Higher education's woes No strategic guidance


Prof. Dr. Mahendra Singh

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Jomtein World Conference on Education in 1990 set “Education for All” or EFA as the first priority in education in the world. Accordingly, governments of different countries recognised EFA as a prerequisite to addressing challenges facing the poor, downtrodden and deprived people at present. Donor agencies also switched their focus onto school level education. Even Millenium Development Goals (MDG) reinforced these targets. Ministry of Education in Nepal also gave priority to EFA and thus higher education suffered a consequential loss of direction and close attention. The Nepali society had wished for the adoption of similar approach at higher education level as well. After all, higher education is a major driving force for economic growth, alleviating poverty, removing inequalities, environmental degradation and a part of international knowledge. It can also play a decisive role in building social cohesion. Unfortunately, higher education is being run without long-term plan and programs. We are not in a position to govern it as a single naitonal system that is extremely needed. As a result, the level of effectiveness of the higher education reflects the problems of the system. There are a few ways to assess the problems confronting Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the country. 

In this global world, each university is a part of the global unity of universities, but the Nepalese universities still do not have effective inter-communication in terms of students and credit transfers. Globally, there is a discussion on the possibility of meta-university where a student can take different courses in different universities simultaneously. However, in Nepal, it is difficult for a student to change university. This is so because of incompatability in the curricula. Our unviersities should create a harmonious group that is able to work with synergy and avoid the disperse nature of the present situation. 

The quality of university education has declined nationwide. Quantitative expansion of national as well as foreign higher education institutions, assertive roles of teachers, staffs and student bodies are mainly responsible for their regrettable performance. In addition, full time dedication from teachers and staffs is hardly found except in some of the technical programs at TU and a few elite programs at other universities. Of late, it seems that the government has adopted the policy of welcoming the programs of foreign universities in the expectation that they will ensure and improve the quality of education. Contrary to the fact, except for a few very good private institutions, majority of them are being driven by commercial motives. They are imposing a business approach in cross border provision of higher education. 

There has been a great amount of discussion in the past few years regarding the funding problems. Every university wants more from the government whereas economic growth is stagnant. In fact, the government would like higher education to be free of charge, if that was possible since unviersity is much more essential for the country than it is for the teachers and staffs. However, this is not possible currently. Until it is, the government concentrates on finding alternative sources to finance universities in Nepal. 

A university is supposed to be a ‘critical consciousness’ of the nation. In order to fulfill this mission, the most reverend late Prof. B.C. Malla propounded the idea of ‘Academic freedom’ long time ago. However, with the restoration of multi-party democracy, the successive governments failed to implement the theme of ‘Academic freedom’ and practiced a legacy of their predecessors. As a result, university could not get itself rid of distorting influence of extra-university actors that have been retaining their upperhand at the time of appointing Vice-chancellors, Rectors, Registrars and other high officials. Needless to say, university autonomy is grealty affected by the political influence and financial vulnarability. Autonomy should be strengthened, but at the same time, autonomy should not be used to shield the continuity and to resist right kinds of changes. One should not forget that it is the duty of the government to foster the changes that people believe are right and should take place to make higher education expansive, excellent and inclusive. It is always good not to impose changes from outside, but there should be state regualtion and universities should follow rules. Autonomy means doing what seems right.

Perhaps the most pervasive concern arising from the current status of universities is that higher education suffers from the absence of the long term planning, policies and programs suitable for today’s Nepal. Consequently, they are left to find their own ways of adjusting to different kinds of pressures with no strategic guidance as described earlier. In this context, the government should understand the urgency in recuperating its higher education and make an increased effort to systematize the higher education. People are aware of the current political and financial constraints of the government but we cannot sacrifice the future. The future of every country directly depends on higher education. Let us not ignore the fact that higher education is the most appropriate and potential sector to guide the future of the country.

(Source: The Himalayantimes)