The existing curricula are lagging behind the pace of global changes

0
22

Prof. Dr. Sriram Bhagut Mathe, an architect, educationist and national/international consultant, Founder Chairperson of Nepal Education Foundation – Consortium of Colleges, Nepal (NEF-CCN), Founder Chairman of Xavier Academy (XA), Chairman of Kathmandu Don Bosco College (KDBC), International Team Leader of Several Education and TVET projects, Former Dean of Institute of Engineering (IOE), Tribhuvan University (TU), First Principal of St. Xavier’s College and Former Campus Chief of Pulchowk Campus, IOE, TU has contributed his more than four-decade long time to the education and consulting sectors in Nepal and abroad.

Prof. Mathe is passionate and committed to transforming the existing educational practices and believes in academic excellence and character-building. He has proven this passion in education throughout his teaching and professional career and through the various colleges that he is heading. He has shared his views on current status of education with College Readers. Excerpts.

  1. How would you describe your academic achievement, career prospects and your contribution to the academia of Nepal and abroad?

After completing my bachelor of architecture in June 1974, my professional life as an architect started in November 1974. I entered into the teaching profession in June 1975. While teaching, I was also practicing as an architect for various projects, including projects funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB). I was given the responsibility of program officer of architecture department of Pulchowk Campus, IoE, TU in 1977. Later on, I became the Campus Chief (Assistant Dean) of Pulchowk Campus, IoE, TU, and the first principal of St. Xavier’s College, and Dean of IoE, TU.

Along with like-minded friends, I started Xavier Academy, which is completing 25 years of academic excellence and total personality development on 1st of August 2022. I also became and I am still the Chairman of Kathmandu Don Bosco College. I was also the first founder Chairman of Asian Institute of Technology and Management (AITM).

I started working as an international consultant from 1997 and have successfully completed 8 education and TVET projects funded by ADB and WB, from 1998 onwards, in Cambodia as the International Team Leader. I am currently the International Team Leader of 2 ADB and AFD funded TVET projects in Cambodia.

My contribution to the education sector in Nepal and education/TVET sectors in Cambodia and in several countries in S. E. Asia and East Africa has spanned more than 48 years.

  • As a flag hoister of Private University, why do you feel its need in the country like Nepal?

The number of Nepalese students going abroad for studies has increased significantly over the past 2 decades. In Australia alone, there were 52,000 Nepalese students studying in October 2019, before the covid-19 pandemic. From January to April 2022, nearly 9,000 students were granted Australia visa. In March alone, there were 4,788 offshore student applications from Nepal compared to 3,930 from China and 3,483 from India. In USA, another popular destination for students, 13,000 students enrolled in 2019. Ministry of Education has stated that there are some 300,000 Nepalese students studying in around 69 countries in the world. The quality of education in some of these countries is lower than that of Nepal.

It has been reported that the outflow of foreign currency in 2018 was almost Rs. 40.09 billion, which was 19.7% more than the previous year. Many of these students going abroad will never return to Nepal. This is a colossal loss of precious human resources and will impact negatively on the long-term development of the country.

The quality of education of the existing public universities is much to be desired due to the extreme politicization at all levels, starting with political appointees to the top posts in the universities, as well as politicking amongst the faculty, staff and students. Therefore, the curricula offered are mostly outdated and are not keeping pace with the frenetic pace of development and is not responsive to the demand by society, and by the private sector.

Public universities are happy to affiliate private colleges as they generate significant revenues from each of the students of the private colleges. This source of income will dry up if the government allows private universities to be set up. Therefore, there is complicity amongst the political leaders, bureaucrats and the senior management of the public universities, aided and abetted by the political aligned faculty, staff and student unions, to resist the liberal policies, which will allow private universities to be set up.

Given the above scenario, there is an urgent need for a total overhaul of the existing education policies so that good private universities, which comply with agreed stringent standards and requirements, including proven academic track record, possessing a good pool of permanent faculty, enough land and high-quality buildings and facilities, can be established. These private universities, for their very existence, will be compelled to offer programs which are of equal or better quality than the reputed universities in the region. These private universities should be deemed-to-be universities, which cannot affiliate other colleges. By establishing these good private universities, both the outflow of students to foreign countries and the outflow of foreign currency will decrease making available badly needed foreign currency for better economic purposes. Furthermore, these universities can also attract foreign students and generate the much-needed foreign currency. Most importantly, the students who study in Nepal are likely to stay back and contribute to the country’s development.

  • You tried very hard to establish Sagarmatha Private University; however, you could not get the required support from the government. What were the obstacles which did not allow you to realize your dream up setting the first truly private university?

The main obstacle is the short-sighted education policies of the political leaders and bureaucrats who do not want private universities to be established as this will dry up the source of income to the public universities from affiliated private colleges. Furthermore, the upgrading of private colleges to deemed-to-be private universities will also depoliticize the educational institutions, which are currently used by most of the political parties for political recruitment, for arm-twisting, gheraos, bandhs and for political brain washing.

