Social Science Studies and Tribhuvan University

2014-04-05

Prof. Dr.TriRatnaManandhar

Share this on:

What is Social Science?

Scholars have defined social sciences as "those mental and cultural sciences which deal with the activities of the individual as a member of a group- "They consider all those subjects" which deal with human behaviour in its social and cultural aspects" as social sciences. It is a general lebel to the study of society and human relationships, and any discipline that studies social interaction, society or culture is a social science. However, discipline boundaries are by no means always clear, and there is no agreement upon the disciplines which should be included in the field of social sciences.

The Encyclopedia Americana has included History (man's story), Geography (man and his environment), Political Science (how man governs himself), Economics (how man makes a living), Sociology (man and his relationships with his institutions and other men), Psychology (how man learns and thinks), Anthropology (how man lives and behaves), Criminology (prevention and treatment of social disease), Jurisprudence (man's laws), Philosophy (what man believes), and Religion (sometimes considered as a quasi-social science) in the category of social sciences. On the other hand, the New Encyclopedia Britannica is more specific in including subjects in the category of social science. It considers Sociology, Political Science, and Economics as purely social sciences, whereas in the case of other subjects such as Anthropology, Psychology, Geography, and History, only parts of them are considered as social science. However, the social scientists reject this view, and argue that the horizon of social science has become so wide that it can not be kept restricted only to some traditional subjects. All disciplines related to the social activity of human being are social sciences, including even Law, Statistics and Psychiatry.

History and Present Status

Study of social sciences started in Nepal with the introduction of higher education in 1918. The only social science disciplines taught at the newly opened Tri Chandra College were History and Economics, the other subjects being English, Sanskrit, Mathematics, and Logic. Started with the intermediate level, the college was upgraded to the bachelor's level within five years, but the number of subjects did not increase for many years. It was only in the 1940s, Geography and Political Science (civics in intermediate) were included in the list, to be followed by Psychology and Culture in the 1950s.

With the foundation of Tribhuvan University in 1959, the social science disciplines came under the Faculty of Arts, and many new subjects such as Sociology, Population, Journalism, etc. were introduced. In 1972 the faculty was named as the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, as a part of New Education System Plan. The plan gave more emphases on the technical subjects, and the social science disciplines, along with language and literature, were largely neglected. One single institute was created with the responsibility to handle more than two dozen subjects dealing with language and literature, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences, and the budget allocation to this biggest (in terms of students, teachers, number of subjects and campuses) institute was far less than any other technical institute. The subjects were classified into four main streams, and the students were allowed to take not more than one subject from each stream. The classification was made as follows:
  1. Language and literature- English, Nepali, Hindi, Maithili, Newari (Nepal Bhasa), Sanskrit etc.
  2. Humanities- History, Culture, Mathematics, Home Science, Statistics, Philosophy (Logic at intermediate level).
  3. Fine Arts- Music, Dance, Painting, and Sculpture.
  4. Social Science- Economics, Geography, Journalism, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology etc.

In 1987 the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, along with other general Institutes (except the technical institutes), is degraded by converting it into a faculty. Unlike the institute deans, the faculty deans were nominated from among the heads of the department to work on part time basis, and they were to look after the academic matters only without any administrative and financial authority. Huge amount of money were/are sanctioned for the technical institutes through the Nepal government and foreign agencies, but the general faculties suffered a lot in the lack of adequate budget. From 1994 the faculty deans are nominated on full time basis, but their power and functions remained almost the same.

From 1985 onwards, new universities are opened with an objective to lessen the burden of the only university of the country i.e. Tribhuvan University; and within ten years, four new universities- Nepal Sanskrit (formerly Mahendra), Kathmandu, Purvanchal, and Pokhara- are established. Nepal Sanskrit University has introduced some disciplines on social sciences, but only as a supplement to its main subject i.e. Sanskrit. Purvanchal and Pokhara Universities have become merely affiliating institutions giving affiliation only to the technical subjects, mostly inside the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu University is also mainly related to technical and professional subjects, though it has introduced subjects like development studies and social work in one or two campuses. By 2005, one more university is added in the list and that is Lumbini Buddhist University. But nobody knows what it is doing since its inception. Instead, the Tribhuvan University is successfully launching Buddhist Studies program at bachelor's, master's, and post graduate diploma levels, with a number of research students working for Ph.D. on Buddhist culture, philosophy, and religion.

