Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara, Nepal


The Proposed Prithvi Narayan University: Possibilities and Challenges

Prof. Dr. Birendra S. Gurung

Published on 2016-01-10

The word “university” is derived from the Latin phrase "universitas magistrorun et schoolrium," roughly signifying "community of teachers and scholars" engaged in teaching and research in higher level of education. The teachers are attached to a formal institution imparting knowledge to the desired students belonging to the different streams of knowledge. Officially, a university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects.

The university as a centre of higher learning was in existence in different periods of time in history. But if the definition of a university is assumed to mean an institution of higher education and research which grants academic degrees at all levels (undergraduate and graduate) as in the modern sense of the word, then the medieval Madrasaha, or more specifically the Jami'ah founded in the 9th century would be the first example of such an institution. The University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is thus recognized as the oldest degree granting university in the world with its founding in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri. However, the University of Bologna (Italian: Alma Mater Studiorum Universita di Bologna, UNIBO) is the oldest continually operating degree-granting university in Europe and the world, and the word “university” being first used by this institution at its foundation. The true date of its founding is uncertain, but believed by most accounts to have been 1088.

"The Tribhuvan University" (TU), the parent institution of higher learning in Nepal, was established in 1959 as a state-funding university, and since then we have eight other universities and two university level institutions operating in different parts of the country. The idea of multi-university concept was put forward by the National Education Commission in 1992 to establish universities in all the development regions in line as TU was established. Immediately in 1993, the Higher Education Project (HPE), a World Bank Project, also proposed to develop regional clusters: one in the Western Development Region and the other in the Eastern Development Region which eventually would emerge as university in future. And, for that purpose, Prithvi Narayan Campus in Pokhara and Mahendra Morang Campus in Biratnagar were selected as a lead campus of the cluster. Funding was diverted to these campuses for infra-structure development but with a condition to disengage Intermediate Level in phase-wise stipulated time period. Efforts and home works were underway to achieve the targets by instead of promoting these campuses, the government established two universities: Purwanchal University in Biratnagar and Pokhara University in Lekhnath, Pokhara, putting an end to the aspiration of the local people to have a university in Pokhara. Again a strong voice has been raised at the local level to upgrade Prithvi Narayan Campus as a university.

It is neither sentimental nor political but it is an academic need to have a university in Pokhara. Because in a country like Nepal, characterized by diverse geographical and socio-cultural traits, a central university in Kathmandu does not fulfill the demands of different regions of the country effectively. Further, the central university, TU is not only overloaded and unmanageable but is also riddled with innumerable problems. The administrative system of TU is heavily centralized, so administration of constituent campuses is virtually dependent on the central administration of TU. Even for some minor decisions, very little authority has been given to these campuses, sometimes even for a minor case hampering administration for several days. Therefore, it is the right time to reduce the burden of TU for its better management opening new universities in different parts of the country where the conditions are viable. The existing university of Pokhara, Pokhara University, a community-based university with comparatively expensive fee structure with limited faculty and programmes does not fulfill the need of the region.

The policy of the government is also to decentralize the higher education creating universities in different parts of the country. In the event of restructuring of the state, Pokhara will definitely be the headquarter of the proposed federal state. The education sector as in practice in federal government system comes under the jurisdiction of the state. In fact, the demand for a university will be the first priority in the sector of higher education of the proposed federal state. As university helps a large sector of the society access to higher level of learning and research, the people of this region would be benefited. Besides teaching, university is also a centre of research activities. Establishing university will be a great help in identifying the potential areas for development at the local level, providing a platform for the balanced growth of the country. This will also help local participation in higher education.

For having a university in Pokhara, Prithvi Narayan Campus has established itself best suited for being a university from all quarters. It is one of the largest campuses in the country with around 12000 students and over 500 qualified faculty members. It has ample space for future development. In late 1990s, with support of the Higher Education Project (HEP), this campus was selected as the 'Lead Campus' of the regional cluster of the campuses of the Western Development Region. The regional cluster was an informal association of lead campus and other five constituent campuses of this region with another four private campuses and two higher secondary schools as associated numbers. The objective was to promote and develop Prithvi Narayan Campus as a future university in this part of the region.

