Open university: A victim of political discrimination


Himalayan News Service

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Even when there are a number of bills in parliament for new universities, the much-needed open university is not one among them. Education experts have been making a case for an open university in Nepal but the Ministry of Education (MoE) has yet not prepared its mind to table a bill for this in parliament.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), which gives recommendations for opening new universities after conducting feasibility studies, has already given a clear recommendation for an open university.

UGC had recommended for an open university while recommending for the Far West, the Mid West and the Chitwan-based Agriculture and Forestry universities. More than two years after these three universities were approved by the government, the open university bill is still hanging in balance.  

Ironically, MoE has tabled the bills for proposed three new universities, which UGC has yet not given clear recommendations for. The bills for Rajashri Janak University in Janakpur, Birgunj University and Madan Bhandari Industrial University have already landed in parliament irrespective of serious reservations put forth by UGC.  

"The open university does not require huge physical infrastructure. All it requires is a small office and academic human resources," says Kamal Krishna Joshi, former chairman of UGC. "This is why we approved this proposal. However, MoE did not send the proposal to parliament. Surprisingly, those university bills, which were not recommended by UGC, were tabled in parliament."

The UGC of Nepal, according to Dr Joshi, has repeatedly expressed its commitment toward establishing an open university in several meetings of South Asian consortium of UGCs. "In South Asia, almost all countries, except for Nepal and Bhutan, have already established open universities," he says. "They have even pledged their support to the open university in Nepal, whenever it comes up. But, we are unable to set up this varsity due to sheer apathy of the government."

According to Dr Roj Nath Pandey, assistant spokesperson of MoE, the idea of an open university in Nepal was first introduced in the tenth five-year development plan by the National Planning Commission (NPC). The Ministry of Finance (MoF) had even allocated budget for this project. The project, however, could not take off.

"A number of committees have been formed for establishing the open university," says Dr Pandey. "However, no serious work has ever been done." Dr Pandey has no qualms in blaming politicians for not proactively supporting the establishment of an open university in the country. "Had politicians wholeheartedly supported this concept, an open university would have already been in place," says Dr Pandey.

According to Dr Vishnu Karki, an education expert, politicians are not interested in the open university as it is like a virtual institution. "Politicians seem interested in only those universities that can be based in a certain area so that they can win over the hearts of local people for political gains," says Dr Karki.

What Dr Karki argues appears true when two proposed universities for Janakpur and Birgunj are taken into account. Nepali Congress (NC) lawmakers including Bimalendra Nidhi, Ram Saroj Yadav and Minakshi Jha have long been lobbying for a new university in Janakpur. They are even collecting money from the people for this university to become a reality.

Similarly, NC lawmakers Ajaya Chaurasiya and Ajaya Diwedi and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (Republican) lawmaker Aatmaram Sharma have been piling pressure on the government for a new university in Birgunj.

Bhagwan Yadav, chairman of the proposed Birgunj University, says up to Rs 150,000 is being collected from each Village Development Committee (VDC) in Parsa. Birgunj municipality has allocated Rs 3.5 million. "Other institutions including District Development Office (DDO), Parsa, have also pledged support," says Yadav. "We need to show a fund of Rs 20 million and 10 bighas of land in the city area for a new university. Hence, we have intensified our efforts."

However, unlike in the case of proposed Janakpur and Birgunj Universities, there are no influential lawmakers or communities backing the idea of an open university.

So, who really needs an open university in Nepal? Dr Binod Kumar Shrestha, former member secretary of UGC, who also led a panel to conduct a feasibility study for an open university, says, "Today, people continue their higher education even while working. They badly need a university of this kind. Besides, an open university will also serve students in villages without making them to shift to a city for higher education."

(Source: Republica Nepal)