Tribhuvan University (TU) is currently facing a number of critical dilemmas: its academic calendar is ineffective due to late student admissions; students are unable to afford the strikingly high gasoline prices; exams are constantly postponed resulting in a delay of students’ graduation; and riots often break out among student unions, leading to greater problems like the postponement of the Free Student Union (FSU) polls. These issues elucidate the fact that student unions at TU have little concern for student issues. They have failed to prove that they are concerned and work for the welfare of students. They lack accountability.
Nonetheless, TU aspires to become a center of excellence. This would contribute greatly to the development of Nepal because as the University improves students’ professional skills, it will be able to produce better human resources for the country. However, student unions must be reformed in order to achieve this goal. The current way in which they are functioning is actually hindering the education and personal progress of students. For instance, student unions are often unable to resolve disputes, which defeats the purpose of having them at the University. Therefore, it is imperative to redefine the role of student unions.
Students at TU are at a crucial point in their lives; they are being exposed to ideas that will shape their future. So they should spend their time in constructive learning and debating intellectual and practical issues. Unfortunately, the current situation is a disservice to students. So they have instead concluded that it is more productive to engage in work—whereever they can—rather than study at a university such as TU.
These are all serious problems that cannot be solved immediately or simultaneously. Currently, a formal complaint mechanism does not exist at TU, so strikes and violent outbreaks arise as students find no other way to resolve their disputes. It is also clear that the core reason behind most of the bandas, department shutdowns and other problems on campus is a lack of dialogue, partnership and coordination amongst stakeholders and authorities. However, the following three ideas might be potential solutions.
First, there should be a code of conduct to set ground rules for student unions and minimise disputes within the University. The code of conduct should clearly define the realm of acceptable behaviour for student unions within the University. This should include a written commitment from all concerned stakeholders not to interfere with the daily operations of the University. The document should also serve to ensure that there is no external pressure regarding admissions, no bandas within the University, no disturbances during exams, no chanda (donation) collection and so on. The code of conduct should be subject to approval after review by the University. It should also include a provision that requires student unions to publish a financial report at least on an annual basis. A strong mechanism should be developed alongside the code of conduct in order to ensure that it is adhered to over time.
Second, a dialogue centre should be created to serve as a platform to resolve problems and a space where students can discuss various issues constructively. It should be a place where they can express their complaints freely and work with others to solve their problems. It could be managed by a selected body of students and administrators and financed transparently through a small contribution from students. At the moment, the reason behind most of the bandas, department shutdowns and other problems at TU is a lack of dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders. A ‘complaint centre’ within the dialogue centre could deal with students’union disputes, in particular, complaints arising from disputes among students, other members of the University, elected bodies and staff. A clear complaint procedure should be put in place for all students. For instance, student unions are supposed to work for the welfare of students not political issues. If it becomes clear that students are not their main priority, the student body must have a legitimate way to complain about this issue and initiate a process to demand an official response from the University.
Third, a student award should be created in order to develop an objectively managed system through which chanda payments are pooled and a neutral committee can provide grants from this fund to student unions based on a clear and fair application process. The fund could support creative student projects to address critical issues on campus and act as a way to channel energy into constructive and collaborative ideas.
It is crucial that student unions engage in dialogue and build consensus among themselves to make Tribhuvan University the institution it should be. As educated young people of the country, the unions’ first priority should be helping others obtain an education and forge a better future for Nepal. Student unions must create a space for students to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and help them address their legitimate concerns. If they can come together and set ground rules for acceptable behaviour and focus their energy on educational agendas then they will function as real student unions. Without the commitment of student unions, the TU cannot be an academic centre of excellence.
Poudel has been conducting research on the accountability of stakeholders at higher learning institutions
This article was initally published in The Kathmandu Post.