Tribhuvan University’s quest for a vice-chancellor stalled by political quandaries

Tribhuvan University -  Vice Chancellor

On November 5, after Tribhuvan University had been without a vice-chancellor for three days, Prof Dr Shiva Lal Bhusal was appointed as the acting vice-chancellor by the office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.

The appointment of Bhusal as the acting vice-chancellor for Tribhuvan University is limited to a three-month duration. To facilitate the selection of a permanent vice-chancellor, a search committee has been established, with Minister of Education, Science, and Technology, Ashok Rai, leading the committee’s efforts.

According to government regulations, the chancellor, who is the Prime Minister, is tasked with appointing the individual recommended by the search committee for the role of vice-chancellor. Despite this provision, the search committee has not initiated any procedures for the appointment as of now. Ministry sources suggest that the chancellor intends to delay the appointment of the vice-chancellor for a certain period.

On November 25, the position of a member of the Public Service Commission became vacant, and the position of Registrar will be vacant on December 25 and on March 19, the position of the Rector will also become vacant.

There are hints that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants to make appointments to all these positions together, relying on political consensus. This means it is highly likely that Tribhuvan University will not have a new vice-chancellor any time soon as the process is likely to take some time due to the prime minister’s preference for a synchronised approach to these appointments.

The effect of political affiliation

Tribhuvan University (TU) oldest university nepali universities FSU elections graduation programmes
Tribhuvan University central office. Photo: Shankar Giri

For nearly five decades, the chancellorship of Tribhuvan University was held by the King of Nepal. However, following the abolition of the monarchy in the aftermath of the 2006 People’s Movement, this responsibility was transferred to the prime minister.

The prime minister was made the chancellor to strengthen the connection between the government and Tribhuvan University, aiming to improve educational quality, empower the university, and advance in areas like financial resources and physical development. This move was accompanied by the creation of the University Grants Commission.

However, recently, the chancellor’s role in the university has been somewhat limited, primarily providing political leverage to the ruling party. With the prime minister not allocating time, the university has time and again faced budget delays. Officials from most universities, except Kathmandu and Pokhara University, report ongoing delays in conducting these important meetings.

Individuals appointed based on political affiliations also share the sentiment that the system of appointments by the prime minister needs reform. Prof Dr Dharma Kant Baskota, a former vice-chancellor appointed when the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party was in government, expresses concern about the extreme politicisation of Tribhuvan University. He suggests that restructuring the government’s role is necessary to address this issue, emphasising that when the prime minister is occupied with government affairs, sufficient attention is not given to the university.

In all universities across the country, including Tribhuvan University, the chancellorship is held by the prime minister, the pro-chancellorship by the Minister of Education, and there’s a legal provision for appointing the vice-chancellor as the chief administrative executive.

The chancellor holds the authority to appoint key officials such as the vice-chancellor, registrar, rector, and others. However, there is a prevailing practice where the prime minister leverages this authority to appoint university officials in alignment with his and the ruling parties’ interests. This practice has expanded to include appointments at the head and deputy head levels for various campuses in recent times.

An employee of Tribhuvan University says that the effect of this can be seen in the smooth operation of Tribhuvan University. According to him, the then Chancellor KP Sharma Oli appointed a person close to him as the vice-chancellor.

When the vice-chancellor aligned the registrar and rector closely with the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party, no appointments were made from the Nepali Congress. Consequently, the student union affiliated with the Nepali Congress padlocked the university for 407 days over a span of four years. During this period, incidents of vandalism of university property and even physical assaults on a teacher occurred as expressions of protest.

“The reason for all this is the prime minister being a politician and not a chancellor,” says a staff at Tribhuvan University.

He argues that because officials are appointed based on political power, their allegiance is more inclined towards the political party rather than working for the development of the institution.

“If the chancellor was from the academic background and appointed by the broad of trustees, these things would rarely be seen. Currently, everyone wants to be involved in politics here,” says the staff on condition of anonymity.

Similarly, Chhatra Karki, the president of the Tribhuvan University Employee Association, advocates for a change in the government structure to put an end to the politics of partisanship at Tribhuvan University.

“To free universities from the political whirlpool, the provision to appoint the prime minister as the chancellor of the university must be revised,” he says.

Need for change

Tribhuvan University

According to a professor at TU, the positions of various officials have been vacant for months as the chancellor of the university is focused on political participation rather than on academic improvement.

“The day when officials are appointed on time at the TU is the day when I will believe things have changed,” he says.

The professor says that the leadership system under the chancellor, who lacks an understanding of the university’s sensitivity, has misled TU and other universities in the country.

According to Shyam Raj Ojha, the president of the Free Student Union of Tribhuvan University Central Campus, a proposal to reconsider the system of appointing the prime minister as the chancellor was raised during the senate meeting. He argues that having the prime minister as the chancellor results in losses rather than gains for the university.

Five years ago, a High-Level National Education Commission submitted a report emphasising the necessity to alter the government structure where the prime minister serves as the chancellor.

The government-formed commission was tasked with analysing the prevailing situation in Nepal, offering recommendations for education development measures, guiding transformations in the education sector, and laying the groundwork for the development of a socialist-oriented economy in line with the constitution’s vision.

The High-Level National Education Commission, comprising 24 members, was established by the Cabinet decision on July 6, 2018, under the leadership of the then Minister of Education, Giri Raj Mani Pokharel. After thorough research, the commission presented a report with recommendations. One key suggestion in the report proposed a change in the current system, advocating for the selection of the vice-chancellor through the Board of Trustees rather than the prime minister.

“Since the chancellor of Tribhuvan University becomes a political figure, there has been a misuse of political and party interests within the university,” says former vice-chancellor, Prof Dr Kamal Krishna Joshi, “Therefore, having political leadership as the chancellor is not conducive to improving Tribhuvan University. Due to political leadership, incorrect political practices have infiltrated the university.”

He suggests promptly amending the law, forming a Board of Trustees, and appointing an academic figure as the chancellor.

The benefit of political appointments

Appointments to university positions based on political affiliations are alleged to come with financial benefits, raising concerns about potential economic gains for the appointed individuals, be it in the role of the chancellor or within associated political parties.

“These appointments are connected with the power of political parties. Criticism is reduced when one is in the leadership of various bodies, either individually or as a party member, and the party gets support to demonstrate power when necessary,” says Ojha.

Therefore, he says that the chancellor has created a means of accumulating power by appointing his own people to the university.

According to educationist Prof Dr Bidya Nath Koirala, most political leaders cannot tolerate criticism and want officials who work according to their interests rather than having officials working in the institution as a place to produce academic and critical manpower.

Koirala says that the chancellor should be an academic person and adds, “The prime minister of the party is appointing party officials whose interests match his own and deploying them according to his interests.”

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Rai is an Onlinekhabar correspondent.

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