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Time for a decisive push for varsity reforms

Time for a decisive push for varsity reforms

A university is a center for brainstorming, exploration and processing of knowledge. Data from around the world have confirmed that quality university education plays a major role in laying the foundation for the development of economic and strategic might of countries. 

Of late, Nepal's higher education and universities have emerged as a topic for a discourse, thanks to a declining state of these institutions and a subsequent surge in the number of students heading abroad for higher education.

University education started in Nepal in 1959 with the establishment of the Tribhuvan University (TU). Sixty-five years later, we continue to lag behind in almost all sectors because of our inability to utilize our universities in the interest of the country, an inability which has a role in rendering the state dysfunctional. This article mainly seeks to explore the reasons behind a sorry state of affairs in our universities by looking into the advent of university education in brief.  

The legacy

Modern university education dates back to the 11th century. At the end of the 11th century, the University of Bologna ‘Studium’ took shape in Italy, followed by the University of Paris in France (1150) and a number of universities across European countries. These centers of higher learning began focusing on scientific research, heralding a new dawn in the development of science and technology and strengthening as well as expanding the state. Through the technological prowess that flowed through these universities that propagated university education globally, Europe established its empires around the world over the centuries. 

Western varsity in Asia 

The Western model university came into being in Asia with the establishment of the University of Calcutta in 1857 under British rule. In its early days, the varsity showed a lot of promise, producing world-renowned scientists and economists such as CV Raman, Chandrasekhar, Ramakrishnan, Hargobind Khorana and Amartya Sen. But the varsity failed to pave the way for diversified research, a predicament no different from that of the TU.

However, Japan, another country in Asia, started its educational cooperation with Europe in 1877 with the establishment of the Tokyo University. Japan has not only become an economic superpower in a short period of time on the strength of new science and technological development, but is also competing with the West in the field of creative intelligence and producing dozens of Nobel Prize winners. 

This university has established itself as an institute capable of solving problems of a fast-changing world. Interestingly, Nepal was under the rule of Jung Bahadur at the time of establishment of universities in Calcutta and Tokyo. The Rana ruler had a cordial relationship with the British Empire, but did not bother to use this leverage for introducing university education in Nepal. Thanks to this myopia, university education got delayed in Nepal by about a century. 

A decisive push for reforms

A review of world history shows a number of countries shifting focus on university reforms after overcoming internal/external conflict and achieving a level of national prosperity. 

In the case of Nepal, even decades after the establishment of its first university and several other universities, no meaningful effort has been made to transform them into centers of knowledge and innovation. Political interference, measly investments from the state, weak standards for faculty selection and incentives are mainly to blame for this. 

Unchecked political interference has been taking a toll on university education for decades and institutionalizing mismanagement. Here, professors accused of serious academic charges like intellectual theft get appointed as vice-chancellors, thanks to their political clout and a chauvinist professor gets beaten by chauvinist students on the university premises! It’s obvious that those who landed leadership roles through political connections do not count. Our universities need to undergo reforms for which they need a non-political academic leadership with a credible ground action plan. The state should immediately take concrete steps toward this end by keeping politics away from universities.