2014: A year of crash for Nepali universities

NIRJANA SHARMA

This may not be a coincidence that the highest number of Nepali students went abroad on student visa for higher education this year, while countries four of the universities came under the scanner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on serious corruption charges.

The year 2014 painted a bleak picture on the credibility of the country’s oldest and reputed universities, keeping students in dilemma whether to pursue higher education in these universities.

After the CIAA sped up its investigation over various complaints of irregularities against the top most officials of the Purbanchal University, Mid-Western University (MWU) and Pokhara University, most of the accusations were backed up by the strong evidences. The anti-graft body had to recommend suspending dozens of senior officials after the investigation.

While the CIAA action was inevitable to expose the uprooted corruption. But the reveal of the names emptied the posts at the varsities.

In April, when the anti-graft body began investigation in Purbanchal University, involvement of around two dozen officials including the Vice Chancellor (VC), Registrar, Exam Controller and Faculty Dean was prior to their arrest later.

Again in August, officials’ suspension followed by their arrest of including the executive head of the autonomous varsity- VC, Rector and Registrar panicked around 1500 students of MWU, who had high hope from the regional varsity established in their own place in Surkhet. Later in October, 22 officials from Pokhara University were arrested.

Contrary to the students’ hope to achieve higher education from the university for the establishment of which they had struggled at MWU, the students starting moving to the Tribhuvan University (TU) affiliated colleges again.

In the wake of the exposure of corruption by officials at theMWU, dozens of students discontinued their courses and started searching for alternatives.

Quitting of the university by students in droves was sparked by the exposure of corruption and subsequent suspensions at MWU. Although the newly appointed VC and registrar have expressed their commitment to improving things, the students appear not to be reassured. Around 150 students have already left the varsity till November, said the MWU-based student unions.

Purbanchal was not an exception. And neither the Pokhara University. The Purbanchal, that failed to follow thr calander in many of the faculties, a positive impact upon the administrative and academic work is yet to be visible in the ongoing service of the VC and other officials appointed for interim state.

A popular saying made on lighter node, give a worrisome message about the Purbanchal instead. “One student left his management course in mid-session, went to India, completed a degree there and came back to teach PU students who were of his own batch there,” said Pashupati Nepal, Eastern Region In-charge of the All Nepal National Independent Student Union – Revolutionary.

With the CIAA being aggressive in its scrutiny of university, and absence of another mechanism to oversee the activities of the varsities, the future is mote worrisome, experts say.

Universities being the autonomous body, it is hard to interfere in their daily activities, whereas frequent reports of corruption in many universities does not portend well for students enrolled there.

The University Grant Commission (UGCC) cannot seize documents and take any other strict actions, which allow the universities to skirt accountability, says Bhola Pokhrel, Member Secretary of the UGC.

Former vice-chancellor of the TU, Kedar Bhakta Mathema, said that there is no mechanism within the education system to take the situation under control if the top-level varsities themselves engage in corruption.

“In order to avert crisis in the education sector, it is high time that the concept of high powered commission that can oversee the activities of universities be discussed seriously,” he said.

Can the CIAA’s action raise question over the accountability of the UGC itself? Pokhrel said that the universities do not cooperate with the commission, so its job remains limited to allocating funds.

Politicization is the real culprit, states Former VC of Tribhuvan University Kedar Bhakta Mathema. He believes that the government failed to realize the importance of making these academic institutions, like most other institutions, free of political intervention.

“Until or unless the provisions of political appointments at universities are not scrapped, Nepal´s higher education will remain weaker and may eventually collapse,” he warns.

“Picking the VC, Rector and Registrar from parties, is meant to work in favor of institution, rather they will serve their political interest”, he added.

The author is an education journalist.

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