While existing universities flounder, provinces rush to build new onesPriority should be for improving the existing universities, educationists say.
Last week, the federal government registered a bill in the federal parliament to set up a new university named after Madan Bhandari, the UML leader who died under mysterious circumstances. Work will begin on the new varsity in Chitlang, Makwanpur, the headquarters of Province 3, once Parliament approves the bill.
With the Madan Bhandari University of Science and Technology, there will be four universities in the province, including an agriculture and forestry university. The provincial government, however, is not content. It wants at least one more university in the province.
Completing the legal grounds and policies to establish new universities is a major agenda in the province’s policies and programmes for the fiscal year 2019-20. Yubraj Dulal, social development minister in the provincial government, said the legal work was complete and they were now looking for space. As the existing universities are under the authority of the federal government, they shouldn’t be considered Province 3 universities.
There are 11 universities in total, excluding health academies, with at least one in each province. The Constitution of Nepal has given authority to both the federal and the state governments to set up new universities, and the provinces seem to be competing to build new universities.
The Gandaki provincial government has already tabled a bill, which is in consideration in the provincial assembly, to open Gandaki University in the Tanahun district, while the Province 1 government has allocated Rs 1.2 billion to establish Man Mohan Technical University. Provinces 2, 5 and Sudurpaschim are currently developing legal frameworks and policies, allocating millions of rupees.
The provincial governments claim these new universities are necessary to produce the human resource required by the country, particularly the respective provinces. “We need competent human resource for development. The new university will promote research-based education,” Dulal told the Post.
Educationists, however, are skeptical. There’s nothing wrong with building new universities, but the priority should be in improving existing ones, said Min Bahadur Bista, a Tribhuvan University professor, who has helped formulate the country’s education policies.
“The governments should first work to improve the existing universities, which are deteriorating every day,” Bista told the Post.
Existing universities are already struggling to attract students. Lumbini Buddhist University, established in 2004, had about 196 students last year, down from 226 in 2011, and enrolments continue to decrease every year. Similarly, Nepal Sanskrit University, the country’s second-oldest university, had 1,925 students in 2011, which dropped to 1,471 this year. Mid Western and Far Western Universities, formed eight years ago, have 2,211 and 3,035 students respectively.
Anomalies at Tribhuvan University, the country’s oldest and largest university, have become commonplace while even the Agriculture and Forestry University and Sanskrit University are reporting irregularities.
But Nar Devi Pun, minister for social development in Gandaki Province, said that they felt the need for a new university as the existing one couldn’t meet students’ aspirations.
“We concluded that Pokhara University couldn’t be modified as per our priority, so it was necessary to go for a new university,” she told the Post.
Educationists say both provincial and federal governments should be aware that proper research is necessary before building new universities. Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University and the planned Madan Bhandari University are all located within a couple of hours’ drive. Province 5, meanwhile, doesn’t have a general university.
“Universities are targeted towards a large mass. Therefore, proper mapping is necessary before leaping to add new ones,” said Binay Kusiyait, another professor at Tribhuvan University.