As regards the kind of university, it is not certainly like of Pokhara University which despite the efforts of the people of Pokhara has come into a different form. A great deal of homework was done by the committee formed for preparing a proposal promoting Prithvi Narayan Campus as proposed university. The format was for a state-funding university in the line of TU but with a slight modification. The proposal was submitted to the Ministry of Education for its approval. But contrary to the expectation of the committee, Pokhara University was declared as a public support university, aborting the wishes of the people of Pokhara.

The university is recognized in terms of the quality that maintains in terms of teaching, research, its application and extension. Its quality is judged by the capabilities of its output because quality education always inculcates positive thinking into the minds of the students that make them independent, self-reliant and innovative. The product of a good university is an asset to the society that helps in addressing the needs of the society. A new, emerging university must prepare itself to its best level to project itself as an ideal university.

In Nepal, none of the universities, let alone TU, has been able to maintain the quality that is expected with a good university. Many reasons account for that: some relevant and some non relevant. At this point, the most crucial question about the proposed university is how and at what level we could achieve the level of quality that would put us at a better place than others. A new university must prepare a model itself for being a role to others. Ideally, a new university should have a distinctive nature, content and function. But how a proposed university whose base is rooted to its parent institution with inherited qualities would present itself something different for being ideal is a great challenge. We have to be something different from TU. Otherwise one finds no reason breaking away from the centralized university system.

I don't think at the present situation we wish to project ourselves completely different from TU. We are not a position to take a u-turn from the existing ways of functioning of the university. But there should be effort with commitment. The basic rule is to strictly follow and exercise the statute laid down for the functioning of the university. In my opinion, the following components demand improvements which are interrelated to each other. A slight deviation in one would have repercussion on others disturbing the state of growth of the university in achieving its target. I once again reiterate that it is not u-turn from our ways of existing functioning, but there are some rooms for improvements which I hope would make a difference in giving a new shape to the proposed university.

Let us start with the enrolment of the students. Quality and number of enrolment co-relate with each other. You cannot compromise quality with mass enrolment which is rampant in all the campuses of TU. We cannot go with the catchy slogan like “right to higher education” raised by the Student Unions. Is that relevant in the context of higher education? No doubt, in principle, it is arguable that opportunity should be provided to all but at what cost? Leave the subjects where classes could be conducted in mass. But just think of enrolment in the subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology in which over hundred students are enrolled at Master Levels; they work in a laboratory which is meant for an optimum size of thirty or forty. How many times a week, a student works in the laboratory? Does not it affect the quality of education at this level of teaching? In Sociology and Anthropology, every year over two hundred students are enrolled and it is mandatory for each and every student to write a thesis. With a limited number of faculty members how is it possible to supervise the theses of these students on time? Further, enrolment increased tremendously in a year when election for the student groups is held; some of them never attend the class except appearing for casting votes in election. This is the real ground situation prevailing in our university; a difficult one to be cubed out. For academicians, it is the time to make a move, either to persist with the ongoing situation or to initiate a bold step to come out of it. But for quality maintenance, a bold step is a must. In one way it sounds doing injustice to a large section of the students preventing them from joining a university for higher education but at the same time, we have to accept the fact that university's reputation lies in maintaining its quality to the desired effect. So, there is no other option left but to cut down the enrolment to the manageable size meeting the requirements of the concerned subjects; and for that the best way is to regulate the enrolment through entrance test.

Now what about the students left out of the enrolments for regular study in university? An option must be sought out and, for that the concept of “Open University” for which in Nepal, a number of preliminary home works have been done but nothing has come out of it so far. So it is the time to revive it. It is a must in expanding the opportunity to the students who fail to get admission in the university as regular students, plus it also opens the door for other people depriving of higher education for various reasons. Though its history goes back to mid 18th century, the University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its external programmes in 1858. And, since then is has spread to different parts of the worlds. This concept has made a strong base in the neighboring countries like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh that provides higher education to thousands of students of all ages and of different economic classes. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) established in 1985 with funding from the central government of India is a classic example, offering a wide variety of subjects of choice to the desired people. Lessons are delivered to the students through radio, television, internet, other electronics media and postal service. The degrees offered by the open universities are recognized.

In Nepal, the Faculty of Education under TU has been running this kind of programme as “Distance Education” for the last five years with success. Thus, why not to expand it in a broader perspective, which encompasses students from different disciplines. With building a good network of communication system, this can be effectively implemented in Nepal.

