Founding failuresIn 2010, under a grand plan to diversify and decentralize higher education in the country, the Government of Nepal decided to establish three universities – Far-Western University, Mid-Western University and Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU) –spread out across the nation in different development regions.These universities would focus on technical education and research, both of which were assumed to be mssing in existing universities, particularly Tribhuvan University (TU).
In 2010, under a grand plan to diversify and decentralize higher education in the country, the Government of Nepal decided to establish three universities – Far-Western University, Mid-Western University and Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU) –spread out across the nation in different development regions.These universities would focus on technical education and research, both of which were assumed to be mssing in existing universities, particularly Tribhuvan University (TU).
Eight years since, all the new universities are summed to have failed to innovate and diversify education. Instead, they are treading the same path as TU, doing exactly what the oldest university in the country had long been doing. Despite these new universities not offering anything of substance beyond what the TU offers, more universities are in the offing. Since 2006, five universities have been established and the new constitution authorises provincial governments to found their own institutions of higher learning.
Accordingly, Province 3 has already formed a committee to study the feasibility of a new university. The committee will soon recommend the kind of university that needs to be established. Although experts agree that new universities are required in the country, they need to be ones that provide something different other than what TU already offers. One third of existing universities are already struggling, with less than adequate enrolments. It is certain that any new universities that are established will face similar problems.
For instance, Lumbini Buddhist University (LBU), established in 2004,has about 196 students at present, down from 226 in 2011, and enrolments are decreasing every year.Similarly, Nepal Sanskrit University, the country’s second oldest university,had 1,925 students in 2011, which dropped to 1,471 at present. Mid-Western, Far-Western and Agriculture and Forestry Universities are not doing any better.
“Our universities don’t seem to be offering what the new generation desires,” says Kamal Krishna Joshi, former chairman of the University Grants Commission and former TU Vice-Chancellor. “Simply establishing new universities is not going to change picture of our higher education.”
Kailash Pyakurel, founding Vice-Chancellor of AFU,agrees that his university wasn’t able to distinguish itself from TU despite plans to focus on research, especially concerning agriculture and farming. “We weren’t able to achieve what we had planned primarily because of a lack of cooperation from the government and its reluctance in providing us with adequate funds,” says Pyakurel. Around 80 percent of the government’s grants for universities goes to the TU with the remaining 20 percent shared among the other universities.
The problem seems to be that universities are established without due diligence on what the country requires. A proper Higher Education Policy, which will set out the priorities and agendas for higher education in the country, needs to first be drafted. Currently, universities are not offering what students want to study.
Joshi points to the increasing number of students going abroad to study as a symptom of universities failing to cater to domestic needs. The number of students going abroad has almost doubled in the last three years. In the last fiscal year, 62,000 students obtained a No Objection Certification from the Ministry of Education to study at 72 different academic destinations across the globe. Joshi says that many developed countries, including the United States, have shifted their focus to science, technology, engineering and management (STEM) but we in Nepal are preoccupied with traditional subjects like education. However, it should be noted that the country’s most reputable and competitive fields of study are in medicine and engineering, at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Institute of Engineering (IOE), both solidly STEM fields.
Academia does not appear to be the only reason behind the establishment of new universities; there are political motivations too. In 2015, the then Sushil Koirala-led government decided to establish Nepalgunj and RajarshiJanak Universities in Banke and Dhanusha districts, respectively. The proposed location of the university in Banke was in Koirala’s electoral constituency while the one in Dhanusha was in the hometown of Nepali Congress leader and then Minister for Physical Planning and Works Bimalendra Nidhi. Though plansfor Nepalgunj University fell through with Koirala’s demise, legal work for RajarshiJanakUniversity has been completed and the establishment process has begun.