Since Tribhuvan University is the only academic institution having all the social science disciplines from intermediate to doctorate level, there is mounted pressure on it to introduce new subjects or components partly to meet the competitive academic standard, and also to provide better job opportunities to the degree holders. Under such a situation, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has become such a big faculty with numerous subjects but with very limited fund that it has to limit the choice of subjects under a strict grouping system, which led to the great inconvenience to the students on the one hand, and the virtual collapse of many social science disciplines at the cost of one or two subjects on the other.

Problem and Solution

The main problem confronting the social science disciplines today is the considerable decrease in the number of students in these subjects. Many campuses have no students or very few students in subjects like History, Culture (NeHCA), Geography, Psychology, and Political Science, and only few subjects notably Economics, Sociology/Anthropology, and Journalism are popular in those campuses. Students complain that most of the social science disciplines are practically of no use in governmental and non-governmental sectors, since they are based mainly on traditional theories and practices. The concerned governmental and non-governmental organisations also argue that most of the social science graduates have not been able to cope with modern techniques and methodology. Hence, the main responsibility to make social science disciplines popular and useful lies on Tribhuvan University which produces numerous manpower on social science every year to be absorbed in administrative, educational and social sectors of governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Tribhuvan University has organised three comprehensive seminars on social sciences in 1973, 1983 and 1995, and numerous workshops and inter-action programs in the past covering almost all the subjects relating to social sciences. A number of recommendations are made through these seminars and workshops, and one vital point raised is the lack of fund. A demand is always made for sufficient funding to provide Ph.D. fellowships, conduct research projects, purchase international journals, develop interactions with the concerned departments of foreign universities, and initiate the preparation of standard text books and reference materials. It is true that most of the social science disciplines are suffering a lot because of the lack of adequate fund. But, things can be improved by other means too, and I want to concentrate myself in offering some "practical" suggestions.
  1. As mentioned above, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is the biggest faculty comprising various subjects on language and literature, fine arts, humanities, and social sciences. A student has to choose three subjects at intermediate and two at bachelor's level from among more than two dozen subjects, which is always a difficult task. The restrictions on the choice of subjects compels a student to take one course on literature or social science, which makes him a jack of all and master of none. If the faculty is split into two, one with subjects on language, literature, and fine arts under the faculty of arts, and another with social science and humanities under the faculty of social science, the students with be in a comfortable position to select the subjects of their choice. In most of the universities of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, this system is working in a satisfactory manner till date. If such arrangement is made, one compulsory course on social science may be introduced at bachelor's level in the place of Nepali under the Faculty of Social Sciences. Such a compulsory course will enable the students to understand the inter-relationship between various disciplines under social science, which is totally lacking under the present curriculum
  2. Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences produces more than 70% of the Ph.D. holders of Tribhuvan University every year, but one is bound to realise that the standard has decreased day by day. We have adopted the British model in our Ph.D. program, in which the evaluation is made solely on the basis of dissertation, and two external examiners (mostly the retired professors of Tribhuvan University) decide the fate of a Ph.D. candidate. This system compels a Ph.D. student to be serious only on his dissertation, and he easily neglects the inter-disciplinary approach, which is an essential part of dissertation. In order to remove this shortcoming, we should adopt what we call the American model, under which one should first complete few advanced courses relevant to his subject of dissertation, and only after that, he is permitted to write the dissertation.
If we want to retain the existing British model, every department should introduce M.Phil. Program, and make it the minimum qualification for enrolment as Ph.D. student. The M.Phil. Program should have plenty of most advanced courses, and the students should take those courses which are most relevant to his area of dissertation. It not only increases the standard of dissertation, but also establishes inter-relationship between the different subjects of social science.
  1. One serious issue relating to quality improvement in social science disciplines is the medium of instruction. Till the mid-1960s, the medium of instruction at the classroom, and answer writing in the examination was English. Once Nepali was allowed as a medium in the examination hall, the whole academic atmosphere changed within a short period. The teachers began taking class in Nepali, the students wrote answer papers in Nepali, non-standard Nepali text books are in great demand, and standard English books are not touched even by the teachers, not to talk of students. So much so that most of the Ph.D. dissertations in History, Culture, and Political Science are now written in Nepali. If this practice continues for some more years, the formula will be adopted in other social science disciplines too. In such a case, the dissertation has to be evaluated by local examiners, and the question of recognition may come as an issue. More than that, the social science graduates without adequate command in English language have no chance of employment in any non­governmental organisations. My humble suggestion is that the Ph.D. dissertations should be in English, and it should be the medium of instruction at the masters' level, to be applied at bachelor's level within next five years.
  2. Many new subjects have been introduced with separate departments in social sciences during the last ten years. It is certainly a positive step in the development of a discipline, but it should not adversely affect the existing subject or department. The introduction of women studies as a separate subject has largely decreased the number of students in Home Science. Similarly, the international relations, which was once projected as a separate subject, would have degraded the status of Political Science, if the idea is converted into a reality. In my opinion, instead of opening new departments, new areas or components may be added within the framework of existing subject or department. If so happens, the utility of the existing subjects will be further enhanced, otherwise, many of the existing departments have to be shut down. Why can't we make the women studies as a field of specialisation within the department of Home Science? Why can't we develop the study of international relations as a major area in the department of Political Science? While introducing new courses, one should take into consideration its utility in the market and relevance to the scope of non-governmental organisations-national and international. Components on health, environment, communication, management or ecology may be introduced in all possible social science subjects to put a new life on the traditional subjects, and to make them job oriented and saleable in the market.
  3. The New Education System Plan (1972) had divided the subjects into three categories-major, allied, and optional. Apart from the major subject, one had to take relevant allied and optional courses from other disciplines, which could establish inter-connection between different disciplines within literature, or social science, or fine arts. The present structure has abolished the concept of allied and optional course at least in humanities and social sciences, limiting the courses of study in two major subjects (each carrying 500 marks) at bachelor's level, and one single subject (carrying 1000 marks) at the master's level. In my opinion, a student should take two relevant allied courses (each carrying 100 marks) at bachelor's and master's level, in order to develop inter-disciplinary approach in social science disciplines.

