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Our country is still in her early stage of democracy. Even so, we have witnessed how undesirable party politics has become in the recent years. Our people are now more alienated from one another than they were a decade or so ago.

Re-thinking college education in Bhutan

Our country is still in her early stage of democracy. Even so, we have witnessed how undesirable party politics has become in the recent years. Our people are now more alienated from one another than they were a decade or so ago. People have now begun to identify themselves not as Bhutanese first but by the party they belong to. We have seen how our political parties resort to undesirable means a to woo people so that they can stay in power.

Before I begin to express my opinion, I want to make this clear: I am not here to defend or approve any political party in our country. As a citizen of our great nation, I have a fundamental duty to question those in power and seek clarification.

Concerning the establishment of three new colleges in Bhutan, I am neither convinced by the government’s argument. The Opposition, on other hand, condemned the government of violating the Constitution by pursuing unbalanced economic development.

Frankly, I think this is open to debate.  It looks as though the ruling government is politically–driven in this context, given that the next election is not very far.

Every economy faces the problems of scarcity and choice? As a corollary, the decision to allocate our limited resources becomes important. While different economies allocate resources in a different manner, government is the single most important player. As we all know, most of the enterprises in Bhutan are state-owned and our private sector is still a minor player in the economic development.

Given the power the government has over the preparation of budget and its allocation to various sectors and regions, the government with political ambition in many occasions will be tempted to gain something from it. While no one with the exception of the ruling party knows about their real intention behind the “rising east programme” on the pretext of balanced regional development, we as citizens have every right to suspect the existence of vested interest. That is because eastern region with six dzongkhags has a huge population no party can form the government without winning majority of seats in the east.

If the government doen’t have vested interest, why not a slogan, “Developing underdeveloped dzongkhags.” Dzongkhags such as Zhemgang, Dagana, Samtse and Lhuentse are among the least developed.

As far as I am concerned, our country needs skilled workers more than university graduates. Look at the quality of college education in Bhutan. Since the gradual increase in the enrolment to all the RUB colleges within Bhutan, we have produced more graduates but of inferior quality. If you are not convinced, look at the alumni of Sherubtse College who occupy some of the most important positions at present. Well, some may say it is inappropriate to compare since they had more opportunities than we did in the job market. However, there is no doubt that they are better qualified than our recent graduate. I think there seems to be unanimous agreement on this fact in our country. In the past, it wasn’t easy to get an admission in Sherubtse, being the only college in the country. It wasn’t a surprise that it attracted the sharpest of the brains from our country. Now, admission to Sherubtse has become very easy. As a matter of fact, Sherubtse has become last choice for students who took science and commerce streams in higher secondary school.

In short, we have compromised the quality of college education while increasing enrolment exponentially over the past decade. From the experiences of some advanced economies, we come to know that the availability of skilled labour plays a very important role in bringing economic development. This holds true in Bhutan’s case, too. What our economy needs is not the graduates but people with skills. According to annual education statistics 2015, currently there are eight Technical Training institutes in the country with 2,209 students. On the other hand, as of 2014, there are eight institutes and one private college under the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), two medical institutes under the KhesarGyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGMUS), and two autonomous management institutes i.e. Royal Institute of Management (RIM) and Royal Institute for Tourism and Hospitality (RITH). The total number of students pursuing various courses in all tertiary institutions within Bhutan was 11,089 in 2014. In addition, 1,046 students were on scholarship studying in India and abroad funded by the Royal Government of Bhutan. Furthermore, we had 3,194 privately-funded students pursuing college education in India and third countries. Though insignificant in number, ad hoc scholarship recipients pursuing tertiary education outside Bhutan amounted to 106  in 2014. We had 15,435 students pursing college education against 2,209 undergoing courses in technical institutes. The ratio is about 1:7

Our country is largely agrarian and to make a transition to manufacturing sector, we need more skilled labour. We don’t seem to do that at present.

