Federal Constitution Focus On Restructuring Education
There is a need to study and suggest ways and means on the prospective orientation, arrangements, mechanism and modus operandi of education in the country. This has become an imperative due also to the fact that the country has braced for a federal polity to shed its past of a centralised unitary state structure and administrative organisation.
Issues of education
Indeed, several issues related to education have to be thrashed out both in conceptual and operational terms in this context. And the terms of reference of the planned commission should, among others, lay out a concrete design on the specifics of the scheme on education as stipulated in the new constitution.
The new Constitution of Nepal 2015, promulgated and enacted just six months ago (September 20, 2015), has reorganised the country into seven provinces as part of the much-touted scheme of federal restructuring of the state. The provinces incorporate the existing six to eight districts into and within their territorial ambit and jurisdictions. And, according to the new basic law of the land, the provinces will have their own government (Pradesh Sarkar), parliament (Pradesh Sabha) and judiciary (Uchcha Adalat) to exercise governmental authority allocated in a separate list by the new federal constitution.
However, the constitutional allocation of authority among the three different layers of the government lacks specificity and clarity. To take a case, the subject appertained to education has been allocated in the respective competency lists, devised for the federal (central), local government and concurrent list. The provincial government is mandated to execute the function on science and technology, and human resources development, too.
The functional jurisdiction on education overlaps and generates ambivalence because it is allocated or distributed among the different tiers of the governments from the central to the local. For example, according to schedule 5 of the Constitution that sets forth the areas of functions for the federal (central) government, the competency of the central university has been allocated to the central government. Similarly, the competency of the provincial university and higher education has been put forth as the function of the provincial government, too.
In the existing scenario, all the universities, namely Tribbhuvan University, Nepal Sanskrit University and other universities like Purbanchal University and Pokhara University and so on are governed and financed by the state though private sector participation in higher education, and have been enabled and allowed to acquire a dominant position. The fate of these universities fed and financed by the government so far has to be decided whether these will be retained with the centre or transferred to the provinces.
Since the concept of a central and provincial university has been introduced in the new constitution, what yardstick will be put in place to mark out the differences between
the two types and categories of universities needs to be seen. This categorisation into central and provincial universities has its resemblance with the design and set up in India, where the prestigious colonial era universities in Kolkata, Allahabad, Mumbai, Madras and so on had been transferred to the purview of the respective state governments. These state universities that had acquired a high degree of reputation and prestige for their quality and educational standards in the past have been currently thrown into a mess and degradation, especially due to political meddling and underfunding.
The Union Government of India set up new central universities like Jawahar Lal Nehru University, established credible and competitive institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM). Moreover, the Government of India recognised and took upon the responsibility of running such special universities like the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the Biswa Bharati University established by Rabindra Nath Tagore and so on.
Economically resourceful and bright students tend to opt for pursuing their higher studies in the central universities in India whereas others join the state-run universities that are struggling and hard pressed to maintain their academic standards and integrity. Since the federal (central) government has to undertake the role in investing its resources and lay focus on the strategic area and subject of education, the existing conventional universities that have allowed to degrade in terms of academic standards and quality due to sheer political meddling can be designated as a provincial university through transfer of their assets and finances as India did.
The federal government rather should invest in new cutting edge institutes and universities of excellence focused on science and technology, social science research and development. Unlike the present government that is entangled and enmeshed in the higher education imbroglio of its own making, the new provincial government leadership could bring in fresh and innovative ideas to revamp and run the transferred universities in a competitive spirit and zeal with a view to attracting bright students and faculty members in their respective provinces.
New areas of investment
The devolution and transfer of the existing universities, designating them as provincial ones, will not only constitute a bold step according to the principle of subsidiarity but will also absolve the federal government of the unnecessary burdens and responsibilities This will leave ample scope to set sight on fresh and frontier areas of knowledge development.