Which should be priority, adding more universities or improving existing one

2015-02-11

Ekantipur

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The government is making preparations to set up two Universities in Nepalgunj and Janakpur. It is never a bad idea to build Universities, but the government has chosen a rather inopportune time for it, say education experts.

At a time when the existing varsities are facing various problems, ranging from budget crunch, decline in number of students to lack of infrastructure, experts say the government’s decision to add two more Universities is a short-sighted one.

Tribhuvan University (TU), the oldest varsity of the country, is presently struggling to manage pension and retirement funds for its staff. Similarly, the Lumbini Buddhist University is trying hard to sustain with barely 300 students. The number of students in Nepal Sanskrit University (NSU) is also decreasing while three newly established Universities Far-Western (FW), Mid-Western (MW) and Agriculture and Forestry (AF) are facing operational problem due to lack of infrastructure.

Instead of addressing the problems seen in these Universities that are teetering on the brink, the government is focused on adding two more Universities. On November 6, 2014, the Cabinet meeting forwarded the draft bills of Nepalgunj University Act and Rajarshi Janak (RJ) University Act for finalisation. The government is currently preparing to table the two bills in Parliament for approval.

A report from University Grants Commission (UGC), the government body to regulate the Universities  in the country, shows the number of students has increased by around 62 percent from fiscal year 2008/09 with 284,973 to 452,571 in the last fiscal year. It also shows that the number of the colleges too have increased by one third to 1,276 from 880 during the same period. However, the government budget to university education is going down which has increasing financial burden on the students. The last five years trend of TU shows that the fees in all faculties were increased by six-fold.

Kedar Bhakta Mathema, an education expert and former vice-chancellor of TU, says the government is gradually withdrawing its hand from the education, increasing the dominance of the private sector which is being reflected in university education. “Over 83 percent Nepali don’t get to have higher education. If the government funding goes down in the current manner the children from marginalised community will never have access to it,” Mathema says.

Academicians believe that sustainability should be given a due priority before adding new Universities  . They claim that decision to add new Universities  are politically motivated, done without assessment or feasibility study.

The government effort to add two more Universities  justifies the claim of academicians, as the proposed Nepalgunj University is located in the electoral constituency of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala in Banke district while RJ University is in the home district of Nepal Congress leader and Minister for Local Development Bimalendra Nidhi.

Tirtha Khaniya, an education expert and former member of the National Planning Commission, has argued in his reports that Prithvi Narayan Campus (PNC), Pokhara, has over 10,000 students while Mahendra Multiple Campus, Nepalgunj, hardly has one third of the PNC students. He has recommended that PNC should be given due priority if there is a need for a new university. He has warned that the Universities  could face sustenance problem if they are established without proper homework.

The UGC reports shows the number of student in NSU is just 1,691 while the number of faculties. The university which used to attract hundreds of students earlier is losing its charm, as the students do not see the future prospect of studying Sanskrit. The per student investment in NSU is the highest among nine Universities  in the country, suggesting that a huge amount of money from the state coffer is being misused.

Academicians also argue that this is not a proper time to set up the new Universities , as the country is expecting a new constitution with the provision of federalism. The country should first endorse Higher Education Policy to set the priority of the higher education and the Universities  should be established accordingly, they say.

The UGC has already tabled the policy at the Ministry of Education for approval. However, despite directives from the Education Sub-committee of Parliament, the ministry has not taken any initiative to endorse the policy that was tabled last year. Similar is the case with the Higher Education Act which would guide the establishment of new Universities . Though its bill was drafted five years ago, there has not been any initiative to endorse it so far.

GOING BY THE NUMBERS

Universities                            Number of Students    Number of Teachers

Tribhuvan                                         500,717                          7,966

Purbanchal                                         25,796                               61

Pokhara                                               24,380                             119

Kathmandu                                         12,954                             200

Mid-Western                                          2,472                             100

Nepal Sanskrit                                      1,691                             770

Far-Western                                              787                               71

Lumbini Buddhist                                    302                               NA

Agriculture and Forestry                          140                             770

Source: This article was originally published in Kathmandu post entitle "Two more, too many"