Higher Education: Whither Humanities?



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Or, for that matter whither Social Sciences? This question is getting bigger, more vexing and pointing over the years in the academic arena. But there seems little concern in finding out answers to this question, let alone plans to improve the situation. There are a few brilliant examples of how humanities and social sciences  are failing to attract the interest of our SLC graduates in our colleges - both public and privates. This is an issue our universities and their affiliated colleges must give serious thought to and come with a way out to change the current situation. However, a brief discussion of the golden past of this faculty in TU, the nation’s first university and mother of the rest, would be in order here.

When this scribe received the highly coveted TU Chancellor Gold Medal for the topmost position in the Master’s examinations for the year 1972, many eyebrows were pulled and shrunk from different disciplines. How could a student of Nepalese History, Culture and Archaeology possibly receive the 35-gram real 24-carat Gold Medal leaving Mathematics, Science and Management far behind in the competition? Later, when all the results were cleared, this example was seen as being unique with the Faculty of humanities and social sciences  topping the list followed by Physics, Chemistry and other disciplines in that year.

The golden past, the rocky present

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Faculty of humanities and social sciences  in TU had very large coverage nationwide in terms of enrollment and level completion - from Intermediate to the Master’s. In the 80s, for example, some departments at the Centre were facing enrollment scarcity at the Master’s level, but those in many campuses outside Kathmandu had phenomenal enrollment at the lower levels.

Several departments at the Centre, say for example, Economics, Nepali, Political Science, and a little later in the 80s Sociology and Anthropology had problems with selection through the compulsory entrance tests. Many potential graduates had to forgo entry into the post-graduate programmes or had to force the TU authorities to amend the existing rules and get entry at any cost.

The scenario has changed drastically now. Tribhuvan University has eliminated the Proficiency Certificate level from its structure. But in order to accommodate the large number of SLC graduates, the government has not been able to upgrade all the capable public high schools of the country to the +2 level. The private +2 and other colleges are now focussing more on plus two (+2) in Science  and plus two (+2) in Management  because they know that is where the buck is. Therefore, subjects falling under the humanities and social sciences  faculty are facing a slow and painful process of terminal sickness.

This is a situation that ultimately will affect the survival of post-graduate level studies in all the existing universities. And the corollary result is that the country will not have high-level human resource with degrees from the faculty of humanities and social sciences . This is not a healthy situation, considering the need of a wide variety of university graduates that are needed to fill in positions in schools, offices, administration and a wide range of employment agencies in the days to come.

Selective notion

Why is it that the private colleges and universities are shunning or discouraging enrollment in the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the intermediate level whereas many of them run several Master’s level programmes in this faculty? There is no clear answer. Most of the private colleges and +2 programmes tend to think that only Science and Management can make Nepal a prosperous country. There is no doubt that mismanagement has ruined this country up and down, right and left. And there is an urgent need of producing well-trained manpower in this field.

One wishes the same was true in the field of Science. In fact, the income gained from the Management faculty goes to supporting Science in these colleges. And gradually, many of these colleges are doing nothing to at least keep the humanities and social sciences  faculties alive. This year when some of the new private colleges in Kathmandu enrolled double digit sections with students in Science and Management, there was not a single section for Arts.

There are new and glamorous colleges whose managers go out to attract SLC graduates outside the Kathmandu Valley also. It is said that one such college this year went out to collect students with a recorded voice of Albert Einstein, the Nobel laureate. Listeners were taken by surprise to hear this legendary figure speak about the Theory of Relativity for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Strangely enough, the founder of the Prize, Alfred Nobel and the recipient Albert Einstein have already hit the academic market in Nepal with their famous names hanging proudly in our colleges as many institutions have been named after them.

Great scholars like Edward Tylor, LH Morgan, Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim, Malthus, Blake, Arnold Toynbee, B. Malinowski, among many others, have also contributed significantly in the fields of anthropology, sociology, history, economics and political science. Their contributions make the bulk of the curricula in the universities worldwide. But soon there will be no faculties at the basic and bachelor’s level in our colleges. Unfortunately, our colleges have been highly selective guided by the notion of loss and profit and not by the planned effort to produce manpower in a balanced manner.


Here also, we have had great scholars in the fields of languages, history, culture, political science and economics in post-democracy Nepal. Their undaunted effort to create a big bulk of literature and the national curricula has made university education not only meaningful but also a reliable source for the creation and development of required manpower in the government, the university and colleges and other sectors.

Our curricula in humanities and social sciences  focus on the study of theory as well as their relativity in our national context. The knowledge in these subjects is built from the junior or intermediate level, and it grows structurally toward the Bachelor and Master’s level. Therefore, even though many MA programmes have opened their doors widely to invite enrollment from other subjects as well, without the base in the particular areas, the upper level study becomes incomplete and superficial, to say the least. It is time concerned colleges and the government gave serious thought to avoiding voidness in many subjects in the humanities and social sciences .