Though the government is actively promoting the Education City Project, in part, to address the need of domestic students, three private colleges proposed to be established in various parts of Bhutan are stuck in red tape.
The promoters of these colleges alleged that the red tape was taking longer than needed among other problems.
They say the red tape involves everything from qualifying for the Rules and Regulations for the Establishment of Colleges, 2012 to getting environment clearance from National Environment Commission (NEC).
All the proposed colleges that had submitted the Expression of Interest (EoI) to the Registrar of Tertiary Education has been issued ‘in-principle approval only’ by the Ministry of Education (MoE).
The three private colleges proposed are Kuengaa College, at Nobuling under Dotey Gewog at Paro, Shangri-La International College at Bamphu also under Dotey Gewog at Paro and Jampel Ling College at Jigmeling in Sarpang. The two colleges in Paro will be management schools and the college proposed in Jigmeling, Gelephu will be a Nursing and Technical College.
There are about 4,500 students currently studying outside Bhutan according to officials in the Education Ministry.
The Shangri-La International College at Bamphu alone will absorb more than 3,000 students. Together with the two other applicants, the three new colleges once complete will take-in more than 10,000 students along with foreign students.
In the prevailing circumstances of local parents struggling to send students outside Bhutan, this would actually come as a boon for all according to the promoters.
“The Ministry of Education has been encouraging the participation of the private sector in the promotion of the educational institutes of all levels in the country both by our Bhutanese citizens as well as by international participants who view education as a service and not as a commercial venture,” said Education Minister, Thakur S Powdyel.
The promoters that The Bhutanese talked to said that in reality the task of setting up the college is a daunting task. They said that some bureaucratic red-tape could be eased and some add-on expenditures could be cut-off.
One of the major problems for all the proponents is the architectural design and NEC filing of technical terms. They say these can be only done by experts and they had to pay millions just for specifying and filling up the bureaucratic procedures. On the other hand the investors said that even after paying about Nu 600,000 for the architectural designs, one could never be sure if it gets accepted by the Technical Committee of the Department of Adult and Higher Education.
Grievances of the proponents
“It takes so much time to get any documents, clearances and approvals and these services ordinarily can be done at a reasonable time. Also some people working in the civil service should be positive and change their attitude to provide efficient services to the public,” said Proponent of Shangri-la International College, Norbu Wangchuk.
“Due to such long processes, I have lost some Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) partners as well,” he said.
Shangri-la International College has a sprawling 34 acres of land that has international standard infrastructure with faculty from Bhutan, India and other third countries. It boasts not only academic courses but also a chance for personality and intellectual development strictly bounded by cultural dimensions. It is also the mission of the college to become the best, most modern and renowned college in the region.
Getting a Bank loan is also a problem for Norbu Wangchuk who subscribes to the view that the establishment of college in Bhutan will help curb ‘out-flow’ of foreign currency and doubly assure parents that their children are safe.
The promoters said that there are a lot of problems with regard to higher education outside the country. They said the risks of drugs and other distractions could affect young minds. The promoters said such a high number of students flocking outside the country for higher studies could lead to the loss of culture and tradition.
“I have been given the go-signal yet the phases are way too hard even after getting in principle approval from education ministry. It is also an arduous task to get approval from NEC,” said Norbu Wangchuk. He also added that ‘his land should have no problem and also its vicinity is just fine’. Similarly he thanked the education ministry in approving the project giving due importance of the quality of education.
Proponent of Jampel Ling College at Jigmeling, Sarpang, Karma Norbu said, “The proposal has been approved at the Dzongkhag and Gewog level. The education ministry has approved it too. I have to wait till February 6 for the final hearing from National Land Commission.”
Impact of more colleges in the country
Most corporate and private employee parents say that domestic colleges will be a positive and diversity of knowledge and exposure to the students could be achieved through some exchange programs.
Similarly, Education Minister, Thakur S. Powdyel shared his views about the impact of more colleges in the country: “The setting up of these three colleges will help a large number of Bhutanese youth who would otherwise have to look for opportunities for further education outside the country. These initiatives will help the realization of our commitment to expand opportunities for tertiary education within the country and at the same time enable our Bhutanese young men and women to stay in touch with the soil and achieve higher levels of education at home.”
Further adding his reflections and observation, he said: “It will also help reduce the concerns and anxieties of our parents who send their children away from home for studies.”
“Large numbers of students studying in Bhutan would also help in controlling the outflow of foreign currency to some extent and help the economy. We are eagerly waiting the commencement of studies in the three colleges on fulfillment of all the requirement that will qualify them to obtain the ‘Gold Leaf’ to enable them to launch these seeds of learning,” said the minister.
The Gold Leaf is an educational license, as opposed to a trade license, that sanctions and sanctifies the establishment of an educational institution upon fulfillment of all the required criteria befitting a seat of learning.
On the importance of getting higher education, Sherig Lyonpo highlighted that ‘It is the abiding commitment of the Royal Government to provide as good an education to all the children and youth of the country as our developing economy allows’
According to many students domestic colleges would be safer, cheaper and more convenient.
The Education Minister said: “In relative terms, there is regular annual growth in the number of scholarship slots for our successful school graduates. However, there has not been a corresponding growth in the number of tertiary education facilities to match the volume of aspirants who wish to go for further studies beyond pre-university.”
“Getting higher education in Bhutan will help to have more choices. Achieving a long term goal, graduation is of utmost importance, it also deepens one’s analyzing power in different ways of knowledge. Adding to it, one can pursue one’s personal interest and career,” said Thinley Jamtsho, engineering student in Rajasthan, India.
Another graduate, Namgay Rinchen, 23 said: “Many jobs require a degree, so if you want the jobs on the big cards, one has to have a degree. The job market it is fiercely competitive, and getting a job without a degree is tough’.
Despite the process, if all these colleges get the green signal from the government, the swarm of students going outside the country for higher education can be reduced, as they would get the same in their own country.
However, officials also stress that ‘it should also be the mandate of the MoE to affiliate the colleges to better colleges outside and check the quality of education’.
Currently Bhutan’s only private college is the Royal Thimphu College.
Puran Gurung / Thimphu