Higher education: Is it worth the price you pay?


Asmita Manandhar

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A few months back, Nepal Engineering Council (NEC) had scrapped the licenses of two engineering colleges, Janakpur Engineering College (JEC) and Kathford International College of Engineering and Management (KICEM), on the grounds of admitting 96 students each in civil, electronics and computer engineering departments although the colleges were permitted only 48 seats in each department.

Following a huge debate regarding the future of the students currently studying in those colleges, the Council altered its earlier decision and offered the colleges another chance if they were to mend their ways and present a report to the Council with their present state.

“After the incident, KICEM presented their report to the Council and so we granted them permission to run the college for now. We had hoped the same with JEC, too, but they are still not following the rules and admitting more students than the college is capable of,” says Shaligram Singh, chairperson of NEC.

The incident has brought to public the trend of degrading education standards in private institutions. Though students and guardians have been long suffering from the business attitude of private colleges, lack of government interference had left them with no option. Guardians pay higher prices for the hope of better education but they are not delivered what they were promised in the beginning.

The Council had stated that the colleges were underequipped to facilitate the numbers of students they had admitted. Singh adds that the colleges were not only mishandling students’ future but were exploiting students’ investment as well.

“The facilities that these colleges provided accounted to around Rs 100,000 whereas the students were paying up to Rs 700,000 for the engineering courses,” he says.

Dharma Dutta Devkota, chairman of the National Guardians’ Association, says that after the privatization of educational institutions, private colleges have been running on the basis of open market economy. “For many, education evolved as an industry, and due to the lack of government monitoring, they decided the fees for the courses according to their wishes,” he says.

To add more to the guardians’ and students’ quandary, there is no mention of any such monitoring regarding higher education fees in the Education Act in Nepal.

Roj Nath Pandey, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Education (MoE), says that a year back a committee was formed to regulate the fees in private institutions for higher education.

“The committee had come up with a report but it couldn’t proceed to implementation,” he says. He adds that there are two options regarding the regulation of higher education charges – either the government should fix it or let the market decide on free economy. “But, even in the open-market style, there are no definite laws to regulate the educational institutions if they overcharge students,” he says.

To lure students, private colleges invest in advertisements and promotion, targeting places like cinema halls where young crowds are more likely to consume the information as desired by the educational institutions.

Rita Basnet, a parent of a fresh +2 graduate, had to convince her daughter to choose a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) course at Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM) rather than Kathmandu College of Management (KCM), a private college affiliated to Kathmandu University (KU).

“My daughter wanted to enroll in KCM because all her friends chose it over other colleges. But when we reviewed the fee tariff, KCM charged more than Rs 700,000 for the same course while KUSOM offered the same course for Rs 450,000. And talking about the standard, why not choose the mother institution rather than an affiliated college?” she says.

Other colleges like The British College and Islington College are charging up to Rs 1.2 millon for a four-year undergraduate course, which they claim is for British degrees. Islington College requires students to pay 600 pounds in addition to Rs 76,000 every year as admission fees.

Dr Narayan Manandhar, Vice Principal of The British College, says that their college is offering British standard courses in Nepal, and thus the high charge for their education. “We’re here to deliver quality education and our faculty consists of people who are trained in England,” he says. He adds that they pay Rs 2,000 per session to all the teachers to ensure that they deliver their best to the students.

Though The British College boasts of a degree from the University of the West of the England, some of its courses are still not approved by the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Ribesh Rauniyar, a student who had deposited Rs 10,000 for Master’s in Business Administration, had his money refunded when the approval that they promised did not materialize in time. “It took longer than I thought, and I didn’t want to study in a college whose courses weren’t approved by the government,” he says.

Anusha Rai* (name changed), a student of Islington College, says that the rule of charging admission fee even to sophomore and senior students is totally unfair. “It was the British degree that attracted me to the college, but now I’m not so sure. We’re paying in British Pounds but I’m doubtful whether the education that I’m offered is worth such a huge fortune,” she adds.

Amidst these predicaments, there is very little help from the authority. MoE assistant spokesperson Pandey says that if anyone files a complaint regarding any such issues, a high-level monitoring committee under the Ministry is responsible to supervise any irregularities, and if found guilty, can penalize such institutions. But unless the Ministry acts, the procedure to penalize after the complaint is filed is still a far cry.

Pandey further points out that the University Grant Commission (UGC) is also responsible to regulate the colleges that offer higher education.

On the other hand, Subash Chadra Dhungel, Chief Administrative Officer of UGC, says that they have been monitoring more than 300 community colleges which receive regular grants from the Commission, making sure that the community colleges charge nominal fees to their students. But they have not looked into private colleges till now.

“We’re planning to ask for data from private colleges, too, regarding the courses they are running and the fee structure, and then monitor them,” he says. He adds that though they have not interfered in those colleges which do not receive any grants from them, they have plans to regulate them in the near future.

However, students like Rai have been investing a good amount of money in private colleges with the hope of getting better education. “I would have no qualms about investing in my education if they had provided us with a proper education standard they had assured. Educational institutions are just another lucrative business in Nepal, and it’s not just one college, there are plenty,” she voices her discontentment.

NEC Chairperson Singh agrees with Rai about private colleges being opened only as business prospects. He states that by the amount of fees these colleges are charging, they should have increased facilities in the classrooms and laboratories, or at least have their own building. But the colleges that are under scanner have used the huge amount of students’ fees to the management bodies’ personal benefits.

“If they are looking for pure business prospect, they should open factories, not colleges,” he says.

Students in dilemma
After the two above-mentioned engineering colleges were under the scanner of Nepal Engineering Council (NEC), the Council has estimated that the future of at least 600 students would be affected. When the Council decided to scrap the licenses of the JEC and KICEM, they had presented no solutions to the current students of those colleges.

As per rule, graduates of banned colleges would be automatically disqualified for the Council certificate in their professional career.
The Council, however, decided to let the colleges continue its classes under the condition that they run according to the rules and admit students according to the college’s capacity.

“But we’ve found that JEC has again admitted students beyond their capacity,” says Shaligram Singh, Chairperson of NEC.
The Council had revisited the college one week back and asked the college administration for the report of the new admission. But according to Singh, they have not only found the college of over-admission but the college has also failed to present any reports to the Council.

“Now we’re planning to take strict measures against JEC. If the college doesn’t provide us with clear reasons, we’ll be forced to start legal proceedings against the college,” says Singh.

Meanwhile, the students studying at the college are hopeful that the college is not mishandling their future.
“We’re told that the college will now shift to Bhaktapur where we’ll have more facilities,” says Badal Karna*(name changed), a student at JEC.

He also emphasized that he and his friends are preparing for their internal and assessment exams and the college administration has assured them that their future is secure.

“There had been enough distractions for all of us. I just want to concentrate on my studies now,” he says.

Singh, on the other hand, says that they have formed a five-member committee to review the future of the students who are already studying there. They will decide about the students’ adjustments after the committee submits’ its report.

He also asks prospective students and their guardians to review the colleges before they decide to enroll. He says that even after they have spread the information about this college’s malfunction, students and guardians are still looking for admission.

“If they ignore our recommendation and still go on with the admission procedure, The Council or the government can’t take responsibility for such students,” says Singh. He also advises students and guardians to be aware of the colleges they choose for higher education.

(Published in Republica National daily in 8 January)