If we look at the current scenario of college education in Bhutan, the future looks grim. We will continue producing more graduates but a majority of them would be of no use. It isn’t a surprise that we hear people belittling graduates these days since some of us even can’t write a single sentence correctly. What concerns me is the fact that having a college degree is almost becoming a necessity in Bhutan. This shouldn’t be the case. What purpose does your degree certificate serve if you are incapable of serving Tsawa-sum? Didn’t you waste tax payers’ money in getting that meaningless sheet of paper while our limited resources could have been put to some other important areas? Many questions pop up in my mind.

If we happen to go back and focus on the quality rather than on the quantity of graduates in our country, we will have to face some unintended consequences. First, out students who do not qualify for highly competitive colleges in Bhutan will opt to study in India where you get a degree quite easily (not all the colleges). This would mean thousands of Bhutanese students going to India annually and thereby resulting in an outflow of cash and increased demand for rupee. How do we address this problem? It is complex but doable. Ours is a small county and our strength truly lies in our ability to manage things as his Majesty The King pointed out in his speeches.

Rather than increasing the number of colleges in Bhutan, we need to increase the number of vocational institutes. There is also a need to better facilitate those existing vocational institutes both in terms of human resource and budget. While this can be easily achieved, there lies another harder reality to confront. It is a fact known to all that Bhutanese society doesn’t take pride in blue collar jobs. We belittle and look down on people who belong to lower strata of the social group. And, to some extent, it is almost self-felt even when such prejudices do not exist. Changing such unhealthy societal norms will take time but we will surely succeed if efforts are made in two ways; top down as well as bottom up. Remember, we are a country of less than 700,000 people. Social mobilization is not as difficult in other countries where the population is huge.

To address youth unemployment, establishment of more colleges is the short-term solution. It is shortsighted and unwise. More colleges would mean more financial burden to the government which otherwise could have been sanctioned to provide skills. Once those three new colleges produce graduates, the government will have to provide or at least assist them in getting employment. However, most graduates will not be qualified enough to take a job while the government can provide very limited employment opportunities given the health and size of our economy.

Increase in the number of  colleges and enrolment rate obviously is not the only factor that has contributed to deterioration in the quality of college education in Bhutan. I think that it is the most important factor of all.

Getting back to the point of my argument, our country is in need of skilled work force, not college graduates who are often under qualified. Instead of wasting our limited resources in establishing three new colleges, government must establish more technical institutes in the interest of our long term national goals.

Contributed by 

Rinchen Dawa

BA. Political Science and Diplomacy

Kyung Hee University South Korea. 

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One comment

  1. Speaking on the colleges for graduation/ post-graduation, it’s probably the graduates who demands a rethinking on their academic needs. Given a same job and task to perform, one usually expects a college graduate to perform better than a passed out of other institutes for skill developments alone. Otherwise, college education in today’s form becomes meaningful for only those opting for a future teaching job in schools and colleges or universities.

    If that needs a change and we expect our graduates to be more focused on application of knowledge and education; we definitely expect that our course materials and college curriculum undergo some revolutionary changes. The ‘Academic Evolution’ theory in place hasn’t worked beyond creating some highly opportunistic college and university graduates who only wants the job of their choice and degrees are only meant to match the asking qualifications at the job interviews.

    A few academic scholars also are of the opinion that the quality of a college education depends largely on quality of the students and their hunger for academic knowledge than that of the quality of the faculties alone. So even college students can be considered equally important an agent in the knowledge creation process of the universities. And skills on many occasions can be considered application of knowledge in some diversified forms.

    But when jobs on offer are mostly about ‘Administrative and Clerical’ both in manual or digital form, you only expect college graduates to be only opportunistic with whatever degree certificates they carry along. Even the entry barriers in place to good academic institutions usually don’t filter out quality from lack of it when it comes to knowledge to be created by students while learning. It usually filters out historical data on academic performances. And when the system wait for them to turn into teaching scholars or lecturers or professors; someone has to create more and more colleges and there is no end to the demands here.

    For any college student doing a graduation, it’s probably more about cooking his own foods and having his own meals. Education can’t be spoon feed beyond a level. So for college education to get a re-thought, we need the knowledge creators or the ‘Knowledge Entrepreneurs’ rather than having scholars who can run a beautiful commentary on accumulated historical knowledge and academic data.

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