Originally published on 17th March, 2015.
As an education enthusiast, you could excuse me for always talking about the quality of education in Nepal, behavior and mentality of students, depressing thoughts of everyone wanting to leave the country in search of better education and opportunities, the pursuit of the ‘degree’ and dreams attached with it, and so on. They say when you are hooked to a thing; you can’t take your eyes off of it. In that regard, my eyes and ears are always open to things that are related to education, especially to those that relate to higher education in Nepal. So when on a fine day I happened to come across the following posts on my Facebook news-feed, this blog had to come out.
“Regretting studying in a college affiliated to Pokhara University.”
“Any student thinking of joining Bachelor degree affiliated to Pokhara University, I want you to rethink about it hundred times before you take that decision. I strongly do not recommend this university.”
“PU I want to spit on you.”
Looking at the statements above, you can sense the agony and the frustration of the students; some of whom were agitated by constant postponement of the exams whilst some were left pondering how their board exam answer papers were checked. To sum it up, students of Pokhara University were not happy and they clearly wanted their voices to be heard in front of their colleagues and juniors, if not directly to the ones they thought were responsible for the negligence. As someone who closely follows education in Nepal, I couldn’t help but wonder how such negative rant in public would affect the university and the colleges affiliated to it. As a recent graduate from Ace Institute of Management myself, I became curious about the dramatic impact all of this could have on a college that has built a great brand for itself despite its affiliation to PU. Because for any college, the best form of marketing is the word of mouth that comes from its alumni who have been through at least 4 years in that college (4.5 years or more if you are from Pokhara University). So normally, a student would then, in turn, influence the decision of his/her juniors when they look for colleges. Hence, the recent turmoil in Pokhara University is sure to have some impact on how Ace Institute of Management moves ahead as a brand.
I’ve always admired how Ace Institute of Management has managed to develop a strong brand name for itself despite being affiliated with Pokhara University- a university that ranks below KU and TU in the eyes of most people in Nepal. Perhaps that was a strategic decision, since most students find KU entrance exams cumbersome and difficult to get through. Although 57% of the students whom I surveyed for the blog said that they joined Ace simply because they perceived it to be the best b-school in Nepal, 30% of them admitted to joining Ace because they either couldn’t pass KU entrance exams or didn’t want to get into the burden of going through it. Hence by providing quality education through an alternative route, Ace has managed to grab a very competitive position in the higher education market in Nepal.
Constant strikes in the university, lock outs, delay in result publishing and unpredictable results have dampened PU’s credibility of late. According to the survey,of all the students who have had to bear the brunt of PU’s inadequacies, almost 24% students disclosed that they will not recommend studying at Ace because they perceive the association with PU as the biggest threat for a student. It’s not surprising given how in recent years, undergraduate studies slated to be completed in 4 years have extended to over 4.5 years or even more because of management inefficiencies in PU. Only 2 months ago, there was a huge public outburst of disapproval by students in Ace UGS’s Facebook page as to how according to them, Ace tries to pressurize students to complete the semester in 3 months whereas PU fails to conduct exams on time. This has led to students being pressurized at first and later on having nothing to do for a whole month after internal final exams but to wait for PU exams to start. All the students who filled the survey opined that going beyond 4 years is a major concern for them. But unless there is any drastic change in PU management, completing undergraduate studies in 4 years seems a distant dream.
So what can be done?
From a student’s point of view, taking a laid-back approach on its internal semester planning might ease the burden but it would definitely be a wrong move. Ace Institute of Management is one of the best institutions known for conducting the semesters timely according to its planned schedule and taking a laid back approach would mean that it now becomes no different than any other PU college. The ‘best among PU’ accolade would definitely take a hit if that happens to be the case. One thing Ace could do, is to take a wait and watch approach hoping that PU inefficiencies are sorted out quickly. However, with over 24% of the students saying that they wouldn’t recommend the brand to their near and dear ones to because of its association with PU, this might backfire in the long run.
41% of the students recommend switching to a foreign affiliation which Mr. Narottam Aryal, executive director of King’s College affiliated with International American University, believes is a better option for Ace rather than seeking an alternative local affiliation. Having had the experience of working in institutions that are affiliated to KU, PU and also TU, Mr.Aryal is left unimpressed by the traditional and politicized nature of such institutions which he believes hinders innovation in education. But the first question that needs to be answered is which grade foreign affiliation to choose because best universities often do not give away affiliations and the ones that do are on the higher cost. Universities that an average Nepali student can afford are often on the lower rank.
