Espousing an unquenchable thirst for education among the people has been one of the greatest inspiring developments in Nepal by the turn of the last century. Despite much progress made in basic education, the World Bank data indicate that the access to higher education in the country is still severely limited with the overall low gross enrolment rate. Especially alarming is the fact that the bottom two-fifth of the country’s population is recorded to share less than two percent gross enrolment rate. The expansion in higher education intake has taken place mainly in the private sector. This trend is likely to further widen the gap of educational access between those who can pay for higher education and those who cannot. Further, the quality of higher education in Nepal is inconsistent across the colleges. The public campuses often have fared worse than their private sector counterparts. This demands for a systemic arrangement for quality control and accreditation, and mechanisms to uplift the quality of publicly managed higher education. One of the approaches to enhancing the universal access, enrolment rate and quality in higher education is the open and distance education system, which can complement the campus-based conventional education. Open education is also necessary to remove the manifold barriers, and thus to help bring higher education particularly to the disadvantaged.
Realizing this necessity, the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) in partnership with the Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) has taken the initiative to establish an Open University of Nepal (OUN). This vision first received a formal shape at the NRNA’s Regional Conference in Houston (USA) in May 2010. Subsequently, a significant background work has already been done to this date. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for collaboration was signed among NRNA, CFFN and Athabasca University of Canada in September 2010. This was followed by the signing of a Resolution of Agreement (RoA) between the NRNA and the Ministry of Education, Nepal in October 2010, formalizing a Steering Committee, co-chaired by Secretary of Education Ministry, Government of Nepal and NRNA President (currently Mr. Jiba Lamichhane). The Open University of Nepal Steering Committee (OUNSC) is supported by four functional working committees: Academic Development led by Dr. Drona Rasali, Resource Mobilization led by Dr. Ambika Adhikari, Learning Infrastructure Development led by Dr. Mahabir Pun and Research and Innovation led by Dr. Raju Adhikari. As of now, a total of six follow-up workshops have been held in Canada, Korea, Australia and Nepal. Member Secretary Dr. Pramod Dhakal of the OUNSC has established the Secretariat of the OUNSC within the premises of the Ministry of Education in Kathmandu and is coordinating the four committees to advance the relevant preparatory works for the OUN from the Secretariat.
All the laws concerning the establishment of existing universities in Nepal were enacted specifically for each institution, and there did not exist a generic law for the establishing a new university in Nepal. Therefore, OUNSC has been supporting the move to establish the legal foundation that would lead to formally establishing the Open University of Nepal. A legislative bill named “Higher Education Bill, 2068” endorsed by all concerned ministries of the government, the National Planning Commission, and the Cabinet of Ministers, has been tabled in the Parliament of Nepal already. This bill, which was once returned by the Legislative Committee of the parliament for a round of revision, still remains amongst the highest priority bills to be brought forward to the Legislative Committee. Passage of this bill will certainly create the ultimate legal foundation required for the OUN. At the same time, an effort has been underway for the interim to get a special mandate from the Cabinet of Ministers to pave a way for OUN’s foundation-building work that could be achieved even before the passage of the bill by the parliament. This work has also met with many bureaucratic and procedural hurdles, and after a long and drawn-out effort involving already five iterations, it is recently tabled before the Cabinet of Ministers.
The OUN initiative has received strong support from the Nepali government and other public agencies, academicians, media, and political leaders and policy makers in Nepal. Although not yet to be translated into tangible achievements, due to complexities that exist in Nepal’s unique institutional arrangements, it is worthwhile noting that seven agencies – University Grant Commission, Ministries of Education, Law and Finance, National Planning Commission, Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament – are formally involved in the process and there are many more informally involved influential entities that play their role in this complex equation. It is, however, clear that the amount of moral pressure that has been mounting for the establishment of the OUN is tremendous and all signs indicate a definite outlet for the OUN in the near future. If all the steps happen as per the envisioned road map, Nepal will have its first national university for open and distance higher education by 2015.
Beyond obtaining legislative and legal outlets, the OUN Initiative also has to navigate through manifold challenges including those of funding, pedagogy and institutionalization. OUN Initiative, has, therefore, been striving to add as many bricks on the way as possible. As a result of such efforts, in 2011, Athabasca University received a small grant from the Government of Alberta to conduct a research work and come up with a recommendation for a pedagogical model appropriate for the OUN. This work is underway and a workshop was organized on January 4, 2012 in Kathmandu to collect the preliminary research data required to build the foundation for the planned and thorough research on the Open University education. The OUN Initiative, in partnership with Athabasca University, NRNA and CFFN, had also attempted to secure a funding for the initiative in excess of two million dollars from the Government of Canada, but was not successful in the bid. There is now a need to freshly approach other bilateral and multilateral donors including the UNDP, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for possible funding. The NRNA leadership will consult with the Government of Nepal as well as external agencies to explore funding opportunities, while some fund raising efforts among Nepal Diaspora have already begun. In the meantime, a modest sum has been raised from the Diaspora donors including a generous monetary and in-kind contribution from a group of OUN supporters in Australia, United States and Canada.
The next step is to launch a series of pilot academic programs in collaboration with foreign institutions – primarily the Athabasca University. The proposed pilot programs would not only test the modalities of public distance and open higher education in Nepal, but also help gain real-life lessons learned from deliveries of the programs to the students. An operational plan is being worked out, and a planning meeting is being organized on 18th May, 2012 at Athabasca University in Canada to consider academic programs for the OUN Initiative’s pilot phase. NRNA is also planning to hold an Open University Workshop during its regional conference in Sydney (Australia) in late August to plan further steps. Meanwhile, a network of infrastructure of selected higher secondary schools and existing University campuses will be persuaded to participate in the pilot academic programs in a collaborative venture of OUN Initiative with Athabasca University and other Nepali and foreign institutions. To successfully run the pilot academic programs, it is imperative to obtain strong support of the Government of Nepal, get approval for the proposed operational directives, and some funding from bilateral and multilateral agencies.
Once the pilot programs are launched successfully, the resources from domestic and external sources will likely begin to flow, and a legislative instrument for an autonomous University will be in place, making the OUN a reality.
For detail information contact:
Dr Pramod Dhakal
Open University Initiative, Steering Committee
Education Ministry, Keshar Mahal
Phone- ++ (977) 98089-14167