    Functional paper carrying 100 marks is a useful course at the bachelor's level, but its concept is implemented in a different way, than it was originally projected. In the beginning, some professional courses like Accountancy, Office Management, Tourism, Municipal Laws etc. were planned to be included as functional papers. But, suddenly the idea was dropped, and one functional course on each major subject is framed, which erased the utility of a functional paper in a proper sense of the term. I strongly believe that the inclusion of professional courses only will realise the significance of the functional paper.
  1. The distant education system, through Open University or a fixed educational calendar, has been implemented in different universities of the world. For Tribhuvan University, the system may prove to be a boon to develop the social science disciplines. There are few departments which have unmanageable number of students, while some others have student number at single digit or even zero. The distant education system will properly regulate the crowded departments, and also help increase the student number in small departments. The system should be introduced as an additional program without disturbing the regular educational calendar.

Epilogue

The above mentioned suggestions are purely my personal views. One may differ with me on several points, and I may be wrong on those points. I admit, I am not a specialist on social science, nor have I studied social science as a separate discipline. I am a history teacher, and all I know about social science is in relation with the historical studies. But my experience as the dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for more than eight years, and my involvement in a number of academic organs within the university system has provoked me to offer a few "practical" suggestions, which I did in the foregoing pages. I welcome and appreciate valuable criticism, comments, or suggestions.