According to the authority given by Nepal’s federal constitution, regional administrations are hurrying to create universities in their various territories.
The university has already been formed by the Gandaki Province through an Act of Provincial Assembly, and it has already begun operating several academic programs under the umbrella of the newly minted sub-national institution.
Other provincial administrations appear to be working at breakneck speed to establish universities in their respective areas, as if the Constitution of Nepal has given them this power and job.
The Bagmati Province is said to be developing an enabling statute for the establishment of a Province University, while Province 2 has stated plans to construct new universities in two locations within its borders, Janakpur and Bigunj, in the near future.
However, these provincial government plans should be taken with a grain of salt, owing to the fact that they are being considered and pushed forward haphazardly without adequate preparation, deliberation, and consideration.
The nation’s leading educational professionals and academics presented various significant issues in connection to the province university incorporation and formation during a consultation program organized by the Policy Research Institute (PRI) – the government think tank – the last fortnight.
They emphasized the importance of doing a thorough study and detailed feasibility evaluation before conceptualizing and operationalizing proposals for university establishment and operation.
The event aimed to elicit ideas and suggestions for the provincial universities in terms of financial resources, infrastructures, human capital, and pedagogy. Experts and educators offered several pertinent views and suggestions that must be considered before new university schemes are mooted and implemented.
Experts agreed that the notion of universities should not be founded on the whims and fancies of political leaders or expediencies, but rather on a thorough and objective assessment and appraisal of the situation’s needs and demands.
They also stated that the new institutions should evaluate and identify their competitive niche, which will allow them to justify their existence and ensure their viability and operational resilience.
They also emphasized that the new universities should not be carbon copies of existing academic institutions such as Tribhuvan University (TU) and others around the country.
The new provincial universities should be designed in such a way that they are not affiliated manufacturing granting and residential bodies, in order to secure a distinct separation from traditional and decaying academic institutions. Priority must be given to research and development.
Our experience has proven that no matter how good a course’s content is, the message enclosed in the content simply does not get across unless and until the deliverer (faculty) is competent.
It is necessary to state that the caliber of faculty in our colleges has deteriorated dramatically. Because our academic institutions have not prioritized promoting and institutionalizing research culture, the quality of faculty in our public colleges and campuses is poor.
The nature of our academic circuit is characterized by the adage, “If you don’t research, you keep teaching things over and over again.” The fact that research is the process of discovering and developing new knowledge cannot be overstated.
“If you don’t research as a professor, you don’t read and you teach the same thing,” an academician jokes in an article published in an Indian magazine called Business and Economy.
As a result, the new provincial universities should be designed in such a way as to support and preserve the tradition of independent, creative, and intelligent research by faculty members.
Universities should provide the appropriate incentives to foster a research climate in order to attract talented faculty to academic institutions.
Indeed, provincial universities should develop an environment that supports the proper incentives, recruits the right kind of professors, and promotes them only if they engage in academic research.
Another concern raised during the discussion was that the planned provincial institutions should be able to access funds from both state and non-state sources.
An independent board of trustees should be established to ensure the independence and autonomy of state control and diktat, and it should be responsible for the recruitment of academic and administrative leaders to manage the institutions.
To warrant and ensure resource autonomy—a fundamental aspect of running an academic institution—an endowment fund with resources collected from several domains could be established.
In reality, in the European tradition, universities founded or set to be constructed outside of metropolitan centers have been referred to as civic universities since they are less reliant on state funding and control and serve public needs and interests.
Their foundations were built on the backs of volunteers.
In an article published in a sociology journal, Charles Grant Robertson states that all the state can do is ensure that the demand for a university is legitimate and that the Act will result in a university that meets accepted requirements.
The authorized criteria, on the other hand, cannot be the work of the state, but of those who have built or seek to create colleges.
This demonstrates the significance of autonomy, independence, and liberty to provincial universities. Academics and intellectuals should therefore be wary of establishing these types of necessary standards and norms for regional universities.
Another important idea stated during the PRI’s interaction was that universities should be designed in such a way that they are appropriate to the provinces’ needs, resources, and potentials.
Because the Gandaki Province has abundant resources and endowments for tourist development, the Gandaki University curricula, pedagogy, and resources should be dedicated in this direction.
Similarly, considering its resources, infrastructures, and potentials, the university in Pradesh 1 should be designed to contribute to industry technology research and development. Before considering the notion of establishing universities in their different places and spheres, provincial governments should conduct thorough research.
_(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. [email protected]) _