In the Nawalpur district of the Gandaki province, academics are assembled to talk about what they call their dream project. Having seen how poor the state of universities in Nepal is, these academics who have studied in top universities in various parts of the world are talking about establishing a new university. They want their dream, Nepal University, to be different from other universities in Nepal in all forms.
At the forefront of the project is Kedar Bhakta Mathema, an educationist and former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University. He says they want this project to be a success as they want to set up a foundation for the coming generation so that they do not have to suffer what the earlier generation has.
“I’m excited about this project as is everyone here. I’m hopeful this will be a success,” says Mathema.
To move the project ahead, over 40 academics from various fields met local politicians and elected representatives from Nawalpur, where they plan to set up the university. They discussed the challenges, opportunities and goals of the university along with sharing the design and what they aimed to achieve with this project.
Over a dozen such discussions have been held since the project was envisioned over four years ago in which they have met national and international stakeholders, local representatives and national and international academics.
The designer of the project, Dr Arjun Karki, says these consultations are necessary for such a mega project to be a success. He says that Nepal University will be a place where students will get more than just bookish knowledge. They will learn about skill development along with developing a conscience that will be important for Nepal in the long run.
“We want to discuss things without prejudice and create a place of learning for all. For that, we need to have discourses with everyone involved,” says Dr Karki.
Present at the discussions were lecturers and professors who have envisioned such a university for years. Arjun Karki, Pratyoush Onta, Dr Anup Subedee, Pramod Dhakal, Chaitanya Mishra, and Krishna Kumar Pandey were a few notable names present at a recent meeting.
“We’re on the right track,” said veteran civil society leader Devendra Raj Pandey at the meeting, adding to start such an ambitious project, every academic in the country should be consulted.
Pandey is over 80, but he spoke with energy and enthusiasm as if he was still in his prime. That seemed to motivate every other academic present at the hall. Academics and locals were divided into different groups; all of them discussed the same topic and came up with a conclusion which was then discussed by everyone.
Even though there were many positives, the academics mentioned that they might suffer initially as they lacked political support. But, that was seen as a positive thing as it would mean that the university was impartial and would be free from political appointments that Kathmandu and Tribhuvan universities normally see.
Importance of the discourse
Academics present at the recent discussion said through the Nepal University, they wanted to create enough human resources for Nepal. They said current universities were poor in so many aspects, and critical thinking at the leadership level was lacking throughout the country. They wanted to fill this gap and help take the country forward, they said.
They said it was important to hold a discussion on every aspect from law to development as discourses would help make the law and the project better. They also stated how the current universities were narrow-minded as they did not teach liberal intelligence that was needed in the modern world. They said the Nepal University would not be doing that as it aimed at creating human resources that understood Nepal and its languages, culture, geography, history, tradition and religion.
These academics are still looking for a proper framework on how to do this in today’s modern world.
Environmentalist Uttam Babu Shrestha says everyone knows it is going to be hard, but they are only talking about things that they can achieve now. “We want to achieve what we have said. That way, we want to set a precedent,” he says.
It is believed that a university plays an important role in creating think tanks and skilled human resources. However, in Nepal, that cannot be entirely true, say these academics.
“This discourse we held here is trying to do exactly that. Trying to find out why Nepal has not been producing skilled human resources and why it’s not been able to hold on to them,” says Karki, adding they want to create a model university that can be later be emulated by others.
Through these discourses, they also want to create a curriculum that will fill the gap in the Nepali education system as they are holding focused and meaningful discussions.
A former dean of the Kathmandu University‘s School of Law, Bipin Adhikari is also a part of the project. He says even though they know what they want to do, they still are not sure how to do it and that is why these discussions are necessary. He says these events teach what to do when there are hindrances along the way and come up with solutions.
“We can collectively come up with solutions to problems, which is important as new topics that we might have missed are also put forward,” says Adhikari.
Researcher Surya Raj Acharya, who is also a part of the team, says these discussions will help make people aware of what they are trying to do and achieve. “This is a model project and all model projects need these discussions to set a base and help us stop making wrong decisions which might hamper projects like these,” says Acharya.
The dream university
A lot of people are hopeful that Nepal University will be a success. Although people cannot predict the future, looking at the team, the framework, background, mindset and its foundation, people are hopeful.
There are a few reasons to be hopeful too. One of these reasons is Dr Arjun Karki who founded the Patan Academy of Health Sciences, who is associated with the project. His success with the Patan Academy of Health Sciences is giving people hope.
The project is also constantly consulting national and international experts to formulate a framework on how to do things.
“Nepal University is a dream of a number of energetic and passionate academics. We’re sure that we’ll leave a mark when we start this project,” says Devendra Raj Pandey.
The academics have already started discussing curricula too as experts from each field talk about the difficulties and challenges they might face while teaching these courses at the university.
But, it is not going to be as easy. Currently, four universities want themselves to get established in Nepal. But, none of these universities has held such discourses Nepal University is holding currently. Nor are they talking to local, provincial and central governments about it.
The director of the Heritage Management Department at the University of Ahmedabad, Nil Kamal Chapagain, says he joined the project because he was excited by the idea of such an institution.
“The people associated there have worked in reputed institutions across the world. They want to change the education system of the country and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he says.
Other universities in Nepal do claim they are different too. But, Nepal University is working to prove it is different. However, the academics do understand it will be a challenge to set them apart from the rest. To do so, they say they will be evaluating the mistakes done by universities so as not to repeat them.
The dream seems quite close as the central government’s Education Secretary Ram Prasad Thapaliya says it is possible to commence the university if there is a proper strategy in place. He says once a strategy is in place, the ministry can start efforts to draft a bill. Elected local representatives of the area have also pledged that they would be helping out in whatever way they could during the constriction of the university.
Until now, the academics have designed what the Nepal University will look like, held multiple discussions and formed a team of experienced academics. But, the real challenge starts now as an act is yet to be made. The good thing is that they have made a committee to look into this, but when the act will be made is anyone’s guess as the country does not have political stability.
For that to happen, these academics need political support. But, they have been stating from the start that they will not let politics interfere in the university so this, according to many, is going to be a huge challenge.
Another problem will be acquiring land, and Dr Karki is fully aware of what a big hassle that is going to be.
“We are aware this is not a simple task. But, we’ve dealt with a lot of challenges until now and are sure we’ll have to face even more in the future. That said, we’re not giving up,” says Dr Karki.
But, will it get students? Thousands of Nepalis leave Nepal for abroad for their higher education, as they do not think Nepal’s education is up to standard. This leaves them with a major problem of ensuring that students enrol in their university. What makes it even more difficult is the university will be established in Nawalpur, which is far away from the Kathmandu valley. This is sure to make it less attractive to students.
But, Dr Karki says he is aware of this and has plans in place of making the university attractive for students by bringing placement opportunities to students. He wants to make Gaindakot and Nawalpur an educational hub as they want to develop other areas as well.
“We want graduates from the university to work with us and become educators. Surely, a lot will go work in industries, organisations and businesses, but we also want them to become educators as it will help us shape the next generations of teachers in the country,” says Dr Karki.