Autonomy and accountability of universities For quality education


Himalayan News Service

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Some months ago, Nepalese news media highlighted the news not only about mass cheating but also the use of unfair and unethical means in and outside an exam centre, in a final exam at a reputed campus directly under the control of a highly reputed university in the Kathmandu valley. The same evening, a television channel also televised a case of some students taking answer sheets out of the exam hall to a restaurant nearby and answering the questions with others’ help. It was reported that the answer sheets were collected by the campus exam authorities who performed all the rituals as if the whole thing happened in a normal way. Later it was found that the campus had a high percentage of students passing the exam. This is just an example of exams under a university.

After the news came out, people in general and the academia in particular expected the university authority along with the office of the controller of examinations to respond to it in a responsible manner. When there was no response from the university authority, the Ministry of Education, after enormous pressure from outside, asked the university to explain what the case was. It was learnt that the university authority neither commissioned an enquiry on the case, nor looked (internally) into it to make any report public It also did not reply to the Ministry of Education either.

The University’s autonomy is so threatening that the Prime Minister as the Chancellor and the Minister of Education as the pro-chancellor had no courage to raise such issues in the Senate meeting. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed forever leaving an impression that the university can run exams as it likes, and the government does nothing about it in Nepal.

Unless exams are administered with a clear code of conduct, students with their immature thinking are likely to use unfair means beyond ethical and professional considerations in order to get through the exams.

There is no doubt that a university must enjoy autonomy and academic freedom for the advancement of the society in the way it functions. It should also not be forgotten that autonomy does not come alone; it is always associated with responsible accountability. In the absence of a mechanism for quality control, and to oversee the extent to which quality is ensured, there is likelihood of each university within a country producing students with different levels of competencies under different examining circumstances.

In the case of the universities which receive a huge amount of public funds, they are expected to be even more accountable. The universities which do not become accountable to the funding agencies and the society at large cannot protect the trust the people place on them.

When a university fails to respond to the concerns raised by the society, people begin to mistrust the university and the quality it delivers. For that purpose, a university must make efforts, not only to offer quality education, but also to effectively respond to the issues brought up for debates.

People have every right to expect the government to require universities to assure that the courses, programs, and degrees that they offer meet acceptable academic and professional standards. Not only that, they need to meet the standards in terms of the inputs they provide. It is also necessary for them to follow internationally recognized standard procedures to evaluate the learning achievement of the students. Otherwise, the degrees such universities award may not be acceptable to many international universities.

Many universities in the world involve renowned experts in the respective field from another university as external examiners, who in close communication with the internal evaluators examine the extent to which the achievement of the students is up to the acceptable standard.

Unlike the international practices, in Nepal, even after having several universities, by and large, there is no involvement of external experts from other universities in the assessment of student achievement.

One legitimate institution to coordinate all universities within the country for making them responsibly accountable and pushing them to work towards quality is University Grants Commission (UGC). It has been quite some time since it was established.

However, there has not been a single event to note that the UGC is serious about the misconduct of university exams and unresponsiveness of the universities.

The UGC collects money from the government and channelizes it to the universities. This is just a one-way traffic like a post office. It has been able to make academia feel that it exists. Why cannot it oversee, like other UGCs in the world, to make universities feel obliged to be accountable to the funding agencies and the society at large and ensure quality higher education? What is the use of talking about accreditation when it does not take into account how exams are conducted? One would otherwise wonder how the quality of higher education would be ensured, and the set standards maintained when the authority concerned is not responsive to the misconduct at a final exam and the issues raised by the media.

(Source: The Himalayantimes)