House committee asks education minister to revise the bill to amend University ActsLawmakers object to provisions that could give space for further politicisation of varsities.
The Legislation Management Committee of the federal parliament on Wednesday asked Minister for Education, Science and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokharel to make revisions to the bill to amend University Acts, saying that some of its provisions undermine the autonomy of the varsities.
The government on March 15 registered the bill in Parliament, which authorises the prime minister, who is the ex-officio chancellor of the country’s universities, to initiate the process to relieve the vice-chancellors, rectors and registrars of their duties as long as one-fourth of the senate members agree.
The bill also has a provision that the prime minister and education minister can inspect or inquire any subject or matter relating to the university and can issue necessary directives.
The lawmakers said the provisions are regressive and against the established principle that define universities as autonomous entities.
They also objected to the provision that says “poor Dalit and poor disabled people” will get free higher education, saying that such references contradict the constitution. The constitution guarantees free education up to higher studies for Dalit and disabled students, but without talking about their economic condition. The provision, however, limits that right only “to those from poor families”.
“There are many flaws and regressive provisions in the bill. Therefore, we have asked the minister to make necessary changes,” Jitendra Dev, a member of the committee from the Nepali Congress, told the Post.
The bill has received 63 amendments including from ruling party lawmakers, seeking changes in several clauses of the bill.
Udaya Sharma Poudel, a Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker in the committee, said as different provisions of the bill have gathered criticism, they are working to it finalise it on the basis of consensus.
Former vice-chancellors of different universities have been objecting to the bill, saying that it will further politicise the varsities that have already become the playground of political parties.
Organising a press meet in May, around a dozen retired vice-chancellors had said a government that should have been working to keep universities free from politics was taking different steps to increase its influence on the academic institutions.
The government drafted the amendment bill for changes in the Acts of eight
universities, which were in operation prior to the promulgation of the constitution to ensure their conformity with the charter.
Along with the changes required by the constitution, the Education Ministry also inserted some provisions, aiming to centralise power in the prime minister and education minister, who are ex-officio chancellor and pro-chancellor of universities, respectively.
“No university can prosper without autonomy but the government is bent on even reducing the existing authority of the varsities,” said Kedar Bhakta Mathema, former vice-chancellor of the Tribhuvan University. According to Mathema, the bill should also be revised to include provisions to adopt meritocracy while appointing top officials to the universities and ensure that only academicians become the chancellors.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, during his first stint as the executive head, had committed to this change.
In March 2016, Oli announced at the Kathmandu University senate meeting that he would work to revise legal provisions that make the country’s executive head the ex-officio chancellor of all universities. The commitment made at the senate meeting, held on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the university, was recorded in its minutes.
But three years later, the Oli government has now come up with an amendment bill that contradicts his own 2016 commitment.
Like some other half a dozen bills introduced by the Oli administration, which have run into controversy, the bill to amend the university Acts also was not discussed with the stakeholders—former or incumbent university officials and academicians.
“The government must have taken public opinion in such matters and acted accordingly,” Mathema told the Post. “Every provision that undermines the autonomy of universities should be removed from the bill.”