Nearly two years after its launch, the Royal University of Bhutan is looking ahead with much ambition and optimism but many challenges stand in its way.
Established in June 2003, the university comprises of nine tertiary institutes scattered across the country and coordinated by an office in Thimphu. These institutes offer programmes from liberal arts, business and management to science and technological studies. A lot has been achieved since. According to the university's vice chancellor, Dasho Zangley Dukpa, the university has set the environment for it to be able to confer the degree and other awards. It has also set the atmosphere to develop new and existing academic programmes.
Regulations and procedures, examination and evaluation systems, quality assurance system and the level of standard of the programmes, and others, in line with international practices, have been drawn and are ready for implementation, Dasho Zangley Dukpa said.
The university has also identified several academic programmes. Most of it will be the programmes offered by its institutes although they will be modified and developed according to the university's standards. Some of it will include law, accountancy, software system design, architecture, engineering, environment science, and medicine. Others will include agriculture, design, music and film.
Dasho Zangley said that given Bhutan's heavy reliance on tourism and hydropower, "niche area" programmes like hospitality and hotel management, and natural resource management, will be geared towards developing the two economies.
The university will also introduce, at least, two degree programmes on Bhutan and Himalayan culture, contents of which will include Sanskrit, Buddhism and Buddhist anthropology. The present Institute for Language and Culture Studies, which will be shifted from Semtokha in Thimphu to Takthsi in Trongsa, will be the premier institute for such programmes.
Professionals from reputed universities outside the country are being invited to review and develop the royal university's curriculum. Works on programmes for PhD, MPhil, MA, MSc, MBA are also underway.
"The royal university's programmes will reflect the relevance and needs of Bhutan, its society and its culture," Dasho Zangley said.
The tertiary institutes are currently submitting their programmes for validation by the university. With some modifications most of the submitted programmes would be validated by 2007, after which the university will start conferring awards, said the university's director of academic affairs, Yangka. Once validated the programmes will belong to the royal university.
Yangka said that most tertiary institutions under the university were in some way or the other affiliated to other universities and, from where awards were granted. Such an arrangement, although it helped gain confidence and standards, dictated study programmes that were largely driven by the customs and needs of an educational system that was not Bhutan's.
The university has also big plans. Some of it includes turning the university into an information and capacity building center of the government and also into a world reputed seat of learning and research.
The university plans to maintain, at all times, an ambitious 10 percent of all the country's 18 year olds in its campus, way higher than in the South Asia. The university also aims to double the number of students in its campus from 3,500, at present, to 7,000 by 2012.
aim is to turn the royal university into a center of excellence in tertiary
education," Dasho Zangley said.
To have all the policies and procedures in place, and envisioning, is one thing implementing them is another Dasho Zangley said.
One of the biggest challenges is the absence of qualified faculty. The university has 318 teachers including 74 foreigners. Of that two Bhutanese have PhD and 127 have Masters degree. Foreigners with PhD number 14 and with Masters 55. Most of them are placed in Sherubtse College. But they were not enough given the increasing number of students and demand for good education, said Yangka.
Yangka said that most tertiary institutes were unable to find the required number of qualified teachers. The institutes also lacked teachers with diverse qualifications and capabilities. Teachers in information technology and computers were few and far between and they were difficult to look for, said Yangka. Although foreign teachers, who were paid much higher than the Bhutanese, came under projects like the Colombo Plan, most did not stay for too long.
Most Bhutanese teachers also lacked specialisation in a particular subject.
"How do we attract the brightest and best, Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese, people to teaching in tertiary education in Bhutan?" Dasho Zangley said.
The other challenge is the expansion of institute infrastructure and facilities which are at present insufficient to accommodate the growing number of Bhutanese students seeking tertiary education in Bhutan.
"In 2005 the number of Class XII students who want to join the royal university is huge but we cannot accommodate them, as much as we want to, because institutes do not have enough spaces- in the class room and in hostels," Yangka said.
Another challenge is the flawed information system. Yangka said that most institutes used course reference materials dating as far back as the 1960s. Other universities would be looking at least the 2003 materials, he said. The style of teaching and learning of rote and note based also needed a complete changeover.
"A student should be able to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in their class rooms to their practical life's situations and not just in the exams," Yangka said.
ICT connectivity is another challenge. The royal university is dictated by the dispersion of campuses of the university which are spread around the country and ICT was recognised as the main means of communication between the institutes and the university office. And that required money.
At the moment the university, though an autonomous body, is funded by the government.
But the university wants to fund itself in the future. The government has, for a start, given the university the green signal to receive gifts and endowments as an alternative means for funding. The university will also attract paying international students to study in its campus in the future.
said that its Royal Bhutan Institute of Technology at Kharbandi was already earning money by offering short courses and training in AutoCAD
for engineers and architects from private firms and government.
Zangley said that the university was also working on the service condition
of its faculty members to delink them from the civil service.
The royal university will not seek any formal affiliation for it to be recognised, said Yangka.
"We want to develop the university into an autonomous university," he said.
The university will also not seek any formal academic accreditation either, like the Sherubtse college where it's academic accreditation is obtained from the University of Delhi. Such arrangement did not allow the university to be self-reliant, Yangka said.
"We will, however, follow a path whereby we get the benefit of a good university's assurance that our programmes are as good as theirs," Yangka said.
Yangka said that in the end the awards conferred by the royal university would be recognised because its courses and programmes will be of international standard and quality.
The quality of the university's programme is assured through regular monitoring, reviews and examination system, said Dasho Zangley.
"The system will ensure that the quality of our programmes and courses are at par with any other programmes in any other universities," Dasho Zangley said. Once quality was ensured recognition was taken care of, he said.
Recognition will also be worked through networking of select universities through the exchange of faculty members and programmes. The university will also seek membership of association of recognised universities.