The collapse of Nepal's higher education systemPolitical apathy and policy imperviousness are two major bottlenecks to Nepal's higher education reform.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘education can be thought of as the transmission of the values and accumulated knowledge of a society. In this sense, it is equivalent to enculturation’—a process of developing a comparative understanding of the surrounding so as to enable one to form a worldview. In addition, Vedic codes, the cornerstone of oriental knowledge heritage, describes character building as the main objective of education. The Vedic tradition expects the teacher to be a true rishi, or seer, an enlightened person with great knowledge but a true ascetic, free from all forms of cravings for material comfort. The sole objective of the teacher, or guru, is to make pupils worthy citizens possessing noble virtues.
If we pick keywords like values, worldview and noble virtues from the expositions above and contrast them with recent untoward incidents in Nepal's education system, it presents a grotesquely hopeless scenario, particularly for the country's university education.
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the constitutional anti-corruption agency, arrested the vice-chancellor of BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS) of Dharan, Rajan Kumar Rauniyar on July 11. He has been charged with taking a bribe worth Rs800,000 from a contractor working for the Institute.
Tribhuvan University, the largest and oldest university in Nepal, is mired in a scandal relating to score tampering. The CIAA has also unearthed gross violations of the selection procedure by the influential officials while appointing university staffers. Out of ten accused in this particular score tampering case, one Ram Bahadur Pandey Chhetri of the university's Office of the Controller of Examinations killed himself last week by jumping off the sixth floor of a building in Kathmandu.
Acute political meddling has rendered Purbanchal University without its key executives and academic council for the past year. The ex-officio chancellor and prime minister KP Oli failed to constitute the council. It has allegedly impacted every aspect of the university's academic administration including the affiliation of aspiring colleges, accreditation and the validation of degrees.
The teaching-learning environment is barely different in several other newer universities as well. Graduates of these universities barely manifest the desired outcomes of academia, such as gainful employment, critical thinking, and several other desirable personalities and character traits.
There is a general agreement at every level of society that Nepal's public education system has collapsed—perhaps irreparably. The government has been boasting of the impressive primary level enrollment (of more than 90 percent of school-age children). Meanwhile, the data beyond school-level education (Grade 12) portrays a pathetic picture of enrollment, let alone educational attainment both in terms of sociability and employability of the products. Thus, the demand for Nepal's higher education services has effectively hit rock-bottom.
According to the Education Ministry’s data for 2017, the total number of students enrolled in higher education in that particular year is 361,077 of which 88.27 percent are in bachelors and only 11.25 percent are in master's level. A negligible number of people seem to be opting for research degrees such as MPhil and PhD. If we compare it with an average 250,000 students completing Grade 12 against enrollment in bachelors and masters level combined (that represents at least six years of Grade 12 graduates), it is safe to argue that only 20-25 percent school graduates enrol for higher education.
There is another dimension too. According to the Australian government's official figures, Nepal is Australia's third-largest source country for international students, after only China and India. Similarly, Nepal ranks as the 13th largest country of origin of international students in the United States. India, UK and other European countries also attract a huge number of students from Nepal. For a poor country, these figures are rather paradoxical.
One single push factor for Nepali students to go aboard is the unbearably poor quality of higher education in Nepal that fails to instil employable skills in the graduates, commensurate to their degrees awarded. Sheer lack of employment opportunities in the Nepali job market is another reason for the youth to migrate to developed countries, often permanently. Every Nepali household that can manage the finances—even bearing the high-interest loans—is invariably keen to send its kids out of the country for higher studies. In a rough estimate, about one hundred thousand students go out of the country for university education each year. This incessant exodus has been one of the major causes for Nepal’s foreign currency imbalance. Also, it is an irrefutable testimony to the fact that Nepal's higher education system has failed in every count.
Political apathy and policy imperviousness are two major bottlenecks to Nepal's higher education reform. The government of the hour has failed to recognise the gravity of the situation—that the entire higher education edifice is at the verge of collapse. At the policy-making level, urgency for course-correction is totally absent. In fact, the entire policy-making class sends their kids abroad; therefore, they are not actually bothered by the hopeless anarchy now gnawing at the sector.
Instead of putting a sincere effort to bring the system back on track; the main interest of the present government is in creating a legal basis to appoint the political cadres in key executive positions of these academic institutions. The higher education reform bill mooted in federal parliament authorises the government to 'hire and fire' academic administrators like vice-chancellors, registrars and deans of the universities at its will. Neither this particular bill nor any other government policy or vision incorporate the much-needed remedy to widespread concern for the dwindling quality in Nepal's higher education.
On the contrary, these purely extractive machinations aimed at giving jobs to political cadres are certain to obliterate whatever little credibility these institutions have left. This political meddling is exacerbated by a series of corrupt, immoral and petty acts of high officials in these universities which ideally should be led more by moral authority.
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