On the Bill for establishment of Nepalgunj University, 2067

(This is an excerpt of opening remarks given by Dr Bipin Adhikari as Chairperson of Nepal Constitution Foundation at the bill review programme on the Bill of Nepalganj University Act, 2067 (2011) organised on January 29, 2012 in Nepalgunj)

Nepalese higher education until recently was a success story. This decade is not impressive at all. There is little that the country can show how it has made progress in supporting excellence in higher education and widening access to it, and how these have proved to be complementary and mutually reinforcing in Nepal's context.

The university education in Nepal is crumbling. There are problems of management, problems of infrastructure, and problems of forward looking strategies. The research bases of the universities are almost breaking. New research citations are increasingly difficult to see in the universities. Unemployed graduates are increasing more than ever. They have the degrees but not the required level of knowledge and skills. There is said to be increasing trend among students to go abroad to pursue graduate or undergraduate education. Even in such sectors where there are plenty of opportunity in Nepal like engineering and management, people have the tendency to go abroad. The quality of education back home is in doubt. Too many economically poor people with the ability to benefit from higher education are still not entering the system. Access to higher education remains significantly correlated with parental income and wealth.

In fact, investment in higher education has not paid significant dividends. It is not clear what the economic output of university education is and how it is contributing to the national GDP in Nepal. Even the oldest university of Nepal like Tribhuvan University and the leading research centres have a downward trend. There is little encouraging developments in transforming institutions which were expected to pursue excellence in particular fields and build creative links to local communities and businesses around the country.

The success of any university is rooted in the infrastructure available to it, the management and leadership provisions, and organization culture, as much as a commitment to institutional autonomy within a framework of shared values and goals. They must be freed to define their strategies for achieving core national priorities, innovating and adapting to new ways of serving students and contributing to the national life. The challenge is to maintain the progress that has been made, and look forward for progress and innovations.

The country has to think the university education in the context of knowledge economy. In a knowledge economy, universities are the most important mechanism for generating and preserving, disseminating, and transforming knowledge into wider social and economic benefits. They are crucial, too, as the providers of life chances for individuals in an environment where skills and the ability to apply those skills are essential preconditions for employment. Meeting these challenges is made all the more important by the current economic circumstances and the need to renew the economic base. Universities have a vital role to play in that process. But the constraints on public finances make it impossible to sustain the growth in public spending on universities seen over the recent years.

This is by no means the only change in circumstances which universities face in Nepal. Demography, advances in technology, the increasing importance of knowledge and intellectual property and the increasingly international nature of so many activities including education itself are all altering the nature and form of higher education. Universities have not been able to be part of global educational networks and they have not gained from the development of such links.

The Bill for establishing Nepalgunj University, as any other Bill pending in the parliament, must be looked into in this light. This Bill has been drafted with the purpose of providing quality higher education services in arts, sciences, medicine, management, education, technical and business studies. It intends to target the public of previously unattended areas of the country for the supply for able manpower to help the overall development of the country. It also intends to promote clear, responsible and effective academic environment.

Section 3 of the Bill establishes the University with the aim to conduct studies and research in arts, science, medicine, law, management, education, technical and business fields. It shall be based in Nepalgunj and the existing colleges under Tribhuvan University (Mahendra Multiple Campus and Nursing colleges) shall be used as bases of this University. Section 4 provides that this University shall be an autonomous organized body with separate legal personality.

Section 5 provides the structure of the University consisting of - Senate, Academic Council, Executive Council, Service Commission, Departments, Research Centre, Education Council, Campus and other agencies as specified. Section 6 provides for the office-bearers of the University - chancellor, deputy-chancellor, vice-chancellor, chairman of university service commission, registrar, dean, director, campus chief and others as specified.

Section 7 provides for the formation of the senate under the chairmanship of the chancellor. Section 8 provides that the senate shall meet at least twice a year and over fifty percent of the members have to be present to fulfill the quorum. Section 9 lists the functions, duties and powers of the senate which include policy making, directing campus agencies, formulating rules, evaluating university agencies etc.

