Press Release: The NRN Flagship Project: Houston Declaration Announces a Proposal for an Open University of Nepal

Houston (USA), May 30, 2010

The Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) held its 4th NRN Regional Conference in Houston, Texas, USA from May 28 to 30. Among several sessions in the conference was a day-long workshop on May 28th on a proposed Open University of Nepal (OUN) initiative which is envisioned as a collaborative project with the Government of Nepal. The Houston NRNA declaration included the Open University proposal as one of the NRNA’s flagship initiatives. Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) would be NRNA’s partner in this proposal. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together some prominent academics and institutional leaders to deliberate the academic, management, and business aspects of creating an Open University for Nepal.

Inaugurating the plenary session of the Regional Conference as well as the workshop, NRNA President Devman Hirachan said, “Knowledge transfer is vital to the overall success of NRN movement, as it is a key area where NRNs can support Nepal. Education was also identified by the NRNA’s Kathmandu Declaration”. He added, “An Open University of Nepal is envisioned as the flagship initiative of NRNA to meet the needs of the marginalized Nepali population.”

Chancellor and President of University of Houston System, Dr. Renu Khator was the chief guest of honor and chaired the main session of the OUN workshop. “This is a challenging but right project for the Nepali Diaspora to give back to their motherland”, she said in her remarks. She added: “We are entering into an era where knowledge is a currency and its supply is ensured by people of knowledge. An Open University can go a long way in promoting varieties of access points and opportunities for people who are place bound and ability bound.”

Dr. Frits Pannekoek, Chairman of International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and the President of Canada’s Athabasca University gave an insightful perspective on Open and Distance Education in developing countries. The leader of the core proponent team for the OUN initiative, Dr. Pramod Dhakal of Carlton University, Canada, presented the background and overall framework of the proposed University on behalf of NRNA Task Force on Skill and Knowledge, and Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN). His presentation was critiqued by Dr. Alok Bohara (University of New Mexico) and Dr. Shiva Gautam (Harvard University) as designated discussants.

Another member of the core proponent team Dr. Ambika P. Adhikari (Arizona State University) presented a Pre-Business Plan of the proposed University. Dr. Carl Stokton (University of Houston), Dr. Mahendra Lohani (Heifer International), Dr. Prahlad Pant (University of Cincinnati), NRNA’s Chief Patron Dr. Upendra Mahato provided discussants’ inputs on his presentation. This session was chaired by Nepal’s Ambassador to USA, Dr. Shankar Prasad Sharma, who said, “Investment in education and creating a wider access to higher education are important priorities of the Government of Nepal”. He added, “Flexibility, affordability, partnership, and cross-subsidy are key components for success of the OUN.”

Dr. Pannekoek gave a keynote speech at lunch time with keen insights into the making of the University that came out of his long experience as an academic leader of a world class Open University. He opined that an open university with no bar on admission requirement can enjoy the same standard as that of the top private universities. He gave example of Athabasca University in Canada, which offers courses and credits that are given equivalency by all top universities in North America.

Dr. Drona Rasali (University of Regina, Canada), the third member of the core proponent team, presented the conceptual framework of academic development, contents and delivery for the proposed Open University of Nepal. Dr. Gokul Bhandari (University of Windsor), Dr. Kalyani Rai (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Dr. Mohamed Ally (Athabasca University) provided comments and inputs to his presentation.

Dean Dr. Jeetendra Joshee (California State University-Long Beach) presented a framework of the governance, management and administration for the proposed Open University, while the discussants Dr. Nalini Chhetri (Arizona State University) and Dr. Nanda Raj Shrestha (Florida A&M University) provided their inputs.

The concluding session chaired by Dr. Upendra Mahato, Chief Patron of NRNA, focused on Skills, Knowledge and Innovation exchange between Nepal and the Diaspora. In the session, Dr. Raju Adhikari presented the overall architecture of the Skill and Knowledge task force and its role within NRNA. Dr. Rajendra Shrestha deliberated on oils and gas exploration, Dr. Krishna C. Prasad deliberated on how double-degree program could be delivered in Nepal in cooperation with UNESCO. Dr. Hari Dhakal concentrated on Health Education, and Dr. Alok Bohara on exchange of scholars and scholarship.

Finally, a team of facilitators Dr. Mahendra Lohani, Mr. Naresh Koirala, Dr. Narayan Pokhrel and Mr. Ichchha Nepali conducted a Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis on the Open University of Nepal as an NRN initiative.

In an immediate follow-up to the workshop, the conference organizers extended thanks to International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and Athabasca University (AU) for pledging their support towards the establishment of an Open University in Nepal. The core proponent team and NRNA leadership especially saluted Dr. Frits Pannekoek, President of Athabasca University, and Dr. Mohamed Ally, Director of International Association of Mobile Learning for helping NRNA and Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) for their strong support for the cause of the university. The offer of support received from University Houston through Chancellor and President Dr. Renu Khator, Senior Vice President Dr. Carl Stokton, and Associate Vice President Dr. Mrinal Mugdh, and that of California State University Long Beach and UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education for their interest and offer of support for OUN extended through Dr. Jeet Joshee and Dr. Krishna Chandra Prasad were highly commended.

An Open University of Nepal Strategic Committee (OUSC) was formed to take the recommendation of the workshop for further action. The committee will have 11 members Dr. Pramod Dhakal (coordinator), Dr. Ambika Adhikari, Dr Raju Adhikari, Dr Drona Rasali Devman Hirachan, Dr. Upendra Mahato, Nepal’s Ambassador to the UN Gyan Chandra Acharya, Ambassador to the USA Dr. Shankar Sharma, Ambassador to Canada Dr. Bhojraj Ghimire, and Representative of Ministry of Education, Nepal. A technical committee comprised of Dr. Pramod Dhakal, Dr. Ambika Adhikari, Dr. Drona Rasali, and Dr. Raju Adhikari was also formed. The three core proponents of the University initiative Dr. Dhakal, Dr. Adhikari and Dr. Rasali thanked all the participants and guest for attending and making the workshop successful. The NRNA leadership and the dignitaries who addressed the workshop sessions pledged their support to this initiative, the NRNA leadership including Mr. Dev Man Hirachan, Mr. Jiba Lamicchane, Mr. Sagar Nepal and Mr. Ratan Jha, and the leadership of US and Canada NRN national councils including Mr. Suman Timsina, Mr. Nabaraj Gurung, Mr. Mukesh Singh, Ms. Bishnu Thapa, Dr. Binod Shah and others were also duly thanked. The proponents expressed gratefulness to Dr. Upendra Mahato and Dr. Aditya Jha, who offered financial contribution to the initiative.

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