Nowhere in any part of the world are grades 11 and 12 a part of the university education. But we still carry it despite that fact that the government has categorized grades 11 and 13 as part of high school education and there is a separate board "Higher Secondary Education Board” (HSEB) formed by the Government of Nepal to manage it. In Tribhuvan University, this level is called Proficiency Certificate Level (PCL) which constitutes around sixty percent of the total students of TU. Actually, they are the senior-most high school students and principally they should be placed under HSEB.

The challenging part of the proposed university will be to disengage the PCL from its system, a move that TU has so far failed to achieve. It is not because attempts have never been initiated, but even the effort of Higher Education Project, with sufficient financial backing has been unsuccessful in achieving the target. So we have to think about it twice whether to persist with it or leave it out. If we carry it, the problems associated with it would be there as obstacles for the proposed university to get to its target. The situation is very complex particularly in view of the fact that without making a proper arrangement, their resettlement is at stake. Every year enrolment at this level is growing enormously despite opening of new higher secondary schools in a large number in different parts of the region. But the size and number of the existing higher secondary schools around the region with limited class size cannot be the substituted for their replacement. Further, the majority of the students coming from the poor families from the villages cannot afford the fee of these schools.

There is no place available to absorb them for their readjustment. Since it is a part of school education, it becomes the responsibility of the government to take initiative in resolving this issue with opening a higher secondary level school in the region with a size of absorbing a good number of students. If not, then the proposed university itself has to make some provision to adjust them within its own jurisdiction. The programme should be run as a pre-university programme under a separate management of the university, following the syllabus of the HSEB. Somehow, it sounds illogical, but if we want to project other proposed universities in a good shape, then there are no other alternatives but to accept it. The question is how long? Definitely, we cannot persist with it forever. There should be a time limit subject to the readjustment of these students outside the university campus by the government.

In our University system, we have a provision of three categories of teaching staff: Permanent, Contract, and Part-Time. Permanent teachers are appointed through the recommendation of University Service Commission and they are entitled to all the privileges granted by the university. Contract teachers are appointed on contract basis for a time period (normally one year). They get privileges subject to the conditions agreed upon on the contract paper. Part-Time teachers are hired on daily wages with no facilities.

The best thing for a university is to have as much as permanent teachers to meet the demand of the university. In case, if required, additional teachers should be hired but only on the contract basis. Only in a very exceptional case, a part time teacher should be hired. But in TU campuses, the picture is something different. The number of contract and part-time teachers is growing in large number compared to permanent teachers for the reason best known to all. And in many cases, the permanent teachers are being outnumbered by the contract and part-time teachers. This has posed a serious issue on the functioning of the university and this should be discouraged. Since the part-time teachers have no other options, they go outside taking classes in other campuses. But what about the permanent and contract teachers? They also follow the part-time teachers taking classes outside. Principally, an employee in a state-funding organization is not permitted to go outside for extra earning. Of course, it does not look nice, but the fault lies with the university itself since it has made a provision for the teachers to go outside with prior permission of the concerned authority. In practice, it is only in the paper and nobody cares to take permission. Against this background, personally, I see no fault with permanent teachers going outside, either having a permission or not, but they should be more accountable to their parent institution than others. What I feel is that it is because you are a teacher in the university, you have got recognition in the society as a good teacher and so are your demands in the private campuses. As per the rules and regulations of the university, going outside with prior permission is not a question of flouting rules and regulations, but definitely in my opinion, it is a question of split loyalty and accountability. Sometimes it so happens that your presence is mandatory exactly at the same time at both campuses and in that case on of the institutions definitely suffers. It is not good in the interest of either of the campuses. Therefore, for the interest of the university, permanent teachers and those who are in contract should be barred from teaching outside in others campuses.

The proposed university must take a judicious step in avoiding such practices that have marred the flawless functioning of TU.

Research activities from an important part of the university and all around the world the recognition of a university is judged by the quality of the research works carried out in that university. In the West, research funds are provided by the state to the universities depending on their quality of the work. We do not have this kind of provision in our county and at the present situation we do not expect such things to happen in the case of new growing universities.

