Determined efforts are being made to convert the ‘resource-starved’ Tribhuvan University (TU) into a resource-rich university. All indications are that TU will before long pay its own bills without grants from the government. This means that TU and its 61 constituent campuses will rely on students, businesses, donations, endowments and other contributions to sustain themselves in the future.
In other words, poor students will be turned down by the admission gatekeepers and TU will become a breeding ground for dominant class culture in Nepal. Over and above everything else, imposition of a global English language dominated curriculum looms large. This will no doubt attack everything ‘old and orthodox’ in Nepal—all in the name of modernity and development.
The ongoing Second Higher Education Project (SHEP) funded by the World Bank and implemented by the University Grants Commission unveils this frightening picture which among other things seeks to convert TU into full fee-paying institution. If this happens, without a shadow of doubt, TU will become accessible only to privileged groups.
The aim is to replace state funding with tuition and loans from commercial banks. While the students will seek loans from commercial banks to get admission into TU, the university will increasingly look to improve its own revenues. This particular kind of reform seeks to make TU economically depended on the privileged class who can afford to pay high tuition fees. There are clear indications that the goal is to attract affluent families to higher education while leaving the poor at the mercy of commercial banks.
At a glance, the policy appears to move the university away from its traditional roots to a more modern base. The overall strategy appears to justify the state’s withdrawal from its responsibility to administer and finance schools and universities in Nepal. This neoliberal education reform, implemented by the government and funded (and ideologically defended) by the World Bank, calls into question the very meaning of the university as a meritocratic institution and its long-held vision of a national enterprise. Rather than conceptualizing the university as designed and managed within a national context for specific needs and goals of Nepal, the new vision of a university is to meet the technical needs of the global marketplace.
There is a tendency in Nepal to believe that a particular education model borrowed from the West will work wonders. Our scholars who should know better have kept mum.
Many of the new ideas being floated are reproduced and reinforced at the global level by supranational institutions. Consequently, what TU is or what its products should look like is determined at transnational level by transnational forces which are beyond the control of national policy regimes, politicians and educators. The implications of this for higher education in Nepal are significant.
The Nepali elite class is easily influenced by foreign donors and tends to believe in the superiority of the intelligence of foreign “experts”. In other words, they tend to derive meanings out of objects and people external to them. Arturo Escobar, best known for his 1995 book Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World rightly argues that people in Third World countries cannot think of their situations in terms other than those provided by the Western development thinking.
Currently a new vocabulary of education has been bandied about at seminars and conferences in Kathmandu. The latest one I attended in Hotel Himalaya was flushed with business concepts like ‘efficiency’, ‘marketability’, ‘effectiveness’, ‘performance’ and ‘productivity’. One of the speakers who called himself an “expert” argued that education in Nepal can no longer be confined within the bureaucratic organizational boundaries but should be governed by ‘market forces’.
Such gatherings, increasingly inaccessible to the local academic community considered ‘unknowledgeable’, are tailor-made for “Western experts” who are revered in Nepal like gods, the all-knower of universal truth. Their counterparts in Kathmandu, often schooled in American or European pop culture, have similar outlooks that reflect common thinking in the West.
Pedagogic debates in Nepal are confined to the questions of “which” is or “what” is better: private or public schools/universities? There is little or no resistance, nor any critical debate on the suitability of a particular model. But my concern here is different: I am countering the global studies and practice/discourse on schooling itself rather than arguing in favor (or against) a particular model. My intention is to critique its practice premised on the language of modernization that comes along with foreign aid and Western development thinking with certain assumptions while it completely overlooks issues of practicality and its usefulness in a particular context.
Professor James Ferguson, the author of Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order, argues when explaining his position on the debate surrounding global (globally oriented) studies, “There’s a kind of Western liberal commonsense used in social science to see realities surrounding Africa… it starts with a bunch of certainties, a bunch of assumptions…that we know how countries ought to be organized. They ought to be democracies; they ought to respect human rights; they ought to guarantee the rule of law; they ought to be at peace with their neighbors. And then you look at, say, a country in Africa and all you’re able to see is a series of lacks—of things that should be there but aren’t—a kind of impoverished understanding, I think, because you don’t really understand what is going on here.”
The ongoing effort to install a Western model of schooling in Nepal can be understood as a part of the larger national development project that aims to create in Nepal an industrialized, urban and ordered society moving in the same direction as US or Europe.
Premised on modernist thinking, education or siksha has continued to rely on one knowledge system, namely the ‘modern Western’, mostly originating in North America and Western Europe. The discourse on desh banaune (nation building) with similar provocative language infiltrates the country along with foreign aid. Probably in no country is the Western modernizing influence as strong and as dominant as in Nepal. Through its provocative language of business and markets, it seeks to marginalize and disqualify local indigenous knowledge systems and practices, cultures, religions and history of Nepal. It leaves no rooms for alternative rationalities to guide social transformation in the country.
Most Nepalis imagine that far away in the Northern hemisphere there is a world based on a particular type of schooling and capitalist outlook, a modern lifestyle they must strive for. It is a shame that even some Nepali scholars have advocated this line of argument. They are now calling for wholesale transplantation of models from places as diverse as Chile and Vietnam, Argentina and Guatemala. Some scholars even subscribe to a New Zealand model.
There is a tendency in Nepal to believe that a particular model borrowed from the West will do wonders. And there is little effort to expose the hollowness of modernist Nepali imagination of schooling among our scholars.
The existing development regime dubs Nepal as an imagined space of poverty, underdevelopment and disease. I argue that there is a need to disentangle ourselves from the North American and European thoughts. These very thoughts have led to a systematic decline of the rich diversity of Nepali cultures and Nepali ways of life.
The writer is a PhD Fellow at The
Department of Psychology and Educational Studies, Roskilde University, Denmark