NEPAL: Exams disrupted for Maoist convention

Nepal's oldest university was forced to call off its bachelor-level examinations this month under pressure from radical student groups affiliated with Maoist organisations which are holding their national convention at the university during the exam period. And last week, seven students were arrested during protests against petroleum price hikes.

In a move affecting thousands of students, officials at the capital Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University were forced to adjourn exams scheduled to begin on 29 November.

This followed pressure from the revolutionary student wing All Nepal National Independent Students' Union-Revolutionary (ANNISUR) which is affiliated with the Maoist Unified Communist Party of Nepal, the country's largest party which fought a deadly 10-year civil war that killed over 14,000.

The student group is planning to hold its 18th national convention from 10-14 December on the university premises. Tribhuvan University is the biggest of Nepal's five universities, with around 290,000 students from all over the country.

Lekhnath Neupane, president of the revolutionary students' organisation, said: "Our national convention cannot be pushed back as we have planned it for several months. But the examinations had to be interrupted as we have an estimated 100,000 students participating in the convention."

Second year bachelors examinations scheduled for 5-13 December have been postponed, according to a notice from the university's Office of the Controller of Examinations (OCE), affecting thousands of students of the humanities, management, law, and science and technology departments.

Although a new date has been set for the exams in early January, they had already been delayed by six months from this summer, pushing back the academic calendar by a year.

Many students will now take four years to complete their three-year degrees. It will also have knock-on effects on first year students unable to progress normally through the degree system.

Student unions affiliated with other national political parties opposed the decision, demanding that the adjourned exams be held and pointing out that the chair of the exam committee was a member of the Maoist Party (UCPN-M).

"This has jeopardised the future of thousands at once. We need to detach politics from university. While we continue doing politics in university and colleges, such incidents will continue," Guru Baral, Vice-president of the Nepal Student Union, which is affiliated with the Nepali Congress, a liberal political party, told University World News.

Neupane claimed ANNISUR had informed the OCE several times since August that they would hold the event on the university premises. "But [the university] published the [exam] routine which was unfavourable for us."

At Tribhuvan University, arts student Binita Sharma said postponing the exams set a bad precedent. The university "might not have realised it but we [the students] have. This is a dangerous trend introduced to fulfil the interests of the student union affiliated to political parties," she said, adding that university officials responsible should resign.

Durga Sharma, president of All Nepal National Free Student Union (Sixth), aligned to the left-wing Rastriya Janamorcha, said: "The unilateral decision of the Tribhuvan University official was irresponsible and has to be rectified. The exams should be held as per the earlier schedule."

Nepal's higher education sector has been mired by excessive politics as the main political parties seek to use students as a tool to gain political mileage. The majority of students are forced to extend their studies by one or two years because of frequent strikes and shutdowns.

Currently, political parties have been mobilising students across the Kathmandu Valley to oppose a hike in petroleum prices decided by the Nepal government last week.

Regular classes at government-sponsored colleges were disrupted last week because of student agitation, with students from major colleges taking to streets in Kathmandu where at least half a dozen vehicles were burnt and about seven students were arrested on Tuesday.