Monday, January 24, 2011

A failed university

Like most examinations conducted by Tribhuvan University (TU), the one for sociology (masters programme), at 10 constituent campuses across the country, has not taken place yet. Scheduled for November 2010, the paper was disrupted by union students at Pashupati Multiple Campus under the pretext that its questions did not come from the prescribed syllabus. Students at TU’s commerce faculty-Nepal Commerce Campus- too find timely examinations missing from their calendars, but at least they have a confirmed date after its postponement.  “We will be sitting for exams 20 months after enrolling in college,” says Sandeep Sharma, who will be attending his commerce exam on the last week of February. “It will take five years to complete a mere three-year programme.”

Despite being the oldest university in the country with regional and international recognition, TU’s standing today has fallen far behind its regional peers. “It was only a decade ago when the institution was reputable in South Asia,” says Tirtha Khaniya, educationist at the National Planning Commission. “But a dysfunctional academic calendar and lack of civility among union students has degraded the university to being centre for anarchy.”

Recently, members of the UCPN (Maoist) affiliated ANNISU(R) made TU officials succumb to their demands through physical threats- an exam scheduled for Dec. 6 was cancelled on the excuse that the parties were conducting internal elections. “This shows the domination of party members here and how fearful it is to work in the university,” Khaniya said. The protracted academic calendar of the university evidently has its roots in the excessive politicisation of student unions.

Politics has influenced the university since its establishment, and was prevalent in every period- from the panchayat to the democratic period post 1990. But with the coalition government in 2006, the main administrative positions of the university-that of the Vice Chancellor, the Rector and the Registrar- were made to be shared by different political parties, and remained vacant due to a lack of consensus between them. “TU had to operate without officials for a whole year as political parties failed to forge a consensus,” said education expert Bidhya Nath Koirala.

Pradeep Nepal of CPN-UML, during whose tenure as Ministry of Education the sharing of the posts took place, claims to have been against making them a field for power games, but that his efforts were futile at a time of coalition governance. “I agree that politicising these posts have had an adverse effect on academics, but pressure from the coalition parties left me with no choice.”

Ex Rector Mahendra Kumar Singh has a different take on the issue: “TU hasn’t been able to utilise its own resources due to political in-fights, and as a result has been dependant on the government for its finances. Until it is independent of the government in this aspect, the university will remain entrenched in politics,” he says. “But student politics is not a bad thing because it inculcates political consciousness and gives students the opportunity to have a social movement of their own.”

One wonders though, how a students’ movement lacking autonomy from mother political parties can be of any value to enhancing the academic experience in the university. In her essay ‘Student Movements in Nepal’, Amanda Snellinger argues that a social movement needs to engage in politics, but should not get bogged down in partisan politics. “For this reason, it should remain free of the grips of those who have other investments that may stymie the movement’s ultimate visions,” Snellinger writes, and cites evidence of student organisations not only being sister organisations of political parties, but also institutionalised to mobilise groups for protest whenever the parties need them.

“Indoctrination and recruitment are legitimately sanctioned duties of all the student organisations and there are set processes of clientelism and coercion within the universities in order to recruit students not only on to party rosters but also on streets during protests,” she writes, making her case that “student politics in Nepal are party machinations that exploit the metaphor of social movements.”

Politics, however, has poisoned other areas of the university too- the number of hired lecturers last year doubled to a total of 1,380 due to unchecked hiring of political affiliates.  The division bench of justice, Bharat Raj Upreti and Bal Ram KC, issued an order in the name of TU and the government on Feb. 22 2010 to stop the hiring of political affiliates and fill vacancies through open competition instead, but TU has not been able to implement it.

Additionally, a majority of lecturers garner a reputation for being derelict with their duties and breaking rules of the TU statute which prohibits them from working in senior positions in other institutions. Lecturers and employees in several private colleges in the Valley are known to be from Tribhuvan University. Ironically, on Dec. 4 2009, officials at the university increased the tuition fees five-fold despite of the lack of manpower.

This incident circled back to triggering violence among students, for union members manhandled some campus chiefs upon being denied of their demands to roll back the fee hike-a contemptible act considering that campus chiefs do not have the power to implement such demands. Resignation of campus chiefs of 10 Valley based campuses on Aug. 17, 2010 was a consequence of these threats.

Tribhuvan University has clearly failed as an institution with campus chiefs resigning, teachers working elsewhere, and students turning into mere appendages of political parties. Besides these incidents, the university does not make the slightest case for research and publishing or even maintaining an academic environment. Academics is namesake as most of the curriculum remains unrevised for years, and student satisfaction is at an all time low.

Students dissociated from the unions usually bear the brunt of the political mess- the hardest hit being the ones declared as having failed the annual exams. The effect of the university’s apathy is apparent among students, and many voice their frustrations: “Tribhuvan University is not going to make me a competent graduate,” says a disenchanted student. “Student politics has ignored the value of education and completely wasted my time here.
source: The Kathmandu Post