Science and Technology higher education in Nepal

2014-04-05

Republica National Daily

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The field of science and technology had developed in the last few decades but its growth appears to be currently stagnant. Professors and those in the science field in Nepal consent that there had been progress but are disappointed with the current condition.

Panna Thapa, Dean of Kathmandu University (KU) School of Science, says, “I value the importance of science and technology for the development of any nation. Science and technology speaks only one language, and its contribution in nation building is evident throughout the world.” 

With that in mind, Mohan B Gewali of the Department of Chemistry at Tribhuvan University  (TU) explains how science education started in Nepal.

“It was probably the need for technical personnel such as engineers, agriculturists, physicians and foresters in the country,” he said. Back in 1919, however, India required a qualification in Intermediate of Science (ISc) and so Indian teachers taught in Nepal. Almost 20 years later, in 1949, Tri-Chandra College  was the first to offer a Bachelor of Science (BSc). With the establishment of TU in 1959, various faculties of science were introduced into Nepal.

Over fifty years later, “Our graduation rate is disappointing,” says Pramod K Jha, Department of Botany, TU. He points out that in 2007/8, there was 56% Bachelor’s graduation rate in science and technology and was at 27% for Masters – statistics that do not speak well of the field. Jha also mentions that in the last half a century, TU has granted PhDs to a total of 56 science and technology students, the majority being in the biological sciences.

With such discouraging numbers and figures, the professors bring forth heavy questions such as, “Why are our institutions not working in the manner they should?” and “Who are to blame?” 

Thapa sheds some slight on the situation, “Our society/parents only thought of sending their children to technological/professional areas (physicians or engineers, pharmacists etc) by asking their children to study science at ISc/+2 level.”

He sums the issue rather aptly. Beyond that, there is lack of proper implementation of existing policies, according to Thapa. “We should have put forward evidence-based (local data) revision in our policies which does not exist.” After the policy level comes the issue of resources, be it financial or manpower, which leads to the proper utilization of resources.

Ahmed H Zewail, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999, sees four factors for unsatisfactory pace of progress in developing countries: high rate of illiteracy indicating a poor education system and low employment, limited use of human resources, strong seniority system and centralization of power, and finally, the mix-up of state laws and religious beliefs which blurs the vision for science and technology.

All of these reasons are relevant to Nepal where its educational institutions are highly flawed. 

Jha says, “We seem sluggish in modifying and upgrading the syllabi.” Given that science is a field that has been and is rapidly evolving, the failure to be constantly updated is problematic.

However, Thapa adds the mentality is evolving, “Now things are little bit changed. Nepali parents are slowly realizing that there are other science and technological areas where scopes lie, like Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biotechnology, Environmental Science, Applied Physics, Human Biology etc.”

Another issue with Nepali institutions is teachers. “Our scientists/faculty members are not paid well, and this diverts their mind and commitments to other areas due to a financial crunch,” says Thapa. Many have taken to teaching at more than one campus in order to make ends meets. “If this happens, what motivation will they have to do research?” asks Jha who also notes that after being accepted to teach, teachers seldom get a chance to further their level of expertise.

For the few who do get into research, there are limited scholarships available; and those who are fortunate enough to go abroad for higher studies rarely return. The bigger issue at hand being “Research never becoming the university’s priority,” Gewali says of TU and mentions how in teaching, Nepal excels in theoretical but severely lacks in practical and implementation.

It was only in 1999 that saw the birth of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which soon turned into the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology. Unfortunately, the TU and KU faculty lament the lack of clear vision and logic behind the establishment of the ministry. “Can we not have a single ministry in science and technology rather than a scattered structure in the government?” asks Thapa. Jha mentions that the ministry is not taken seriously in terms of funding, travel, prospects and employment, and that those who are hired rarely have a background in science.

Thapa believes there are a few things that could be done to improve the field in Nepal. “We need to have strong political commitment to focus on science and technology areas. Anticipating the importance of science and technology alone does not serve the purpose! We need to implement policies wholeheartedly.”

Along with that, Jha and Gewali believe that what needs reconstruction is the system, “The State hasn’t given the system enough importance, they need to better the resource management as education is the backbone of the country,” sums up Jha.

(Source: The Republica Nepal)