The decision-makers need to think beyond their short-sighted political agenda and think and act in the best interest of the country by putting the development of character and providing quality education to all citizens in the center of all decision-making. Just increasing accessibility to education is not enough in this very competitive, globalized world. Innovative and responsive programs, high-caliber faculty and modern and learning conducive environment cannot be provided by public universities due to the low-level of public funding. Private universities can fulfil this need. Good private universities will also foster intra-university competition and will also compel public universities to improve.

  • What are the limitations of existing university curriculum and courses of Nepal? How can it be made more practicable and applicable?

The existing curriculum is mostly outdated as changing the curriculum in public universities is a long-drawn process and is hampered by political resistance (emanating from resistance to change and maintenance of status quo by both politically aligned faculty and student unions) and political machination and manipulation by the politically aligned senior management and political leaders.

The curricula of all courses need to be periodically reviewed and reformed keeping pace with the demands of both the public and private sectors. As the global change is very frenetic, the curriculum needs to changed and improved as per the demand.

This is one more reason why private universities are needed. Private universities, which will have supposedly pure academic leadership, will be very flexible and responsive to the changing societal demands, unlike public universities.

  • Can private universities be complementary to government universities?

The government universities are needed to ensure that higher education is accessible and affordable. The cost of private universities is likely to be higher and could be inaccessible and unaffordable to some segments of the populace. Those who join the public universities must also receive quality education. For those who are financially weak and wish to join private universities, there is a need to make sure that private universities provide about 10% scholarships to the meritorious and deserving students as well as those meritorious students who are in need of financial assistance.

By establishing private universities, government can allocate more resources to public (government) universities to improve their facilities. The competition these public universities face from private universities will also help improve the quality of teaching-learning of public universities.

Both public and private universities are needed in a country like ours.

  • What are the international practices regarding private university?

Private universities are found in most of the countries of the world. By their very nature, private universities need to be flexible, responsive and provide quality education if they are to survive, compete and grow. The standards to be met by private universities need to be stringent; the approval process must be transparent and accountable; and their performance must be monitored to ensure that they are not focusing solely on profit.

            Even in a country like Cambodia, the Government has approved many private universities which are attracting large number of students.

            To ensure that private universities are not too money-minded, the private universities should be given the status of “deemed-to-be” universities so that they can focus on improving the quality of the programs they offer and not be distracted by increasing their income by affiliating other private colleges. After they operate for about 10 years and have proven their academic credentials, they could be empowered to affiliate other private colleges.

  • What steps should the government and universities take in minimizing the increasing outflow of ten plus two graduates to foreign countries for further studies?

Students go abroad for further studies for a variety of reasons including “quality of education”, “better job opportunities”, “higher income” etc. There are many push and pull factors. A major push factor is the fact that many interesting courses which cater to the students’ interest are not offered by public universities. Furthermore, the academic year is not fixed with a 4-year undergraduate course taking as much as 5 or 6 years.

At the very beginning, I have already stated that increasing number of students are going abroad for studies. The government and public universities should adopt liberal policies which will allow private universities to be established so that these universities can offer very innovative courses in an excellent learning environment. This will help decrease the outflow of students going abroad for studies.

I request the government to enact the “university umbrella act” and allow the establishment of private universities which meet the stipulated criteria.

  • What probability do you see to attract foreign students to study higher education in Nepal?

Nepal is not only one of the best nature-endowed countries in the world but also has a very good climate compared to neighboring countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If good private universities are allowed to be established in Nepal, the country could attract a lot of foreign students.

Given the right policies, Nepal could not only be a tourism destination but could also be a health and education destination.

The political leaders and bureaucrats have to be broad-minded and take decisions for the long-term development and benefit of the country and not take decisions based on short-sighted party and vested interests.

  • How can government and academia of Nepal retain intellectuals like you?

Intellectuals by their very nature, should not be restrained or constrained by short-sighted policies, which are formulated on the basis of political ideology and political pressure from faculty, staff and student unions. Intellectuality must be allowed to flourish. Because the country does not have the right policies, and as the country becomes more and more corrupt morally and financially, many people, including intellectuals, like me are being compelled to work in foreign countries.

It is a pity that I had to return to Cambodia to work again after 3 years of frustration trying to get new programs at the +2 level in Xavier Academy and at the undergraduate level in AITM and in trying to establish the first ever private Sagarmatha University.

I and many people like me are willing to put our own money to set up very good private universities. I have achieved a lot in my life. But, in spite of my age, I still nurture the dream of establishing a private Sagarmatha university. I do hope the government gives me the opportunity of establishing this university in Nepal. Otherwise, I will have to realize this dream in Cambodia, which has visionary leaders and encourage intellectuals to use their potential for the betterment and advancement of the country.

I hope and pray that the country gives us the opportunity to realize our dreams in our own countries and not in foreign lands,

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here