Let me share a recent personal dilemma with you. I came across an online course on Public Policy Analysis offered by the London School of Economics and Political Science, and I was immediately sold on it. But this 10-week course is priced a hard-to-afford $3,000. With some quick calculations, I figured I could afford to spend around $500 at the moment and I have initiated a fundraising for the rest of the amount through my social media profile.
This has, expectedly, raised some strong reactions both in support and against the idea. I have strong reasons for doing this.
As a columnist, I am aware of the standard of our public discourse. It is awful. But I don't blame my own creed for the same. I don't want to embarass myself and my publishers by putting the amount here, but the remuneration is such a negligible amount that one can hardly justify any effort on research for the columns. And there is no way for us columnists to take loans to upgrade our analytical skills and pay back through what the papers pay us. But upskilling ourselves is an absolute necessity.
The public intellectual ecosystem in Nepal has survived on a flawed balance. Higher education abroad is very costly, almost unthinkable without a scholarship even for the well-to-do families, and higher education in the country is completely untrustworthy. Research work and dissertations that are mandatory for degree courses are openly available on sale at university campuses.
Ideally, our institutions, like the media houses we write for, should support such efforts. But that's beyond the scope at the moment. Most media houses hardly pay for opinion columns and editors think they are doing a favor to the writers by publishing their pieces. Therefore, scholarships have become a political tool for the powerful external players in Nepal to maintain their hold over the opinion makers.
So, I have three strong reasons for initiating this crowdfunding for myself. First, I am convinced that upgrading my skills on Public Policy Analysis has become an absolute necessity. I became a writer by passion. I write in English as well as Nepali, and my effort has been to bring forward the perspective from the grassroots. I am based in rural Nepal and have engaged myself in some micro-entrepreneurships and social projects in my hometown.
In a nutshell, I experience a completely different Nepal than what is projected in the discourse by Kathmandu-based armchair analysts. My effort is to convey to the larger world what I experience on a day to day basis in my villages. But I am not a trained policy analyst, and I find my own insights overly influenced by personal grievances and anecdotal impressions. Therefore, I felt skills to analyse policy related matters through structured framework based processes would add value to my writing.
Second, I want to bring forward the fact that in countries like Nepal quality higher education is unaffordable even for the relatively well-off citizens, and what is affordable is absolute rubbish. Politics has ruined Tribhuvan University. Professors are taken on a quota basis in accordance with their affiliation to the political parties and this is directly reflected in the quality of higher education. It has become common to reward plagiarists and corrupt academicians with powerful positions. As a result, these institutions have become a mess and have lost all credibility. I don't have an iota of trust that our universities will provide knowledge and skills worth the time spent gaining the degree.
Third, and the most important reason I think I am justified in initiating this fundraising, is that I promise to initiate an online course on Public Discourse and Public Policy Analysis along with some friends, and have vowed to run it for free for 20 participants. Learning from a credible institution like the LSE is a personal dream for me, but creating affordable learning opportunities for many more, here in Nepal, is an even more important need of the hour.
My endeavor has sparked interesting reactions on both ends. While many have committed to funding the initiative, appreciating my desire to learn, many others have ridiculed the approach. I may have a different opinion about it later in hindsight, but at the moment, I find it absolutely necessary to raise these issues.
Democracy thrives on public discourse. And if our opinion makers are not independent, we are nurturing a servile ecosystem based on a self-destructing fallacy in the name of public intellectualism.