Crumbs of bread

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One was expected to secure a scholarship for pursuing technical studies immediately after Intermediate Science (I Sc) during 60s as there were no engineering or medical colleges then unlike now. The scholarship program was generally referred to as “plan”, shortened version for “Colombo Plan” under which such scholarships were offered. The premise of Colombo Plan was primarily related to human resources development and the concept was formally endorsed during the Commonwealth Conference of Foreign Ministers meeting, held in Colombo in January 1950 between a group of seven (Britain plus Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand and Pakistan). But the hidden intent was countering threats of communism and consequently USA became the major donor funding the Colombo Plan.

Nepal benefited from Colombo Plan scholarships especially in fields related to engineering and medicine. The selection primarily was based on grade along with an interview with the selection panel of five or so members. The first ever chairman of the panel was Sardar Narendra Mani Dixit, believed to be country’s first ever Foreign Secretary. It was chaired by educationist legend Amrit Prasad Pradhan after him. It was to Nepal’s benefit that not just USSR but even China offered scholarships in large numbers possibly as a counter measure against Colombo Plan.

But something different happened around 1964-65 with Nepal offering Zonal Scholarships based on its own funding, each zone getting two civil (BE) and one MBBS seat. As a result 28 engineering and 14 medicine scholarships were awarded. The exam grades were important, but this was less so, for remote regions as there were a few aspirants and fewer with better than average grades. In other words, the state took enormous risk on candidates from such regions that they would not get a chance otherwise.

There were plenty of teething troubles starting with delayed dispatching, in tune of over a month, to selected college across India because of which some seats reserved in the government run colleges were shifted to expensive private colleges. It was hard convincing Kathmandu as it had to pay comparatively higher fees. Some students bore the first year fees on their own, as college would not let them sit in exam otherwise. Further, Singha Durbar needed to be constantly pestered through posts to dispatch scholarships in time.

Among the candidates, there is one noticeable case that stands out. Coming from the far western region he had a relatively poor educational background. But he was fortunate enough to have been selected even then. Possibly, there were no other candidates or if at all, none with better results than his. Many of his friends, talking behind his back, even betted that he will not end being a doctor. It was quite common for students in medical colleges to flunk several times in the second year unable to master the voluminous Gray’s Anatomy. Percentage passing, in the very first attempt, was said to be about 20. To the biggest surprise, he ended being one among the first attempter in every exam and completed the course well within the stipulated period. He went on to earn MD from AIIMS in Delhi later. Wonder what he would have ended being had it not been for the scheme. Perhaps, there are more of such stories with an unassuming student proving everybody wrong under challenging circumstances and new environment.

It was indeed a noble daring in trying to fund 42 scholarships and that too during the early days of Panchayat system. Among the assistance aimed in jumpstarting Nepal hydropower potential was one funded for the Karnali. UNDP had supported with 50 scholarships per annum for full five years with the said project nowhere in sight!   

Fast forward to the present, Nepal government has no say whatsoever in the manner the selections are carried out these days. It is natural that there is too much pressure for the parents wishing to provide best of education to their children while scholarship numbers have nosedived.

There are quite many engineering and medical colleges in the country these days. But driven by vested interests, most seem to have descended to deplorable level. This seems to be largely true for medical colleges but engineering ones are not said to be far behind either. As it is with any badly supervised produce, the output is there but in numbers alone. In such an environment it becomes difficult to trust home-grown institutions, and parents, though unwilling, are compelled to send their children away.

Strangely, people in higher political level or even bureaucrats, for that matter, seem to get such problems solved without making much ripple. And commoner gets to know about this in an oblique way, as with a high-level nuptial news in the recent past. It is no secret that this gets done when people stoop low for few crumbs of bread. What an irony that we trust such bunch to stand up for the country!

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