August 13, 2010, Ottawa, Canada: A workshop on Open University of Nepal (OUN) initiative was organized by Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) and Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN, as a follow up to the first workshop held in Houston in May 2010. Nepal’s Ambassador to Canada, Dr. Bhojraj Ghimire was the Keynote Speaker. Canada’s Athabasca University (AU), a world renowned distance university, sent a team of senior experts in the program in support of the initiative. AU had commissioned Dr. Mohamed Ally, Professor and Director of Distance Education, who is also the founding President of International Association of Mobile Learning, and Troy Tait, Director of Government Relations, to contribute in program development and Dr. Barbara Spronk, an international expert in business development, to contribute towards a comprehensive business plan. The program was attended by more than 50 participants including some leading professionals and academicians from Canada and the USA.
The OUN Initiative team hails the support received from Athabasca University and the International Council for Open and Distance Education, which is also UNESCO advisory body in distance education, as a major breakthrough. The team expects that major international support is possible in the event the Government of Nepal also provides the same level of backing.
The morning session was moderated by Dr. Govind Dahal, and consisted of presentations and key note speeches. The workshop started with welcome address by Dr. Pramod Dhakal, the leader of the NRNA/CFFN team for OUN Initiative. He highlighted the needs for an open university in Nepal its role in taking education to people rather than bringing people to the cities and foreign countries for education. Today, high quality higher education is available in large cities and foreign countries, and remains unaffordable to majority of Nepalese. He opined that an OUN will provide institutional and technological framework to connect educators from around the world to the people of Nepal, including the women and the disadvantaged people who are trapped in the villages and workplaces for various reasons.
Dr. Drona Rasali, another member of the OUN initiative team presented the academic aspect of proposed university. He addressed the proposed university’s mission statement, the proposed initial curricula, and the possible disciplines of the courses that could be offered. He proposed that it would be prudent that the OUN initiative conduct a pilot program in a small scale and fine tune available options before expanding the program to cover the whole country.
Dr. Ambika Adhikari, another member of OUN initiative team focused on a pre-business plan of the OUN. He explained who would be the possible stakeholders of this university, what would be the financial resources, who are the main target groups. He also shared some ideas on sustainability and operational aspects of the university. He reiterated that the OUN was the initiative of GoN, and now Nepali Diaspora has offered to assist the Government of Nepal to realize this plan.
Next speaker was a long time supporter of Nepal, a former minister and long time Canadian MP Dr. David Kilgour, who is an advisor to CFFN. He mentioned that he was thrilled to learn the thoughts, initiatives and discussion conducted by the proponent team for this university. He assured his full support for this good cause.
Dr. Mohamed Ally, Professor at Athabasca University, a leading Open University in Canada, shared success stories from Athabasca. He reiterated a strong support of Athabasca University for the proposed OUN. With all the information he has gathered and with the discussion with the OUN initiative team, he was confident in not only that OUN would be a success but also that Nepal would be a country of expertise in distance education.
Dr. Bidya Ranjit, a well known women leader in the USA praised the initiative for its potential to uplift the status of women and disadvantaged groups in Nepal. She showed her strong personal support and promised to link Nepali Women’s Global Network to this new initiative. She opined that women should be included in the planning and development of OUN.
The chief guest of the program Dr. Bhoj Raj Ghimire, Nepali Ambassador to Canada, stated that the Nepali Government initiated the Open University legislation in early 2000, but this initiative could not materialize. He expressed his full support for this proposal in his personal capacity and added that he would recommend that a formal MOU signed by GoN with NRNA and CFFN. He recommended several measures to make it a success. Ambassador opined that NRNs could expect quick financial backing from the Government of Nepal for starting a pilot project, and its effectiveness could then open door for substantial commitments.
The thematic discussions were moderated and guided by Dr. Barbara Spronk, a long time practitioner and an international expert on open and distance education, with strong Athabasca University connections. She organized the discussions and provided a summary of recommendations. She said that OUN should not heavily rely on NRN volunteerism or part-time faculties but must also have a strong full time faculty.
Discussion included the topics related to stakeholders, and the role of the government in OUN. Participants opined that the main target group initially could be school teachers in rural area, the NGO local staff, may be ex-army servicemen, policemen, and people seeking foreign employment. Catering to different segments of population for cross subsidy and sliding scale fees was also weighed. Other points were related to accreditation, inter-institutional transfer of credits, fund raising, and partnership at local and international level. Participants recommended having a liaison team in Nepal which could support the establishment phase of OUN and also to advance legislative work.
The workshop concluded by agreeing that the OUN initiative is a noble one, and that a wide support from the Diaspora members and the Government of Nepal can help realize its objectives. Further, all agreed that funding should be sought from different sources, including international financing agencies, Government of Nepal, Diaspora members and individual supporters.