Academic bluesPublic universities should serve the larger public and not those at the helm of affairs
The claims made by the Vice-Chancellor of Tribhuvan University (TU) Tirtha Khaniya and the Prime Minister secretariat regarding the reason for postponing the TU senate meeting contradict each other. This inconsistency is problematic because public universities are repositories of knowledge production. Their smooth functioning demands TU’s agendas be clearly set and more importantly, one that serves not those at the helm of affairs but rather the students and society as a whole.
The VC informed that the senate meeting to be held on Sunday was postponed citing illness of the Prime Minister who is also the chancellor of TU. However, contradicting Khaniya, the Prime Minister secretariat presented a different reason behind the meeting’s deferral. The Prime Minister Secretariat said, Prime Minister Oli cancelled the meeting because he was not clear about the agenda and it also accused TU of ‘twisting the whole issue.’
The latest squabble between the TU administration and the PM’s office does not bode well for the future of the university, which is already losing its place as an eminent institution of higher learning and knowledge production. Unnecessary political interference in the public institution has undermined meritocracy and caused hindrances to achieving consensus over policy reforms. Further, it has had an impact on the autonomy of the institution as well. The university is also no longer attractive to individuals having intellectual aptitude but without any political affiliation. These are worrying trends which need to be addressed immediately.
What’s more, the VC’s office should be a place of independent academic advancement rather than a place that is seen as being political—rather, it should be guided by ethics. Regrettably, the incumbent VC himself was accused of plagiarism a few years back. This, coupled with the politicisation of university education, has led to a steady decline in the quality of TU. It is never a good sign when public trust on places of higher learning goes down.
The purpose of any university is knowledge production and to help equip the next generation of leaders with critical thinking. It is a place where both students and the faculty learn by challenging the established and questioning the accepted. Unless exchanges between students and faculty is meaningful, the quality of the students and the research they produce will not prove useful.
Complete autonomy may provide some respite to the deep legitimacy crisis the university is facing today. Also, the university must be committed to appoint only individuals who display competence and a high degree of ethical integrity as its office bearers. Unless they succeed in doing so, TU will continue being plagued by petty politics and vested interest of a handful of individuals.