Kathmandu Post


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All shapes and sizes

DEC 18 - Nepal probably contains the most diverse species of academics in the world as a result of the sorry state of academic institutions. The relationship between the great variety of college teachers and the poor quality of educational institutions is like a chicken and egg situation. The question remains which came first.

My observations are based on Tribhuvan University which is like an overcrowded train gradually coming to a halt and nearly being derailed in the process. These categorisations are based on observations and conversations that I have had with fellow academics and other professionals over the years. While I go on with categorisations, I am not claiming that these identities are absolute and fixed. In some cases, these categories may be seen as phases that an academic may pass through or at times, an academic may just be stuck in limbo between identities.  

The first species that come to notice are celebrity academics. They are those who have contributed substantially to academic knowledge in the past but at present are trying to live off the fruits of yesteryear. They are much coveted by INGOs who continue to use their consultancy services. They write bland research reports and produce nothing that contributes to enriching academic knowledge. Sometimes, they appear on the op-ed pages of newspapers to reiterate that their old theoretical perspectives are still relevant. Another noticeable group consists of activist academics who are struggling to manage their dual identities. Many of them are gradually turning into more of an activist than an academic. And they have begun to produce rhetoric like political leaders and NGO workers.

Then there are real academics who are actively engaged in teaching and research. They have fascinating conversations with their students, often beyond the classroom. They are often victims of a politicised system which requires academics to kowtow to party leaders and take refuge under a certain political umbrella. These academics resist the pressures and continue to advance on the exhilarating journey of seeking knowledge. And in front of their very eyes, their less qualified counterparts overtake them and become department heads, deans and VCs. These visionary people are confined to the margins. However, they do not give up and continue to contribute and engage in discourses. They appear on the radio, television and newspapers. They continue to create ripples with their perspectives and ideas.  

The next species of academics are cloak academics. They use the identity of academics as a cloak because they are not able to embrace the true meaning of their profession, either by choice or lack of ability. Thus, they substitute their lack of academic rigour by being engaged in other activities. The major field of their involvement is definitely politics. Obviously, academics do have political beliefs on a personal level, and they need to be involved in occupation based organisations to safeguard their rights. But the question remains why academics need so many different professors’ associations. Apart from politicos, cloak academics are engaged in activities ranging from investing in private colleges to working as real estate brokers. Cloak academics, however, continue to teach as they need to draw a salary from their regular jobs.

They recycle their knowledge based on their old notes, which seems to fade with use. They don’t find it important to update themselves on recent changes in academic discourses. They talk and they want students to listen attentively. Some pretend to be helping their students and bring written notes into the classroom and recite them while students write down every word they utter. One wonders why they don’t simply hand over these notes to the students who can easily photocopy them to read at home later. But one realises that classes without notes will be like travelling in a new city without a map.  

Others academics are new generation academics. Bursting with ideas and believers in change, these new generation academics struggle with the system that refuses to accommodate their energy and vigour. They feel uncomfortable in a highly politicised academic arena. They feel at a loss for words in meetings with old generation academics where discussions and academic discourses are not held. Always carrying backpacks with their laptop, they seek space somewhere to write and research. But an age-old entry requirement of the university system continues to banish them. These new generation academics are often relegated to the status of temporary lecturers who try to contribute more than the so-called permanent teachers. Faced with the challenge of livelihood, they are unsure about their future. They continue to ask themselves and the people around them how long they are to continue in the hope of being established in a profession that they are qualified and so interested in. They often earn their livelihood from other engagements, but they are happiest when they are in the university teaching, researching and writing.  

The final category of academics consists of helmet teachers. They have been greatly blamed and ridiculed. However, I see nothing at fault with them. Their numbers are likely to grow even more if we see the continuity of mushrooming private colleges minus the academic spirit promised by the advertisements on big billboards and the front pages of newspapers.

Studying these categories, we see that many species of academics have been working for their own personal benefit, making the most of the sorry state of academic institutions in Nepal. These academics are equally to blame along with the meddling politicians for the deterioration of Tribhuvan University. But there is still hope. We still have academics who have the potential to transform the institutions. We have to recognise them and entrust them with responsibilities and opportunities. So, the next time somebody starts accusing Nepal’s academics, we could perhaps interrupt and ask them, “Which species of academics are you talking about, could you please be specific?”

Khanal is a lecturer at the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University

Posted on: 2012-12-19 08:45

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