The central offices of the universities, mainly Tribhuvan University (TU), Purbanchal University (PU), Nepal Sanskrit University (NSU) and Kathmandu University (KU) have become hostages to the recurrent demands of their staffs, teachers and student unions. Painful exercises of padlock protests, dharana, gherao and posting of pamphlets containing different kinds of grievances are vividly seen at the gates of these universities. It is likely to persist in the coming days as well because of not being effectively addressed by those authorities who are within these universities or outside entrusted with the task of managing higher education. Though these are not new phenomena, political instability has made these problems perpetually worse. Substances and nature of problems and methods of protest have much striking similarities among different universities; meanwhile, a comparison of one with another tells different stories.
Tribhuvan University (TU): There are more than two lakhs students in its constituent and affiliated campuses scattered all over the country. Unfortunately, most of these campuses, except a few technical institutes and a handful of affiliated campuses, are in very bad shape. They are neither well-equipped with modern infrastructure nor well-organized with efficient staffs and teachers, because of faulty recruitment procedure influenced by political pressure. For example, about six thousands students are enrolled at the central campus, but there are no sponsored bookstore, no functional students’ club, no cafeterias, no information center and no fresh student orientation program, if political indoctrination is set aside. Besides, professors, except the Head, often do not have office hours, many teachers do not have any room for research and student counseling. Conducting researches among teachers are not a priority. Rather, debunking of classes by some of the permanent teachers is on an increase. As a matter of fact, part-time and newly appointed contact teachers are working as the wagon-wheel of the whole academic programs. But, they are not themselves satisfied. Young teachers are seeking security of their jobs. Similarly, a large number of non-teachings staffs, hired only on the ground of their close connection with political parties, do not often maintain office hours.
Purbanchal University (PU): Founding a university in their own region had been a cherished desire of the people of eastern Nepal. PU was established at Biratnagar to satisfy the need and desire of the people of the region. Unfortunately, bitter controversies and ugly incidents came as integral parts of the PU since its inception. PU has been derailed from its mission. Affiliation was granted to many colleges at many places outside of Eastern Nepal. At present 146 campuses are affiliated to PU, out of which about hundred campuses are located in Kathmandu only. It is a complete misnomer for PU. The University has been turned into a testing ground for the strength of different politically inspired groups. Ultimately, PU has landed itself into trouble.
Nepal Sanskrit University (NSU): NSU has also been facing the problem of perpetual disorder. It reflects the crisis of a state-funded University: overstaffing, resource crunch and resistance to change. Kathmandu University (KU): Though fairly a new university in comparison to TU and NSU, KU has acquired a prestigious position within and outside Nepal as the best place to study. KU has prospered enormously under the stewardship of Dr. Suresh Raj Sharma, its founder Vice-Chancellor. In spite of the prosperity, it is now not immune from the epidemics of protests and padlocking, which are seen at other universities. KU is caught between vague notion of accessibility and equity, and elitist’s silly notion of quality and affordability. KU, it seems, is at the cross-roads. However, the value of KU needs to be maintained as a university distinctly different from others.
Infant Universities: Agriculture University, Mid-Western University and Far-Western University are in their infancy. Personnel have already been named and honoured as Vice-Chancellors of these universities. Nevertheless, these newly born universities are pathetically non-existent in the absence of definite jurisdiction, senior officials, and infrastructure over which they can work. VCs of these universities are seen moving hither and thither around the government offices in frustration.
To sum up, ambiguously, universities in Nepal are passing through a very awkward phase. Neither the authorities of these universities are clear of what stand to take nor is the state clear of what universities are all about. It is a confused account of what has been happening in the field of higher education for a long time. But one thing is clear, neither the universities are the spoilt children of the state nor is the state surrogate mother of Nepalese universities. Fortunately, it is a change over period in the country. The government should find a way of dealing with the prevailing situations. Undoubtedly, the government has a lot of things to do, but universities should also be at the top of the list. All we can do now is to wait and hope.
(Source: The Himalayantimes)