The streams not takenTake Sujita Chaudhary. In 2013, fresh out of high school, she had the same plans as her friends – as a science student, join the Institute of Medicine (IOM) or the Institute of Engineering (IOE), two of Nepal’s premier technical institutions, both under the Tribhuvan University (TU), the oldest university of the country.
Take Sujita Chaudhary. In 2013, fresh out of high school, she had the same plans as her friends – as a science student, join the Institute of Medicine (IOM) or the Institute of Engineering (IOE), two of Nepal’s premier technical institutions, both under the Tribhuvan University (TU), the oldest university of the country.
Chaudhary decided to join the IOE, which would bring her a step closer towards her dream of becoming an electronics and communication engineer. She prepared for months for the notoriously difficult entrance examination, which thousands like her take every year and thousands fail. She sailed through the exam on her very first attempt.
IOE is known for its rigour, but Chaudhary did not quite expect her four years to be the way it was.Her teachers were highly qualified, very dedicated and extremely demanding. There were strict rules for attendance and the environment was competitive to a fault. But these are the very reasons that IOE succeeds where many other public institutions of higher learning have failed, says Chaudhary. Quality infrastructure, well-equipped laboratories, hands-on experience and adherence to a strict schedule all helped Chaudhary graduate with a stellar education. Now, she works as an associate quality assurance engineer with a multi-national software company.
Take another student, Bibek Karna. Just graduated from high school, Karna, 19, wants to become a journalist. After long hours of deliberation with family and friends, he has chosen Ratna Rajya (RR) Laxmi Campus, another TU-affiliated college, geared towards the social sciences and humanities. Unlike Chaudhary, who was confident she would receive a great education at the IOE, Karna is not so certain.
“I wanted to study at a private college,” says Karna. “We’ve all heard how politicised government colleges are and the kind of education they provide. When you enter the college premises, it almost feels like a political party rather than a campus.” However, his family convinced him to join a TU college, despite his reservations about RR college.
The stark difference in the reputation of these college, both affiliated with the same mother university, says a lot about the quality of education that is being provided by public institutions of higher education. Technical schools like the IOE and IOM are considered among the finest schools in the entire country, with thousands of applicants every year. Non-technical schools like RR campus have notorious reputations as recruiting grounds for political parties and student unions, rather than the quality of their education.
Education expert Vidya Nath Koirala thinks that it is their strong leadership, along with strict selection criteria, that made the IOE and IOM what it is today. “While other departments lack strong leadership and teachers who are honest about their jobs, they also don’t have entrance exams, without which you can’t get good students. Not having an entrance exam isn’t a big problem in itself but a failure to properly train students is an issue,” says Koirala.
Besides the IOM and IOE, most other departments at the TU suffer from the same ignominious reputation. Once the alma mater of the country’s leading experts in various fields, the TU has since seen its standards, and its numbers, plummet. The TU administration, however, disagrees with the assessment that the university as a whole has a problem.
“The problem is with a few departments, not all, as the media has reported. Only looking at IOE and IOM is not sufficient, the management and science departments are doing fairly well too,” argues TU rector Sudha Tripathi.
Tripathi, however, agrees with the one criticism that has been the bane of public higher education – political interference. Political meddling is rampant in the appointment of TU officials like department chiefs and lecturers. “The whole system has becomepoliticised. Promotionsand demotionsare happening because of external political pressure. This practice has blocked deserving candidates whereas those with political patronageare easily promoted,” says Tripathi.
Education expert Koirala seems to have resigned himself to the fact that political interference is here to stay, given how deeply it is entrenched in the system. “Even if there is politicisation, if they could have worked as per their party principle, a lot could be done,” allows Koirala.
There were opportunities for TU to improve its non-technical academics, especially when it did away with intermediate level studies. Thousands of students were forced to turn to private colleges for their intermediates while 60 percent of teachers teaching at the intermediate level were moved up. The smaller student-to-teacher ratio, with the decrease in the number of students, was expected to improve the quality of education. Unfortunately, this never happened.
According to Koirala, professional councils for humanities and management should be set up to devise a system to ensure the quality of the education being imparted. Koirala also hopes that splitting the central TU into smaller units per federal province might help in effective monitoring and increase efficiency.