Creating institutes of eminenceMuch is needed to revitalise the landscape of higher education institutions in Nepal.
The current discourse and deliberations on higher education institutions (HEIs), in general, and Nepali universities, in particular, are one of the topical issues in the media. This hotly debated theme is all the more significant as it has created a sense of despair and despondency, especially against a backdrop of the current economy and political state in the country. Nevertheless, there is a silver lining in the dark clouds hovering around HEIs. The debate has generated much needed hope and optimism to build better institutions in the country to correct the ills plaguing the HEI ecosystem.
This piece is based largely on the perspectives I gained during my personal visit to a well-established private university rated as an institute of eminence in India by the nation’s apex regulatory agency, and the insights I am getting now during my stay in Thailand. It was saddening to note a group of 16 Nepali students flying to South Korea en route to Thailand to pursue their undergraduate studies in Hospitality Management while seats in programmes such as Bachelor of Hospitality Management remain vacant in Nepal.
There is much to be done to revitalise the current education landscape of HEIs in Nepal, especially with regard to management education. There is an urgent need to improve the practices currently being used for attracting and hiring talented faculty and building quality infrastructure to increase enrollment numbers in HEIs. Of course, there is also scope for emulating the best practices and examples of their counterparts across the globe.
It may be noted that the best educational institutes in the world are residential, which Nepal lacks. Universities that advocate and promote a residential culture are believed to produce cohesion and camaraderie among students and faculty members. Ideally, an ecosystem that creates and enhances bonhomie and belongingness in the teaching-learning processes are highly conducive to creating an educational community. However, such a situation is a distant dream in Nepal.
When the bonding among learners and faculty members is rich, it enhances the chances for learning and knowledge sharing beyond the books and boundaries of classroom lectures. International universities that encourage diversity among students and faculty members provide space for exchanging multi-cultural perspectives and promoting respect for inclusion and equity among learners. This not only provides an excellent learning platform but also makes the graduating students job-ready to join an international employee force. Inviting talented faculty from abroad will become much easier if the system can provide the opportunity for such experts to move in with their families. Of course, this calls for better housing and medical facilities, childcare, standard schools for their wards and other benefits. For instance, institutes of repute have also started providing medical insurance that covers not just the faculty but the entire family. Undoubtedly, this acts as a motivating force not only for joining but also for staying with the institution for a longer period.
Members of any educational community will thrive if they are incentivised for the output they produce and the impacts they create. Such a culture of incentivising faculty members is missing in our system. India has made a huge leap in this direction by incentivising faculty members who come up with research publications. Almost without any exception, most institutes of repute have this standard practice in place, and as a result, they are able to produce better research outputs and enhance the quality of teaching and learning. Nepal stands to gain by replicating this practice among its HEIs.
Most Nepali students enrolled in local universities complain about the curriculum design that lacks flexibility in the courses offered. Moreover, unlike their overseas counterparts, they do not allow the system of credit transfer across universities. Cross-university collaboration for specific courses would help arrest the exodus of students overseas. This would also allow universities to become financially viable and sustainable. Making multiple entry and exit options available like in India would be an added attraction for the students as it will allow them to temporarily leave education midway to work without the stigma of being considered “dropouts”.
Likewise, creating and maintaining an Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) where grades earned by the students are stored in a digital storehouse could act as another appealing factor for them. This would further facilitate the opportunities for multiple entry and exit during their stay within HEIs.
Marketing and branding
Being quite conservative in their nature and approach, conventional universities in Nepal shy away from investing resources in marketing and branding. However, finding themselves in a market cluttered with information about different kinds of HEIs, the best universities in the world do so unhesitatingly these days.
My interaction with learners opting for HEIs both inside and outside Nepal suggests that most Nepali students are more aware of HEIs abroad than their domestic counterparts. Almost all the institutions affiliated with foreign universities invested heavily in marketing and succeeded remarkably in promoting their brands in every nook and corner of the country. This is made possible by a plethora of consultancies that promote universities and HEIs abroad. Many universities in India and other countries organise educational fairs and road shows to attract Nepali students. Thus, before Nepali universities can make a positive impact, they need to make their presence felt in Nepal so that the young generation becomes aware of the various kinds of programmes and courses they offer. This is possible only through proper promotional tours provided through marketing and branding endeavours.