting as wings of the parties took to the streets and played a pivotal role in forcing the government to declare a referendum in 1979. Students were key institutional players in the 1990 People’s Movement, and in 2004 they radicalised the discourse of the political parties. The current NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba and Health Minister Gagan Thapa rose to prominence in national politics through student politics. 

Student politics may have produced political leaders for the country, but recent clashes and violence during the FSU elections have tarnished the image of a once cherished institution in the country. As the political revolution has concluded successfully with the promulgation of the constitution by the Constituent Assembly (CA), student unions should now shift their focus. They should concentrate on improving the academic environment in the country’s colleges to produce qualified manpower instead of serving as proxies for big political parties to produce cadres. Student unions should act so that their reputation does not erode further.

 

- Kainee is a social activist and freelance writer

Published: 02-04-2017 08:06

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