The oldest and by far the biggest university (with around 300,000 students) in the country has been in the throes of major reforms in the last six months. First, Tribhuvan University, after years of unsuccessful lobbying, finally managed to do away with the Proficiency Certificate Level (the university equivalent to 11 and 12 grades).
Then, it revised course fees which had not been updated for over a decade. And now, it is in the process of upgrading its three-year Bachelor degree programmes in non-technical subjects to four years.
One of the main reasons for the spate of recent reforms is that the Nepali higher education establishments, especially TU, have been woefully out of tune with the rest of the world.
It is a common international practice to incorporate 11th and 12th standards in the school system rather than the university system. Also, unlike Nepal, most countries avail four-year undergraduate degree in non-technical subjects.
The latest reforms, TU hopes, will make it easier for Nepali students to apply and study in foreign universities.
Upgrading three-year programmes to four years certainly makes a lot of sense. The number of Nepali students looking to pursue higher education in English-speaking countries like the US, the UK and Australia (all of whom run four-year undergraduate courses) is increasing.
With their three-year degrees, Nepali students have to take extra credits in their Masters programmes or complete an additional year at the undergraduate level to make up for the missing year. Oftentimes, admission officials do not even consider applicants whose academic records are hard to interpret.
But addition of an extra year to undergraduate courses in itself is unlikely to improve the quality of education on offer at TU constituent campuses. It might legibly be argued that reputed international universities maybe even more reluctant to admit TU pass-outs if they are aware of how TU runs its programmes.
Paucity of qualified teachers and overabundance of students, crumbling infrastructure, frequent political meddling, forced closures—they are all part and parcel of TU’s day to day business. There is also an urgent need for the university to modernise its courses and upgrade its exam system.
Perhaps time has also come to seriously think about alternatives to TU. No country can afford to rely as heavily on a single educational establishment as Nepal does on TU to meet its higher education needs. Although other private universities have recently been established, they tend to cost more and are unaffordable to many Nepali students.
In this scenario, this might be the right time to introduction the Open University system in Nepal. First established in the UK in 1969, the British version of Open University has been highly successful in educating people through part-time and distance learning courses.
The Open University is perfectly suitable for Nepal’s needs: it is cheaper as compared to mortar-and-brick universities and as admission into many Open University courses requires no previous academic qualification, they will open the door of higher education for the millions of literate but under-qualified Nepalis.