Helpless giantVenerable Tribhuvan University (TU) is neck-deep in problems—a resource crunch, management lapses, decaying buildings, agitating teachers and falling student enrolment.
Venerable Tribhuvan University (TU) is neck-deep in problems—a resource crunch, management lapses, decaying buildings, agitating teachers and falling student enrolment. It’s as though, as soon as one problem is resolved, a new one springs up. Many educationists in the country have blamed politicisation of the university for the mess it is in. Others say flawed education policies of the government are responsible. A number of university and faculty heads cannot escape charges of making wrong policies, setting bad precedents, lacking vision and not taking pre-emptive action to minimise problems.
A policy of giving affiliation to private colleges without assessing the possible impact on TU’s constituent colleges has put them in a difficult financial position. Hordes of private colleges offering bachelor and master level programmes sprang up in the country. These private institutions took a huge load off the state’s shoulders, but they threatened the very existence of TU constituent colleges. They started to witness another precipitous decline in student enrolment like during the time when the intermediate level was phased out.
Almost all TU colleges except those offering technical subjects are facing numerous problems associated mainly with money. They are having a hard time paying the salaries of their teachers and other staff on time, buying stationery, furniture and teaching aids and repairing old buildings. In such a situation, investing in research activities and academic workshops, seminars and refresher training is a far cry.
Many programmes that ran well previously are on the verge of closure. Despite their contribution to generating manpower needed in many sectors, many subjects have lost their appeal among students. The resource crunch that started after the intermediate level phase-out has become quite severe. The effect of this policy on student enrolment was both direct and indirect. Since schools running programmes for classes 11 and 12 do not offer many of the subjects offered by TU under the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, student enrolment in this faculty has declined sharply.
Many students used to join different programmes under this faculty with the hope of getting jobs in public schools or government offices. But the government’s policy of hiring only graduates from the faculty of education as public school teachers has drawn students away from arts and pushed them towards education. A decrease in the number of students and outright opposition by political parties to hiking fees has impoverished TU. Moreover, the government has been reluctant to increase grants.
There has never been any manpower planning in Nepal. A shortage of manpower spanning across many humanities and social sciences subjects has started to surface lately. Newspaper pages filled with vacancy announcements issued by public and private schools testify to this fact. Wanted ads for teachers to teach subjects like social studies, population, English and moral education point to an acute shortage of such manpower despite an increase in the number of graduates from the faculty of education. Many say that these graduates are strong in teaching method but weak in subject content and matter.
Developing university programmes into interdisciplinary studies may solve a few of the protracted problems of Tribhuvan University and constituent colleges. At the same time, it may lay the foundation for preparing highly qualified and capable manpower to compete in the global market. The curriculum needs to be revised to address changing circumstances. Many scholars around the world are saying that the economic problems that have been plaguing the developed countries for some years cannot be corrected by knowledge of economics alone. This view can be taken as a confirmation of the importance of an interdisciplinary university curriculum. Against this backdrop, a corrective prescription to maintain the flow of students in the existing programmes, utilise manpower and physical facilities lying idle, and prepare the required manpower can be very crucial.
Likewise, merging many TU programmes can be a way out. The first step can be merging programmes under the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Education even though many university teachers may take it as an offence. Colleges offering both programmes can be convinced, but it should be preceded by an effective policy. Syllabuses have to be redesigned to accommodate both subjects. First, three years of the four-year bachelor programme should be allotted for common syllabuses without any demarcation though there can be enough choices of elective and major subjects. Different syllabuses for students intending to pursue arts and education can be offered only in the fourth year. This will ameliorate the situation of constituent campuses to a great extent, and at the same time, address the problem of manpower shortage in private schools.
This change can enhance the competence and confidence of undergraduates and graduates. However, the revised syllabuses should focus on research, writing and creative and innovative skills of students. The problem of overstaffing and financial crisis can possibly be overcome. The next step along this line will be to develop the syllabuses of the remaining subjects into interdisciplinary subjects. It has been felt that science and management students need additional English language courses, and many subjects seem to be incomplete because they lack knowledge of economics, history, geography and the socio-cultural aspects of our society.
TU, despite the many problems facing it, is Nepal’s most widely recognised university. If we allow the present rot to spread, it will send a very negative message about the situation of university education in Nepal. Both constituent and private colleges will have to face unprecedented problems regarding recognition of the education imparted by them. The problems bedevilling TU should be eliminated before we can think about reviving it to its former glory. There should be no political intervention in management, manpower selection and appointment to top posts. Teachers and students should learn to be pragmatic and positive towards the reformation and reformulation of the university’s policies and programmes. Timely increase in fees should not be opposed so that its financial problems can be resolved. The state should step forward to protect Nepal’s oldest and largest university.
Sharma is a professor of geography at Mahendra Multiple Campus, Dang