Tribhuvan University Rises in the World University Rankings

“It’s just like generating electricity by harnessing water running down the hill,” said Prof. Dr. Tirth Raj Khaniya, the Vice Chancellor of Tribhuvan University, attributing the recent international ranking of the oldest and largest institution to the team effort of faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni.

Times Higher Education (THE) ranking has just placed Tribhuvan University in the top 800-1,000 band, based on a methodology including 13 performance indicators, providing comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments. THE describes the World University Rankings as the “only global university performance table to judge research-intensive universities across all of their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.”

The ranking is a matter of pride for Nepal especially given the difficult times through which it has navigated political turmoils while trying to provide an educated workforce to the impoverished nation. Established in 1959, Tribhuvan University (TU), is the first national institution of higher education in Nepal. The Central Administrative Office and the Central  Campus of the university are located on the north eastern facade of Kirtipur, an ancient and small town located five kilometers away from Kathmandu city center. With 39 central departments and four research centers, TU is the largest institution of higher learning in the country, educating more than 600 thousand students.

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Tribhuvan University is the 11th largest university in the world, in terms of enrollment. There are 7,841 teaching staff and 7,413 administrative staff across its constituent campuses. It is government funded and therefore far more affordable than the country’s private universities. The University has made its cut into the list of top universities for the first time. Leading one of the largest universities in the world, Khaniya said he is proud that the university is now known to the world as a top-quality institution of higher learning.

Below is a summary of an interview with Vice Chancellor Khaniya conducted on October 3, 2018 by Mr. Surendra Subedi, a STAR scholar and country director as well as TU alumnus.

Now that the university has achieved this milestone, how do you plan to build on this success?

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Prof. Tirth Raj Khaniya, Vice Chancellor

In my article in the Times Higher Education earlier this year, I highlighted the importance of Tribhuvan University in light of its challenges. Also, one of my major missions from day one has been to bring TU to limelight. We certainly are happy to see that TU is now ranked as one of the world’s top institutions. When we participated in the Asia Universities Summit in Shenzhen China, organized by THE, we learned about the reporting criteria. We then took courage to enter the competition by reporting our strengths and achievements as per the criteria. As for building on this milestone, TU alumni make up almost all of Nepal’s government, even though interference from political parties distracts from research and learning goals. Our university has enormous potentials. TU has some aspects that are comparable with Harvard or Cambridge. If we think about TU’s contribution in bringing about social change in our country like they did in their own, it may even be more powerful. Our social and economic impact is also unique. There are so many good things about this institution, which I wish to bring out in the years to come. The publication of Bishwabidyalayako Yatra is in pipeline, which chronicles our trajectory and lays out our guidelines for the future.  

What are some specific areas of improvement?

We wish to disseminate this news in academia to raise awareness of our strengths. We wish to create an entity, the office of institutional research, which will continue to keep track of our progress and report to the ranking agencies so that the goodness of TU comes out in a continuous fashion. In constituting this office, our goal was to be listed as top 1000 university by 2030. Now that we have met that goal early, our next goal will be rise to the top 500. We are focusing on this endeavor to raise the morale of faculty, staff, and students who have immense potentials.

Many of our colleagues have conducted extensive research, which has not been shared or recorded in a way that is visible at this point as TU’s productivity. We will create mechanism in such a way that our productivity is well recorded. We also wish to invite external evaluators who can document our strengths and help us identify areas for improvement so that we continue to shine in the international arena.

How about knowledge production?

Yes, we have a framework for endowment fund, collaboration with international alumni. I don’t want to take credit for success in areas like this; it is the work of our scholars. What I did was to systematically present the achievements that have been collectively accomplished by our faculty, staff, and students. It’s just like generating electricity by harnessing water running down the hill. We wish to share, thank, and engage with our alumni. We have A-grade institutions. One campus has 15 thousand students. Our campuses produce top MBBS students, our faculty publish their research in international journals, and we also teach 600 thousand students every year. These are the kinds of work that impactful institutions do. Look at our Manmohan cardiothoracic institute, or B.P Koirala Lions Center for Ophthalmic Studies. What they do is amazing.

We acknowledge we need a more definite direction on research. In world-class universities, faculty and students produce research. We are consolidating the research cell and research fund. We have a plan to attract trained manpower. In TU, we have 4 research cells. We can advance a school of thought that we can do research with whatever what we have and whatever we do. In some of our institutions, people are hesitant to share their research. So, we are working under tough conditions. But we are making great progress.

Now that many issues have been solved thanks to the semester system. Where are the learning centers? Student support centers? Structural planning?

TU is a unique institution which is an amalgam of extremely good and extremely problematic aspects. Semester system has not been fully implemented yet, but I am optimistic. How does the student learn? Not only by reading or listening to lectures, so we are creating the environment to foster diversified learning. A major initiative is underway with the STAR Scholars Network. Scholars within this network are facilitating faculty training for improvement of semester-based teaching. Teachers involved in the webinar-based training are now going around the country to train other teachers. Vision 2030 is being operationalized, which plans to bring international students and scholars. We hope that this ranking is also going to build our morale and with this lifted morale, we will keep on building structures.  

Since TU is such a large institution, and its success depends on the aggregate of successes build around the country in its constituent and affiliated campuses? Is there a task force, movement of scholars, a communication mechanism, or a virtual mechanism advancing the university mission? How do you disseminate modern pedagogy across the nation?

Kathmandu valley only cannot represent the TU. There are  all affiliated colleges are TU institutions, which have not yet been counted. We have 50,000 professors (if we count all). We are streamlining policies in such a way that it offers affiliation to whoever can meet the standards. We have started distant as well as face-to-face learning mechanisms. We have expanded “technology in classroom” initiative. We accepted graduation forms online for the convocation. Virtual connection is a big part of our new teaching and learning initiatives.

Imagine, in an ideal world, you have unlimited resources to bring about change. What would you do to bring TU, say, to top 100? Things happen through ambition and dreams.

My alma mater is in top 25th. I have been to top institutions. I would leverage resources to bring TU up in ranking. I would equip TU with advanced technology, such as libraries that are open 24-hours, with campuses providing food, recreation, entrepreneurship, safety and residential facilities. I would invest in infrastructure with advanced technology that would be necessary to attract top professors and students. For example, when a Nobel laureate was asked to lead the university, he said that accomplished scholars should be invited to work in the university to stimulate academic environment. I would follow that idea and make my university attractive to the best scholars in the world.

What can the globally dispersed Nepali diaspora scholars do for the Tribhuvan University? What is your call for action?

We are already a global university by virtue of the fact that our graduates are already in top universities around the world, and they are doing great. We are also evaluated by what they have demonstrated and accomplished. Diaspora scholars are our ambassadors. We have been working toward opening channels through which an environment is created whereby diaspora scholars are able to give back. For example, we have created alumni association, of which I am myself the first member. Recently, we have signed an MoU with the STAR Scholars Network to enhance the quality of teaching and learning while stimulating the culture of research and publication. On this exciting occasion, I ask diaspora scholars to take pride, to contribute, and to push us in the right direction.