Pros of getting a foreign affiliation
On the brighter side, the duration of the program would be 4 years which in the eyes of the students, appears to be the most important factor in choosing a college. The college could take up the responsibility of making classes and examination run according to internal plan and ensure that students get fair evaluation for their efforts (something that a lot of students complain about PU exams). Being affiliated with a foreign university will mean a different approach to teaching, learning and examinations where students might benefit from a more ‘practical’ approach to education rather than being limited to PU examination format that is often based on memorization power rather than testing analytical skills in a student. Student exchange and faculty development and exchange programs will be an interesting proposition for growth. Overall, Ace Institute of Management would enjoy the liberty of grooming its alumni according to needs of the market without having its hands and legs tied to stringent local university regulations.
From an administrator’s point of view, Mr. Narottam Aryal opines that working with a foreign college gives Nepalese educators an equal footing as they are much better listeners and are open to suggestions from affiliated colleges. The power distance, which is very prevalent in our system, is not an issue when dealing with foreign colleges. Mr. Aryal shares that they are dynamic and are always on a mission of constantly improving themselves whilst at the same time, sticking to set standards and deadlines.
Cons of foreign affiliation
On the flipside however, foreign affiliation would mean increase in costs for the students as affiliation costs alone could be as high as $4000 per year. Compare this to the affiliation fees for a local university like PU that charges a student less than Rs.6000 annually. It will also be important to understand how the market will perceive foreign affiliation as in most cases; students and parents do not seem to trust the authenticity of the association. Mr. Aryal says parents that are adventurous and open minded about changes in teaching and learning modules are the only ones that will encourage their children to opt for a foreign affiliated college. Parents seem to trust local universities with a proven track record of having operated for a number of years rather than opting for new colleges that are trying to innovate. This is where I believe Ace’s brand will be truly tested. Ace may take heart from that fact that 57% of the students said that they joined Ace simply because they perceived it to be the best b-school in Nepal. However, 73% of the respondents who thought so had completed their+2/A levels from Ace itself. In this regard, going into a foreign affiliation will mean that Ace will have to strive for even better in its intermediate wing so that in the initial years, they have a certain pool of students who trust the brand.
Mrs. Roshee Lamichhane Bhusal, who was involved with Kathmandu College of Management (KCM) as liaison officer during its transition to a foreign affiliated college, opines that whilst b-schools with a foreign affiliation can conjure up a great branding as a distinct and ‘class part’ institution, the country of origin and university quality and ratings are questioned as some of the universities have set bad examples earlier on.
Mr. Aryal believes that the greatest hurdles from an administrator’s point of view will be to deal with uncertainties that come with the policy changes by the foreign country’s educational regulators which has a direct impact on the colleges with foreign affiliation in a third country. Operationally, he says that the biggest hurdle in running a foreign affiliated college is the cultural difference that exists between the countries. Issues like zero tolerance for plagiarism and strict adherence to deadlines set by regulating foreign universities sometimes clash with the laid back approach of most students and teachers alike.
The best example to look at this moment of time would be Kathmandu College of Management which in the eyes of many took a gamble in leaving its affiliation with KU to move ahead with SAIM of Thailand. Persistent problems with KU characterized by deteriorating relations and low grading of its students in board exams meant that KCM wanted to prove that it could stand on its own brand and do even better with a different affiliation. It was a great test for KCM’s brand since it no longer had the branding that comes with being affiliated with KU. Although the outcome of the decision will only be known after a few years, KCM did manage to meet the numbers for its inaugural admission under SAIM’s affiliation.
In conclusion, Ace Institute of Management’s success has been largely down to the brand it has been able to build through a good management team, great faculty, impressive infrastructure, emphasis on learning beyond textbooks and strict adherence to its internal planning. 57% students said that they joined Ace simply because they perceived it to be the best- a fact that has little or nothing to do with the university affiliation. Challenges ahead are a plenty for growth and innovation but going into a foreign affiliation will give Ace the license to go beyond the current limitations of a traditional and politicized university and ensure better learning experiences, timely results and superior evaluation systems which although costlier as compared to before, will definitely add value to the students who want more than just a degree.
(I’m thankful to all the students who expressed their opinions through the survey. A big thank you to Narottam sir and Roshee Di for taking time out of their busy schedule to help me with their insights and experience sharing.)