So to start with, the new university should form a research institute with objectives to explore the areas of research in and around the region. There are still a number of unexplored areas, in physical and socio-economic fields, which are important for the overall development of the region. Various public and private organizations functioning in this region lack vital research information for reaching to the desired results. The university must develop a rapport with these organizations with a commitment to assist them academically to improve their quality of functioning. It would enable the local participation in identifying and resolving the local issues. The teachers and the students would be greatly benefited in enhancing their knowledge on the field of research work. This would be a great help to the university for mobilizing a substantial human and financial resources for improving their overall quality and of course, a recognition as a centre of research. This will help in building an environment for the teachers to devote much of their time in the university discouraging them from going outside for part time jobs.

The functioning of an organization depends on the good governance on part of their policy makers and administrators, and particularly in institutions like the university, universally known as autonomous; a body governs to itself independently. But in the case of universities in Nepal, does it hold true? Do top level officials are independent to work on their own without outside intervention? Absolutely not. Because in every sector of the university, from top to bottom, outside intervention is in evident particularly from the politics. One cries against it, but when opportunities come their way they obliged it. For appointing top level officials in universities, quality and capabilities are not considered, rather compromising with competence and abilities, members nearer to political parties are given preference. Accordingly, top portfolios are distributed among the political parties leaving behind other people who are more potential capable and competent. So, they are always under pressure to be obliged to their master. It is endemic in the educational institutions and everyone accepts it as a part of the system and this has damaged the credibility of the universities and other educational institutions in Nepal.

I do agree with all those academicians who have time and again expressed their concerns and anguish in writing with suggestions of corrective measures with an intention sending message to the political parties to keep universities away from political intervention for the betterment of the education sector in the country. Who to blame? Not to others, but to us, who being intellectuals so easily yielded to the interest of the political parties ignoring our dignity. So, for maintaining the autonomy, the university teachers must work as a team going against the prevailing political intervention to the extent of rejecting it outright. First we need to mend our mind-set only then we can mend others. For that we need to make a pledge with strong commitment that from now onwards there is no room for political intervention. Can we start being transparent in our functioning because transparency is the hallmark of good governance? To me, I think, it is very simple. Let us show our commitment that we are not associated with the political parties as an active member at least. For that we have to resign from the active or whatsoever of any kind of member that we have acquired of the political party so long as we serve at the university campus. If we could do it, and then it proves that we the family members are willing to go against the detrimental activities from the outside giving a clear message that we are committed to manage our house ourselves.

Once we get rid of the nagging problem of the political intervention in the functioning of the university, the university will get a new lease of life to go ahead to get its goal, brushing aside other minor problem.

Before opening a university, one of the most crucial aspects is how economically it is viable? Therefore, the financial management should be dealt with care and with an intensive analysis to find out the possible resources for the university. Because the budget from the government would be hard to come and that would be barely sufficient for the salary and general administration. So, there must be some efforts with a concrete plan in mobilizing the resources to meet the required budget. Even in the case of public universities in the USA, around 25 to 30 per cent of the total budget comes from the government, but this has to spend on the “vital core” such as faculty salaries, operating the university's various departments, the university police and so on, but it cannot be used for other activities including student’s programmes. For others, they explore research grants, donors, alumni, etc. however, they receive a substantial grant for the research, some top universities receiving grants worth millions of dollars. These grants are provided depending on their ranking among the groups and of course the quality of their research work. They also compensate with a good collection from the students fee.

In our context, this kind of budget we cannot expect from the government. So, first of all we must strive hard to prove ourselves worthy for receiving financial grants from the government. The university, as prescribed in the previous section is a hub of potential human resources saleable in the market, as a commodity, demanded for result-oriented purpose. We need to build an environment for the proper utilization of the faculty members in research work to extract financial assistance in return from the society giving our services.

The university should expand its territory beyond its geographical jurisdiction making linkage with other universities within and outside the county it terms of exchanging, teaching and research programmes. It should develop courses, something new from others to attract students from outside. Prithvi Narayan Campus and the Institute of Forestry, Pokhara, in late 1990s jointly had a similar programme operating in collaboration with the Michigan State University (MSU), USA. Under the Studies Abroad Programme of the MSU, the undergraduate students of MSU used to undergo one semester of their studies under the guidance and supervision of the teachers of Prithvi Narayan Campus and the Institute of Forestry, Pokhara. The students had to live with local hosts as paying guests in typical Nepalese environment. It was very popular among the students at MSU but had to abandon due to political disturbances in Nepal. Prithvi Narayan Campus, in return, has received a substantial logistic support for the library and other teaching materials. It had positive impact both at MSU and local institutes in Pokhara. What I want to make a point is that the university must present a programme, something that is saleable to the market bringing students from outside for the desired courses. If it gets popular, it would certainly contribute financial assistance to the university.

