KATHMANDU, March 21: A provision in a bill that proposes removing top officials of universities through a majority on the university senate concerned has drawn flak. The bill has already been registered in parliament.
Experts said the provision may further entrench political interference in academic institutions, weakening their independent functioning.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has registered the Bill to Amend Some Nepal Acts Related to Education. The bill includes a provision that enables a majority of senate members to relieve the vice-chancellor, rector, registrar or university service commission chairperson of their posts if they are deemed incompetent.
The bill proposes that one-fourth of the senate members of any university can file a written complaint with the chancellor, demanding removal of any of the aforementioned office bearers from their respective posts if the members think that the office bearers are not doing their jobs properly.
Following registration of such a complaint, the prime minister, who is ex-officio chancellor of all the universities, may form a three-member committee to probe the accusations against the office bearer in question with a 30-day deadline and then table the committee report at the senate for its decision.
According to the proposed provision, if over 50 percent of the total senate membership votes for relieving such an office bearer, the prime minister shall sack the office bearer.
In coming up with a provision for relieving university office bearers in this fashion, the government is for the first time trying to amend through a single bill the foundational laws of the universities including Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University, Purbanchal University and Pokhara University.
Currently, the office bearers at universities including the vice-chancellor, rector, registrar and university service commission chairperson do not change with the change in government. Experts said that if the proposed provision is endorsed from parliament it would invite instability in university leaderships and also put the top office bearers under political threat.
“The proposed provision is objectionable because it invites political interference in academic institutions. It would be easy to file a complaint with the chancellor against any office bearers under political, religious, ethnic or regional influence in our divided society,” constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari, who is also a senate member of Kathmandu University, told Republica.
“The focus should be on appointing intellectuals and academic personalities at the universities rather than threatening key office bearers with such provisions.” Adhikari further said and suggested the government withdraw the provision.
With representatives from unions of professors, university staffers, the free student union and a dozen other individuals appointed by the prime minister to a university senate, experts fear that the ruling party may change the office bearers with every change of government if the new provision kicks in.
“If the government enforced the provision of relieving university office bearers while leaving the selection process for senate members intact it will be a disaster,” said educational expert Professor Bidya Nath Koirala. “Most of our universities have senate members who are party-affiliated or individuals chosen for their loyalty and they would easily find grounds for political interference under the proposed provision,” he added.
Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai has also expressed fear, through Twitter, that the proposed provision may increase political interference in the universities.