Section 10 provides for the formation of academic council chaired by the vice-chancellor. Section 11 provides for the functions, duties and powers of the academic council which include setting the curriculum, specifying examination, academic and admission standards etc. Section 12 provides for the formation of the executive council headed by the vice-chancellor. Section 13 provides for the functions, duties and responsibilities of this council including executing the decisions and directions of the senate, presenting annual budget, progress report, setting student fees, presenting draft of university rules to the senate etc.

Section 14 provides for the formation of departments of arts, science, medicine, law, management, education and other subjects as specified. Sections 15, 16, 17, 18 provide for research centre, education council, campus and curriculum development centre respectively. Section 19 enables the University to affiliate privately established campuses.

Section 20 provides that regardless of any prevailing law, the university can include as its own any campus which exists as an organ of another University. The faculty members and staff are normally shifted under the new University unless they are unwilling to. The University can also affiliate any campus which previously was affiliated to another University provided such campus applies for such affiliation.

Section 21 provides for the formation of the service commission headed by a person nominated by the chancellor. Section 22 provides that the prime minister of the country shall be the chancellor of university. Section 23 provides that either the minister or the state minister for education shall be the assistant-chancellor. Section 24 provides that the vice-chancellor shall be the chief person working full time in the University with the tenure of four years. The vice-chancellor is responsible for executing the decisions and directions of the senate.

According to Section 30 the vice-chancellor, chairman of the service commission or the registrar can be removed by the senate in reference to the report submitted by the investigation committee set up by the chancellor.

Section 34 enables awarding of honorary titles. Section 35 enables reservations for women, marginalized communities and disabled. The University is to work under the education policy of the government of Nepal. The University is financially independent but will require the permission of the government in case it intends to employ any person which will financially burden the government. The University shall contact the government through the Ministry of Education. Section 42 provides for the dissolution of the University by the government if by any reason the University is unable to run.

The Bill is not a unique instrument as such. It had been drafted keeping in view the Tribhuvan University Act 2049 (1992), which more or less provides the standards for universities legislation drafted subsequently. This Act itself was based on the Tribhuvan University Act, 2028 (1971). The original Act was promulgated in 1959. There is little innovation in the Bill in terms of structure and ideas. The major comment of the Bill is therefore not what it provides for, but what it has been ignored. One such glaring example is how the university organization ensures that it addresses the issue of inclusion in its top management has not been handled well. Similarly, even though the Bill has a firm background of social movement in Nepalgunj and adjoining regions, there is little in the Bill how it ensures ownership of the movement in the legal regime that has been created.

The greatest impediment to this Bill is the proposed Bill to Amend and Consolidate Higher Education Laws, 2067, an umbrella Act which seeks to govern all the higher education institutions by nullifying all other pre-existing university related laws in this field. Regardless of the fact that the proposed umbrella Act has been highly criticized for its centralizing tendency, if that Bill is enacted, then this new Bill will be rendered useless. It is inconceivable that in an age of academic freedom and plurality of institutions, the government is thinking of a uniform university statute the way companies statute were thought of in the past. Even if it is assumed that there is space for such a move, it must be pointed out that universities should continue to be allowed under specific charters (statutes).

There are some other Bills intending to establish other higher education institutions are in the house. There are proposals to institutionalize Kathmandu School of Law as a university. Some advocacy groups are defending the Bill providing for Rajarshi Janak University at Janakpur. The Bill has not moved further in the parliamentary process. This has occurred due to changes in government in quick succession. This has led to confusion with regard to the future of higher education in Nepal and the growing politicization of higher education sector.

While local sentiments for the Bill must not be ignored, it is important to consider whether the University to be established by this Bill adds value to the education sector in Nepal. If not, then the Bill must be reformed before taking any action on it.

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