Normally, affiliation is granted only to the colleges falling within the geographical jurisdiction of the university. Besides geographical jurisdiction, a university must maintain a norm to affiliate colleges; and for that, courses of study should be developed by the expertise available in the university. In Nepal, how the new universities are giving affiliation to new colleges is a matter of discussion. Pre-requisite conditions for affiliation must be supervised and approved by the expertise of the concerned subject. There is no ground for compromise about it. Affiliation no doubt brings a good income to the university but it must not be commercialized. It is obvious that any departure from the moral ethics on part of the authorities of the university does erode the credibility of the institution.

As regards the affiliated colleges of the proposed Prithvi Narayan University, they must be within the specified geographical jurisdiction of the Pokhara region. Though relationships may be extended beyond the geographical boundary but not in the case of affiliation otherwise it invites a lot of unwanted problems. I want to cite the example of Pokhara University, a university based in Lekhnath Municipality in Pokhara valley. Of the total 46 affiliated colleges of this university, only 31 per cent are within the Pokhara region (Pokhara, Bhairahawa, Butwal and Nawalparasi) and with only 11 per cent at Pokhara Valley. The rest are outside Pokhara region, majority of them (52%) in Kathmandu valley. It has an office in Kathmandu and the major part of the examination work is done from this office, and generally, meetings are to be convened in Kathamandu to facilitate the members from Kathmandu, who are in majority. The result is that Pokhara University is virtually centralized in Kathmandu defeating the purpose of having a regional level university in Pokhara.

The Student Union has to play a significant role in the overall development of the university, because they represent a major wing of the university. Their responsibility lies in the welfare of the students, functioning as a coordinator between the students and the faculty members and administrators. However, in every region of South Asia, the Student Union represents one of the political parties of their country. In one way they are taken as the cadres of the political parties and the strength of the political parties relies heavily on the functioning of their respective student unions. There are so many instances, as the Student unions playing very significant roles working in union with the faculty members and administrators in growing and strengthening campuses in different parts of Nepal. Prithvi Narayan Campus is one of the examples where their role has always been commendable.

The main responsibility of the Student Union is to work for the welfare of the students creating and maintaining a healthy environment for regular and quality studies for their fellow colleagues. But they have to do it without compromising with the elements that affect the quality education. Sometimes, I personally feel sorry that how these students with positive thinking in the leadership sometimes do help the activities that hamper the quality of education. I just want to cite some very common events usually happening in public campuses: enrolment in public campuses never ends till the last date of the submission of examination form, mass enrolment during the election year of the Student Union with an intention for getting votes, some of whom never attend classes and they have nothing to do with regular studies, holding activities inside the campus premises with blaring loud speakers and thereby disturbing the classes etc. Strikes, confrontation, lock up, and gheraos are frequent, sometimes resulting in physical assault on the teachers and staff. Classes are suspended for weeks. Students have no other option but to go for tuition and classes so-called coaching centres. These activities are not in the interest of the welfare of the general students; some of them get worried not completing their studies on time for finding a good job to look after their families. Generally, economically disadvantaged students are hard hit by such activities as they cannot afford undue overstaying at the campus with limited budget. These activities have damaged the credibility of public campuses. Problems are many, of different nature and never ending till the condition of the country is stabilized. But we should be sensible, particularly in the matter of quality education, let us try to maintain a minimum standard level. Students have the rights to protest against any element that goes against the welfare of the students, but there needs a change in the mode of strike and protest. These activities should be carried out with restraint not beyond the limit of closing down the regular classes. In my opinion, it goes against the welfare of the students.

The word “university” itself refers to an institution of higher learning and a centre of research that signifies its eminence in the overall development of the region where it is located. It is breeding ground producing competent and capable manpower required for a country. Against this background, opening a university is indeed, a welcome move, but it must deliver the desired result to redeem the diminishing stature of the institute of higher learning. We have every hope that maintaining a good governance, the proposed Prithvi Narayan University will stand out a class above than others to the aspiration of its well wishers. If the university fails to achieve the result, it would be great catastrophe to the nation. Many of us would account it for the prevailing situation in the country, but we must take a lesson from Sri Lanka, where despite a prolonged strife in the country, it has maintained a steady growth in all sectors including education.

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