Recipe to reform education sector

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Political intervention has paralyzed every arena of Nepal today, and academic sector is one of those areas where political meddling is at its worst. The government ought to recruit at the top level of all universities outstanding and visionary academic personalities who can become great assets for those institutions.

The system whereby the ex-officio Prime Minister serves as the chancellor and Education Minister as pro-chancellor in the universities is absolutely wrong is one factor that has increased political interference in the education sector. This provision must be replaced by a system where an academic expert takes up the position of chancellor or president of the university.

Interestingly, the need for this change was also echoed by then PM and chancellor of Kathmandu University KP Oli himself. While addressing the Silver Jubilee function of the university in Dhulikhel earlier this year, he said that the “drama” of appointing PM as chancellors should end. He also promised to take initiatives to end the system by forming a mechanism in coordination with the government, education ministry and universities. Similar opinion was expressed by former Education Minister Pradeep Nepal about a decade ago in the 14th anniversary of University Grant Commission (UGC). He said that the PM should not be the chancellor because he or she is not an academic expert.

Indeed, the practice of appointing PM as chancellor can indeed be termed drama-like as Oli said. Educaiton institutions in most countries around the world are independent of political have this system. To make our own health and education sector strong, we can consider several complementary prospects.

1. The most important initiative is to hand over the power of chancellor and pro-chancellor to someone from academic background with a vision, high ethical standards and courage.

2.  The second, and equally important, step is that all universities should move forward in empowering its own academic programs and should stop distributing affiliations of medical, engineering or other disciplines to private profitable sectors.

3.   The third step is to launch a tenure track system to hire faculties.

In addition to these three points, we need to focus on two other dimensions to improve our education system: External and internal. External includes the role of the government in policy making, creating a better environment and providing resources in its capacity; internal dimension includes good internal governance, attracting top talents by free, fare, open and scientific methods, and utilization of sufficient resources. Lack of any of these elements will make it almost impossible for our universities to meet international standards in academic pursuits. To attract talented faculties in our universities to meet these criteria, the best approach would be to launch a tenure track.

What is tenure track?

Tenure track is a “fixed-term” contract - usually 5 to 6 years - assured with a view of a permanent position (tenured) at a higher level only based on positive evaluation. In this process, faculty application – usually electronic application - is invited. After screening the pool of applications, only the best and selected candidates (5 to 10) are interviewed over the phone or video conference in the first phase of interview. The successful candidates (3 to 5) from the first interview are invited for on-site interview. The candidate will give a public teaching demonstration and/or research presentation in front of the students, search committee and other faculties. After a rigorous evaluation of his/her performance, research proposal, teaching philosophy, publications, and recommendation letters, the best candidate is appointed to the position, and to other subsequent candidates, if the he or she does not take the position. It takes about 6 months to 1 year to complete the hiring process. If they do not find a suitable candidate, the department or search committee has an authority to cancel or postpone the selection process for the following academic year.

Why is tenure track important?

The tenure track approach with a PhD (even better with a postdoc) not only acquires advanced knowledge in his/her field – especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) –but also can establish international scientific collaborations that can lead new projects. Furthermore, international collaborations can also lead to significant impact on research work, exposure to students and thus opportunity to transfer new skills. Possibility of such networking and collaboration is very unlikely possible to faculties without PhD degree and lack of international exposure. Therefore, it is very important to create a network hub for talented faculties, students, entrepreneur and people of all kinds.

(Neupane is an alumnus of Tribhuvan University and holds Ph.D. in Chemistry. He tweets at @koshalnp)

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