The mess in Tribhuvan University—Nepal’s oldest public university where a vast majority of Nepalis go to pursue academic degrees—has run so deep and wide that, at times, it seems nobody will be able to intervene and bail it out of the current crisis. From extreme politicization to deteriorating quality of teaching and learning to dereliction of duty by the office bearers including professors and teachers to granting of affiliations to medical colleges without meeting infrastructure needs, TU has hogged the headlines for wrong reasons in recent times. From 2015 onwards, TU earned another reputation of being led by a plagiarist—the outgoing vice-chancellor Tirtha Khaniya was accused of committing plagiarism. Most recently, TU has courted a series of controversies related to producing fake gold medalists in collusion with TU staffs. Thus it is already getting late to reform TU from inside out. The question is who will take up this most challenging job and whether the government will be able to pick the right person for it.
In this context, the government is learned to have approached Dr Bhagawan Koirala proposing him the position of VC of TU. Prime Minister KP Oli himself is reported to have urged Dr Koirala to lead TU and reform it. He is said to have done so after assessing the performances of the vice-chancellors who led TU so far. In response, Dr Koirala is said to have put his terms and conditions, including allowing him to form a better team to work with. We believe that the government has approached the right man for this job for Dr Koirala has set the right record by reforming the health institutes he once led. He helped establish Gangalal National Heart Center as a fine institution of health. While in TU Teaching Hospital as its Executive Head, Dr Koirala took a number of measures to fix several basic problems. But these success stories of which Dr Koirala was the protagonist also have another side. He could do much better in Gangalal because he could work rather independently without having to face undue interference from outside. Dr Koirala, as is obvious, could not enjoy the same level of autonomy in Teaching Hospital and therefore he resigned before his terms expired.
If Dr Koirala agrees to head the TU (it will be better if he does) and the government also takes the decision to have him at the helm, he should be given a level of autonomy to work freely without any kind of political interference—the single-most important factor responsible for the downfall of TU. If the government appoints him and yet ties his hands, he won’t be able to deliver. Some measures to reform TU had been initiated when Kedar Bhakta Mathema led this institution. With one right person in managing position, Nepal Electricity Authority could accomplish reforms just within few years. One reason our public institution has crumbled is because we have not been able to place the right person at the top. Whoever leads the TU now will have to be the man of integrity and with strong will and support for reform. Given his track record of good performance, we see no reason why Dr Koirala cannot do it. Only question is whether the government will provide him autonomy and support for the kind of reforms the TU badly needs.