Problem creators in higher education: PM, VC or agitating unions?

2014-04-05

Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley

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For more than half a century, the higher education in Nepal has gone haywire. The early years of higher education were better than these days. Human resources prepared by the only Tribhuvan University (TU) in those years served the country in a qualitative way. After the introduction of the National Education System Plan (NESP), in 1971, people expected much from higher education in the country, but to their despair the University could not regularize the semester system and the same old system continued after 1980.

The political fever was so high between 1975 and 1980 that it compelled the then government to have a referendum on Panchayat vs. multi-party system. Unfortunately, the so-called reformed Panchayat continued, but the much needed heed to higher education was not accorded. After the restoration of democracy in 1991, the government attempted to improve the system, but it also could not implement the recommendations provided by high level Education Commissions. People were fighting for their rights; the government was distributing speeches with sugar-coated pills; and no one was thinking of quality human resources for the new democracy through improved higher education. Instead, Tribhuvan University, under the pressure from the teachers with political affiliations, promoted its teacher cadres without any competition. This automatic promotion has proved to be detrimental to the health of the university. From this point on, politicking in higher education remained high and continues today also. The politicization can be seen from the appointment of the vice-chancellor to a peon in the colleges. In the forefront of this pathetic situation are the university professors, sometimes on their own and sometimes with the assistance of the student unions, put pressure on the authorities and the government. Many student agitations have been instigated by the teachers of the university. Lethargic situations in higher education have been created by the teachers, more than that by the students. Dividing themselves into different political factions, these teachers have created a political battle ground of a university. Even after the people’s movement in 2006, the situation, instead of improving, has been deteriorating every day. The latest example is the padlocking of the universities in the name of appointment of seven vice-chancellors by the government. Universities were locked up for more than a month making higher education of this country suffocate. At this junction, neither the government nor the university authorities have been successful to untie the knot in time. The new vice chancellors set their offices outside the university premises waiting with a hope that they will be allowed to work by the agitating professors. In the forefront of this agitation are UCPN-M and NC affiliated factions. Under the pressure of the same agitating factions of political parties, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister talked to the newly appointed VCs expecting their resignation.

What is the crux of the problem? Is it the new VCs or the agitating unions? How ethical is it for the PM to ask for the resignation of the VCs? How demoralized will the Professors appointed as VCs be? Does the Chancellor have any authority vested in him to urge the VCs put in their papers? In the first attempt, the new government wanted to politicize the issue instead of asking support from the agitating ones. May be the powerful agitating union of the PM’s party did not listen to the PM, and decided to continue their protest. The other agitating union affiliated with the opposition party naturally becomes adamant. Is not it the responsibility of the UCPN-M to resolve the issue through dialogue with its own sister union rather than asking for the resignation of the VCs? Since the VCs have shown their disinterest in resigning, the issue was resolved with an agreement for dividing the remaining positions of authority to different political parties. The matter sought political solution rather than an academic one.

The appointment of VCs is not the decision of the Chancellor or the PM; it is the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by the PM based on the recommendations provided for in the Act. The PM has no right to ask the newly appointed VCs to put in papers, not even as a Chancellor of the universities. This is against the University Act. Universities are autonomous and their autonomy should not be diluted by this kind of attitude of the PM and his government. Universities must stand united on their rights to save their autonomy. VCs should not bow their head to resign, even if asked by the PM, which is illegal and illogical. If this tradition continues, our higher education will be nowhere in the midst of liquid politics.The vital question to the PM is what assurance can he provide to the people that non-political and competent people will be appointed as Rector, Registrar and Deans with the kind of agreement he has made with the agitating groups? The show-tooth is academic, but the intent has always been political.

Dr. Wagley is an educationist