At a time when three young universities are struggling to run owing to a lack of resources, the government has started work to announce four more varsities, only to fulfill vested interests of political parties.
Along with the Higher Education bill, two other bills to establish Rajarshi Janak (RJ) and Nepalgunj University are set to be presented to the parliament shortly while two more bills for setting up Madan Bhandari Polytechnic (MBP) and Birgunj University are in the pipeline. The Nepali Congress, at the behest of its leader Bimalendra Nidhi, has been pressing for the RJ University. While the CPN-UML has taken the MBP as a precondition to passing the other bills, Madhes-based parties have strongly stood by the Birgunj University. Once the bills are passed by the House, the country will have 12 universities.
The much-hyped Higher Education Act, which envisions better organising the existing universities and setting criteria for newcomers, was expected to get a nod first. But it has been receiving cold responses from parties that want universities of their choice adopted before the Act. Once the law is enforced, establishing new universities will be tougher. Therefore, all the leaders and their supporters are desperate to get their bills through the legislature first, according to educationists.
According to Mana Prasad Wagle, who recently announced his resignation as a dean of Kathmandu University, political parties were trying only to appease their vote banks by setting up the universities, no matter whether they are needed or whether there are adequate physical and academic capabilities to sustain them. “Products of political interests, the new universities do not serve academic needs,” he said.
Tirtha Khaniya, former member of the National Planning Commission (NPC) and an educationist, said the new—three established last year and the newly proposed four—universities are not distributed geographically. As all of them will be in Tarai districts bordering India, their location can have negative impacts on ecology and demography in future. “As this will fuel migration to the Tarai, a conflict can erupt there,” he added, citing the example of Kirtipur, Kathmandu, where rapid migration of students from across the country has displaced local Newars.
A study undertaken by Khaniya while he was at the NPC shows that around two-thirds—64.48 percent—university students are from the hilly region, a factor why all of the institutions should not be concentrated in the southern plains.
Experts say infrastructure, sustenance, academic environment and location must be studied before deciding to open a university.
Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara, has more than 14,000 students but attempts are being made to turn the Mahendra Multiple Campus, Nepalgunj, which does not attract many students, into a university. According to the University Grants Commission, around 380,000 students are enrolled in around 1,000 constituent and affiliated colleges of six universities.
(Source: The Kathmandu Post, News by Binod Ghimire)