“Education is the best wealth one can have” says Nitishastra. It increases as you spend, thieves cannot steal it, and when ancestral wealth is divided, you need not divide education. In this country, this amazing power is struggling for life in the hands of a few short-sighted politicians and policymakers. Politicization of education has ruined the country.
Tribhuvan University has the responsibility of providing higher education in the country. About 374,000 individuals, or 85 percent of the students of higher education, are in 960 campuses (constituent and affiliated) of TU. That makes TU the largest university system of the country. The other major universities, Kathmandu, Pokhara and Purbanchal, respectively bear two, three and six percent of the student load. Not only in its student size or number of campuses but also in its reach, TU is an amazing university. Its campuses are spread from Mechi to Mahakali, from urban to rural areas, and from Tarai to mountains. It is a truly cosmopolitan system, in contrast to other universities whose colleges are concentrated in Kathmandu, and even if not, are almost entirely urban.
Despite its enormity, TU is on the verge of collapse, similar to the gradual sinking of the British ship Titanic. There is much similarity between the two. Titanic was the most elegant ship in marine history with its gigantic size and sophisticated machineries. It was pompously called invincible until it sank in 1912 after colliding with an iceberg, killing more than 1,500 people. If TU collapses, no other university can survive in Nepal, as other universities suffer from similar predicaments.
Excessive politicization is rapidly eroding the academic strength of universities. They have become fertile ground for political parties who use students, teachers and administrative staff to serve their vested interests. Young students between the age of 18 and 25, who are not mature enough to make pertinent national decisions on political, social or economic issues, are persuaded by politicians to become convenient political tools and riot on the streets.
Student unions seldom speak of educational or college issues during uprisings, rather they ask why some minister or the other is corrupt, and why there was an increase in petrol price. Politicians have gone a one step ahead, wrecking universities through illegal appointments. Illegal in the sense that there are university service commissions for this purpose, but political appointments bypass these formal means.
In TU, a large number of teachers and staff were forcibly recruited a few years ago by the education minister, who claimed that the government would take the financial responsibility for them. A couple months afterwards, the minister was dismissed due to political changes, and the government refused to acknowledge this responsibility. These recruits have now become a burden to the university.
Independent academicians seem to have vanished, and all that are left are the political ones. Academics from the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoist or Madeshbadi promote their parties’ ideas, however unproductive, and denounce their opposition party’s ideas, however beneficial. VCs, deans and other high level officials often point out over politicization of education as the worst problem of the university, and appeal students and academics to forget their political leanings. However, they forget that they were also appointed politically.
One of the reasons TU has become weaker than, say Kathmandu University, is its complete dependence on the government for budget. About 95 percent of its budget comes from the government, and it charges minimum fees to its students. The average annual fee at the bachelor level in TU is about Rs. 3,000 which is less than the monthly fee in most private collages. When VCs and Campus Chiefs are appointed according to political affinity rather than based on their capabilities, how can these appointees think independently, and even take an interest in improving the education system? They do not have the competence to do so in the first place. Besides deteriorating the education system and quality of education, such traditions have also undermined the dignity of the rest of the workers.
Students passing out from these systems hardly have the skills to sell themselves in the market. They seldom have in-depth knowledge or familiarity with modern concepts in their field of study. The current curriculum and books were prescribed and developed decades ago. With the flood of private collages, most teachers are engrossed in different colleges, so course developers hesitate to introduce new concepts in the curriculum which will force such teachers to conduct extra study. Teaching in universities was once the most prestigious job, but it is now considered among the most undignified ones in our society. Once at a family party, a relative I had met after years asked me about my job. When I said that I am a teacher at TU, a silence fell, and the people nearby were so unimpressed that they abruptly changed the topic. I consider it an example of the market value of a teacher in TU.
Many educationists and experts who love TU have given strong impetus to the government to liberate universities from political syndicate but in vain. It is the duty of teachers, students and freethinkers of the country to rescue the university and the higher education system of Nepal. The teachers should focus on academic development and research, and students should focus on local issues and academic problems. The future of more than four million students currently in higher education depends on it. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Let us use our education to lead our country from darkness to enlightenment.
Note: The author is professor of statistics at Tribhuvan University. You can contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Republica National daily