Break off the downfallHigher education, as a capital investment, is of paramount importance for the socio-economic, cultural and technological development of a country.
Higher education, as a capital investment, is of paramount importance for the socio-economic, cultural and technological development of a country. Institutions of higher education have the primary responsibility of producing qualified and skilled manpower required to develop a nation. Continuous attention has been given to uplift the quality of higher education in Nepal for the past two decades. Yet, there are several issues and challenges in the university education system that have to be addressed.
There are over 500,000 university students in Nepal, of which 20 percent study in private colleges. Out of 433 community campuses, 150 are on the chopping block due to a lack of students. Less than 100 students are enrolled in each of these campuses, as recorded by the University Grants Commission (UGC), Nepal. Because of these low levels of enrolment, campuses will not be given the annual grant provided by the UGC in the future. The private colleges too have witnessed a decrease in enrolment. There are 350 private colleges in Nepal where the enrolment numbers are less than 150.
While both private and public colleges may be facing a decrease in enrolment numbers, public colleges are more hard hit by this trend. This is because students and guardians tend to think that private institutions are better than public ones. They are under the misconception that the higher fees that private colleges demand translate into a better quality of education, when in fact this is rarely the case.
Adding to this problem of low enrolment is the fact that there is minimal investment in higher education. Of the total national budget, only 0.9 percent is invested in higher education. Of this, only 30 percent is found to be utilised in manners that produce concrete results.
Students’ preference in terms of choosing faculties to pursue academically have also decidedly hampers the functioning of higher educational institutes. Newly introduced and globally trending subjects have become the preferred choice for Nepali students, while other faculties face problems of low enrolment. For example, trends have shown that students are increasingly attracted to studying the fields of management, hospitality and IT, while their interest in humanities, education and general science is gradually decreasing.
Universities and campuses in Nepal are assailed by political and regional interests, whether in executive-level appointments or in their expansion. Given such a state of events, teachers at the university level are less motivated to do research. And even if they were to try to pursue such research to gain international exposure, they lack the training and knowledge required to do so. The institutes for higher education are also sorely equipped in terms of the technology required for such research studies.
The lack of a multidimensional education system in higher education is another issue that must be addressed in the sector of higher education. Minimal or no co-curricular activities, exchange programs and exposure visits in most of the community campuses are additional factors behind students’ reluctance to embrace higher education within the country.
The higher education sector, as a whole, continues to face moral questions and problems related to decreasing student numbers, lack of quality, mismanagement, politicisation, modish enrolment, and poor access to education at all levels. Academic autonomy, administrative reform, student unrest and emotional integration are the other issues that the higher educational sector has to contend with in Nepal.
Steps to make it better
Institutions of higher education have to be freed from political influence and a fair learning atmosphere has to be created if there is to be any progress. There needs to be an academic interaction program at least twice a year so as to get ideas on the views of students and teachers. Opinions of experts, students and stakeholders should be sought before launching new programs at higher levels. Taking these opinions into consideration, planners should design a multidimensional, flexible and dynamic education system, which will bring out the best in students as per their ability and aptitude. This system also has to be responsive to their economic, social, political and cultural needs. Community campuses have to refresh academic activities to stay relevant. Project work, presentations, institutional visits and motivating internal exams can be incorporated into the regular course, for example. Institutions also need to improve on their infrastructure. One of the first steps to do so should be through the basic management of Information and Computer Technology at the university level.
The sector of higher education in our country needs to prepare students for competition in the global market, and they must enable students to earn a prestigious livelihood in the future. In order to do so, there is a need for tests and tasks that can help students gain skills rather than only fulfil academic requirements. An example of such a task would be compulsory internships that students have to pursue.
Students, teachers and administrative officials should all work to improve the state of Nepal’s academics. We need to improve upon our higher education so that we can produce well-educated and capable academics who will be able to take our country to new levels.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation