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Why establish a model varsity in Nepal?

Why establish a model varsity in Nepal?
The University of Nepal Infrastructure Development Board, established by the Government of Nepal, is working toward establishing the University of Nepal (UoN) in Gaidakot and nearby municipalities. A government bill to this effect is under discussion in the Committee on Legislative Affairs at the National Assembly, the upper house of the parliament. The aim is to pass a model legislation that will establish a world-class university in Nepal that will stand out from more than a dozen other universities that the government has established over the past 65 years. This is the first time that a new university is being established in Nepal through almost five years of efforts using a consultative and collaborative approach involving a diverse array of stakeholders, including existing academics, non-resident Nepali experts abroad, international professors, Nepali educationists, and the wider civil community. The aim is to ensure that the UoN is developed in a way that reflects the unique needs and priorities of the higher education sector in Nepal in the context of a globalized world. The model being followed is that of a public university, which does not necessarily have to be a governmental institution in terms of its structure and approach. The Board is also prioritizing the development of the UoN as a world-class institution that adheres to the highest standards of quality, research, and innovation. To achieve this goal, they are adopting a liberal arts and sciences approach, emphasizing the development of international faculty, research infrastructure, and innovative teaching methods, among other measures. Furthermore, the establishment of the UoN must comply with a regulatory framework that promotes quality and accountability. The proposed legislation being discussed in the parliament aims to establish clear standards and guidelines for the functioning of the new institution. Nevertheless, this is a challenging task. Many countries around the world have made significant progress in the education sector, but Nepal's universities have struggled to compete. Lack of focus and professionalism is evident across the board. Insufficient public funding is a common issue in Nepal's education sector, which limits resources for research, quality faculty, and infrastructure upgrades. There is also a shortage of qualified and experienced faculty members. Furthermore, these universities have been using outdated curriculum not aligned with industry trends or the needs of the job market.

Political instability and unrest in Nepal are some of the reasons why universities are not performing as desired. This instability has negatively impacted funding, enrollment rates, and the overall academic environment. Additionally, poor governance has led to corruption, mismanagement, and nepotism within universities. The lack of research opportunities and funding for research have also contributed to their poor performance. While there are many dedicated and passionate faculty members, Nepali universities have been slow in implementing improvements to the academic environment due to these realities.

These common trends are the result of some of the most overlooked issues in higher education in Nepal. With the exception of Kathmandu University, none of the universities in Nepal are functionally autonomous, and instead have political appointees serving as vice-chancellors. Many of these appointees lack renowned academic leadership skills, a visionary outlook, or competitiveness. They also lack fundraising capabilities, which is essential for the growth and development of universities. Furthermore, there is little room for international recruitment, as rectors, registrars, and deans are appointed within the system. The management created by these political appointees is often acceptable to the political elites of the country, primarily the ruling party or coalition, but falls short of meeting the requirements of a thriving academic institution and an aspiring body of modern students. The system that has been created is built on trade unionism and political connections, lacking legal, political, and functional autonomy. Diversity and inclusion in faculty and students have been neglected in institutional management in Nepal. Competitive appointment systems have not been implemented. These universities have remained isolated within the national system, existing mainly due to limited government funding. Reforming these institutional arrangements is a daunting task, as vested interests have developed around them over decades. Establishing a new model university that addresses these challenges is imperative for the country's progress. The main objective of an education system should be to meet the requirements and aspirations of the wider community and contribute to the growth of the country as a whole. If an education system does not prioritize the well-being and progress of the broader national community, it is not fulfilling its purpose effectively and should not be given priority for investment or support. This emphasizes the significance of considering the broader social context and impact of education while formulating policies and allocating resources, rather than only concentrating on narrow measures of academic success or individual achievement. Despite being a developing country, Nepal is located in a geographically advantageous position to excel in higher education internationally. The country has the potential to become a hub for industries that focus on creating, disseminating, and applying knowledge. By creating a favorable environment for education, research and development, software development, media and publishing, consulting, and other knowledge-intensive services, Nepal can foster and make the most of intellectual capital, which includes the knowledge, skills, and expertise of workers, as well as technology and innovation. This industry is often associated with high-skill, high-wage jobs, and is regarded as a crucial driver of economic growth and development. In order to achieve this, it is crucial to establish a liberal environment and links with other high-yielding international academic centers. The political leaders of Nepal must recognize that in the knowledge industry, knowledge is a critical resource that can be utilized to create new products, services, and processes, and improve existing ones. Companies and organizations in this sector invest heavily in research and development, and work continuously to enhance their knowledge and skills. The education industry is a crucial part of the global economy and is likely to grow in importance as technological advancements and globalization continue to reshape the world of work. However, systemic challenges and limited resources can make it difficult for Nepali universities to realize their full potential. The development of a successful model university can be a crucial step toward reforming the higher education sector in Nepal. By learning from the experiences of this university, the government can formulate clear and effective policies and processes for reforming the existing universities. Moreover, the government can use the model as a platform to collaborate with international institutions and experts, and bring in best practices from around the world. Overall, the development of a successful model university can be a catalyst for broader reforms in the higher education sector in Nepal, and can help to ensure that universities are better equipped to serve the needs and interests of the wider national community. The author is associated with Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel