Leadership Crisis In Higher Education

2014-04-05

edusanjal

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This is perhaps the worst time in the six-decade-long history of higher education in Nepal. The nation’s five universities, including the good old TU, have remained without leadership with decision making authorities for the last two critical yet highly monotonous months.

For the common man on the street, this does not mean much as the countrymen are getting used to very unpredictable and highly vulnerable constitutional and political situations in the country. But for those whose academic life is at risk and who want to see the universities functioning in normal gear, despite all the odds facing them, the leadership crisis such as this one now means sitting on or near an erupting volcano.

For, looking from close quarters, they can see how damaging it can be to leave universities without leadership for months. Leaving the highest level public educational institutions without leadership is to let the already active political factions as well as growing frustrations and confusion inside the institutions take their courses.

Disappointment

The frustration and disappointment inside the TU, for example, came openly during the anniversary function at Kirtipur early this week. The prime minister of the country was expected to attend the function and assure the authorities, professors and employees on the one hand and the public on the other about the delay in filling the vacant post of the vice-chancellor.

The appointment is already overdue despite the untiring effort of the pro-chancellor, the Minister for Education Gangalal Tuladhar. Most unfortunately though, Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal failed to attend the anniversary function and let the level of disappointment grow to a new height.

One remembers how during the notorious regime of the kings, the royals led by the king himself as the Chancellor, attended the function, talked to the professors, university authorities and others. A high-level festive scenario was created in the TU premises. TU used to appear all over the national media the following day.

Gone are the days as the nation now enjoys the status of the ‘people’s republic’. And, if the people find their leaders too busy and preoccupied with their chores and cannot spare even one hour for the nation’s oldest educational institution that gave them their certificate of achievement, there is no place to go for complaint.

So where is the VC appointment process now? What are the glitches that block the government from making a decision on time? There is no clear message coming from the government. The other day Minister Tuladhar seemed to indicate that the process is on, and the nation will have to wait a little more for the desired result to come. As he is the key player in the process from the beginning, one can trust him.

Actually Tuladhar is the first education minister who started the appointment process by asking the potential candidates to come up with their blue print on the direction and vision the universities would follow in order to prove their worth in this highly competitive world. That is, the government now wants the institutions to function as real academic institutions without political and other interventions. One hopes the minister’s bag is now filled to the rim, and yet there is no decision.

What does this delay indicate? People feel that at least the following main categories of doubts are coming in their heart and mind, namely: a) the government lacks seriousness and shows lethargic nature of action, b) there is undue and unhealthy pressure going on for ‘political sharing’ (bhagbanda) of the top job in the universities, c) the government does not think this as the top priority in the middle of many urgent tasks lying on the table, and d) the government has not found qualified candidates to assume the vacant positions, i.e., no viable and trustworthy vision papers are coming at the minister’s desk.

There may be other reasons for the delay, but the government must know that the problems already facing the universities will only accumulate further and have cumulative effects in the planning and implementation of policy and actions as the leadership assumes responsibilities eventually.

The felt impact

What are the main sectors within the universities that will be hard hit due to this undue delay in finding the leadership? First of all, the universities have experienced difficulty in finalising the policy and action plans for the new fiscal year. They have not finalised their budget yet.

Second, in the TU, the exam and the academic calendar have been issues of concern and doubts. The leadership has failed to prepare and maintain it in the recent past. The delay in finding a qualified leader to lead the ever-growing TU will have a worse effect in fixing the problems on time.

Third, universities are grooming all kinds of organisations in the style of ‘trade unions’. Sincere employees without interest in political affiliation will gradually lose the work spirit whereas trade unions will flourish affecting the regular work. Finally, the universities’ growing relation with foreign academic institutions will also be seriously affected if this delay continues. In all, a nation’s progress is measured by the priority it gives to education.

Nepal’s commitment made to internationally agreed upon programmes such as ‘Education for All’ or, for that matter, ‘Millennium Development Goal,’ among others, can be carried out effectively once the nation’s universities are assigned due responsibilities, freed from undue political pressures and environment. And, for this to happen, the appointment of responsible persons to fill in these positions, such as the vice-chancellors, needs to be made on the basis of the candidate’s vision, qualification and commitment to face unprecedented challenges.

(Source: The Rising Nepal: July 12)