There has been a very rapid growth in the number of higher education institutions and also student enrolment in Nepal in recent times. This has given rise to major concerns about higher education development in the country, which have been reflected in the quality and relevance of the higher education programs, effectiveness and efficiency in the management of the institutions, and expansion of access with equity and inclusion. Addressing the challenges demands a robust system of quality assurance and accreditation. The challenge is building the capacity in terms of human resource, funding sources, as well as institutional set up in a sustainable way. For this, Nepal is endeavoring to enhance the capacity for establishing a viable quality assurance and accreditation (QAA) system the country.
The development of modern education system, higher education (HE) in particular, started rather late in Nepal. The first college, Tri-Chandra College was established in 1918, and Tribhuvan University, the first university, in 1958. By 1965, there were about 15,000 students enrolled in 5 government supported colleges and 51 colleges run by the public (communities). Ever since, there has been a very rapid expansion of higher education enrolment and corresponding expansion in the number of higher education institutions in the country. At present, there are nine universities and three higher education academies.
According to UGC EMI Report, 2010, in 2009/10, total HE enrolment was 376,869, studying in a system consisting of 6 universities, their 81 constituent campuses, and 886 campuses affiliated to them. The growth of affiliated community and private colleges has been rather rapid. In the last five years, the number of institutions have grown on an averge by 16.6 per cent, while the average student enrolment growth has been 21.4 per cent.
The development of higher education institutions and enrolment expansion in the country has taken place without a system to ensure quality norms and standards. Also, there is no viable mechanism to monitor the quality of higher education institutions in the country. Consequently, the institutions have come up in a multitude of quality status with many in poor conditions. Particularly, many of the private institutions are setup on commercial motives, and the parents, students as well as others are concerned.
The concerns are regarding whether the infrastructures are appropriate and adequate, whether the environment meets the academic essences, whether the governance and management are appropriate, whether the teaching- learning activities meet universal academic standards, whether students get guidance and counseling support, and whether the institution operate in transparent way and that the information are circulated appropriately. Obviously, the concerns converge towards the issue of the lack of a QAA system.
Concerned with the need to establish a system to ensure the quality of higher education institutions as well as to monitor them on periodic basis, the government listed the formation of Quality Assurance and Accreditation system in the 10th National Development Plan (2002-07). The University Grants Commission (UGC), using the authority provided in its regulation, formed the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Committee and Quality Assurance and Accreditation Division to work as its secretariat. The QAA setup is a permanent functional entity to undertake quality assurance and accreditation of higher education programs and institutions. The Accreditation Division is responsible for regular activities related to QAA, which include organizing dialogues with various stakeholders, supporting peer reviewers, preparing draft QAA criteria and benchmarks, QAA guidelines and manual for self-evaluation, planning self-assessments in various institutions.
The establishment of QAA system in the country is being piloted through some selected institutions, not as discriminatory evaluation system but as confidence building measure towards achieving and sustaining better quality. The participating institutions of higher education on voluntary basis take self initiatives for quality self assessment and submit for peer review. The Peer Review Team makes critical examination of the self study report and makes field based observation towards completing the assessment and makes suggestions for quality enhancement in line with the criteria and indicators of QAA system.
The regulatory provisions in the country for the establishment of higher education institutions or implementing programs do not list standardized criteria and benchmarks except in the case of technical and professional programs under respective professional councils such as Nepal Medical Council, Engineering Council and the likes. Since most of the institutions were established without the basis of QAA standard, joining and completing the QAA process has become a challenging task. Therefore, motivation, facilitation and support are the key aspects of the strategy taken by UGC to ensure meaningful participation of the institutions in the QAA system.
Prof. Mathema is Director, University Grants Commission, QAA Division
(Source: The Himalayantimes, 24 January, 2004)