The government is planning to establish two new universities at a time when it is struggling to manage the existing ones. The annual budget in education is decreasing and so is the higher education pass out rate. In this context Post Development Bureau interviewed Kedar Bhakta Mathema, former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University, to discuss various issues surrounding higher education system and the way ahead. Excerpts:
What is your take on the government’s plan to add two more universities at a time when it is struggling to manage the existing ones?
As a former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University, I am always in favour of having more universities and academic institutions. If you look at the facts there are only 17 percent of the youths who get into higher education . It was around six percent during my tenure as VC, meaning that 94 percent of the students never make it to university. Nepali education is still not in par with the international standard while we talk about graduating to middle-income country. At least 26 percent of the students should go to university while this number is around 70 to 80 percent in developed country. At this context I welcome the government decision. But since the government is working to formulate Higher Education Act, it might be too early to come to a decision of establishing new institutions. Also, we could think of other alternatives to establishing a new university. Why don’t we upgrade the existing infrastructure in Janakpur and slowly develop it into a university? We need a master-plan in the first place. Let us not forget the history. Establishing Purbanchal University in Biratnagar did not help the government’s goal to make education accessible to people. Instead, the PU could not expand its programme and began granting affiliations which too is centred inside Kathmandu Valley. Therefore, this is once again an example of formulating policies and plans after the work has begun. This does not work. One should have plans before they venture into anything. The issue is more serious when we use the money from state exchequer.
So you think this plan is more politically driven than based on need assessments?
Exactly! None of the decision nowadays is based on technical assessment. What we really need is that each decision has to be made on hard technical grounds. The time has come to focus on more specific university. We need a broader master plan and vision before establishing new universities.
Is it justifiable that the annual budget in higher education is decreasing while the institutions are increasing?
This is the greatest tragedy brought upon education sector by Nepali politics and political leaders. They are yet to understand the investment in education. We have one of the lowest investments in higher education. I have nothing against private sector, but the way government is pulling the plug out of social sector, it has started creating stratification in the society. There is a sharp social divide among the people. Ironically, our government has all the money to create diplomatic missions throughout the world. This might be a need but not at the cost of higher education . How many missions does Singapore, one of richest countries, have? We need to be strong at home before we explore outside. The government should show ways to colleges on how they could become self-sustainable. For instance, the Tri-Chandra College could create space outside its building and lease out to companies. Same could be done at Padma Kanya Campus. Let us learn from Shanker Dev Campus and RR College which have rented out their space to shops and making good money out of it. Divide this money equally: give 10 percent to student union, 10 percent to professor’s association and invest the rest in research, library and equipment. This is how you do business. The government’s commitment to education and health should always be firm. It cannot lay off its hands from these social sectors. I have serious questions to members of Parliament about the way they allocate budget. The decision seems to be politically driven by the influence of their main party leaders. This really does not address what the nation needs. Hence the investment in education has to be more than 20 percent.
What is the way ahead?
We don’t need reforms, what is need is a change. Nepal should have a broad higher education plans and policies. It should be clear on what is the need of the country. The need should be based on facts and figures. The government has to invest more on public schools and education system should encourage critical thinking and learning methods. The old fact memorizing system will not function anymore. All of the facts are already available in the Internet. But we need critical masses and universities produce them. Also we need to repackage our curriculum to make them more interesting and produce people with transferable skills.
Posted in : Ekantipur