Earthquake destroys university and school buildings

The devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday 25 April has caused widespread damage to education buildings, including to the facilities and colleges of Nepal’s main university, and all colleges and schools have closed until mid-May.

School-leaving exams due to take place from Monday 3 May are to be postponed and the country declared three days of national mourning with all official functions cancelled.

In Kathmandu, the main administrative building of Tribhuvan University, or TU – one of the largest universities in the world in terms of student numbers – has collapsed into a pile of rubble.

Offices of the vice-chancellor, rector and registrar have been completely destroyed while the planning and international divisions next to the administrative building have also been damaged. The Office of the Controller of Examinations, some 500 metres from the university central office, also suffered major destruction.

The catastrophic earthquake which hit the country on 25 April measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and caused devastation across a quarter of the country’s landmass, claiming around 5,000 lives so far. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala declared last Tuesday that the death toll could reach 10,000. The quake was followed by some 600 tremors and aftershocks.

The quake caused huge damage to academic institutions in the small developing nation. Although the official records are yet to come, and many remote areas have still to be accessed, preliminary reports show at least nine constituent and 25 affiliated colleges of TU – with half of them in the capital – have been damaged either completely or partially, with the estimated cost of the damage amounting to millions of rupees.

The oldest university in the country, established in 1959, TU currently has 60 constituent and 1,182 affiliated colleges with around half a million students enrolled, making it one of the largest universities, in terms of students, in Asia and the world.

Of the total of 541,000 students in Nepal studying at university level, around 90% are enrolled in colleges under TU.

Minor damage also occurred at Kathmandu University, located some 30 kilometres east of the capital.

According to Dev Raj Adhikari, registrar at TU, all academic activities have ceased, at least for the next week. A further decision will be taken after assessing the damage.

"There has been unimaginable destruction," he said. "We cannot start our academic activities without first assessing the damage."

A preliminary study has shown the National Administrative College, Saraswati College, Universal College, Mahendra Multiple Campus, among others, have been fully destroyed, while Patan Multiple Campus, Tri-Chandra Campus, Sanothimi Campus and Nepal Commerce Campus, with more than 2,000 students enrolled at each campus, have major damage.

With the quake also destroying the Examination Controller’s Office, all examinations scheduled until mid-May have been cancelled.

The examinations for Postgraduate in Psychology, LLB and LLM have been cancelled until further notice. Narayan Prasad Belbase, deputy examination controller, said that, as dozens of colleges with examination centres have collapsed, it will not be possible to conduct the examinations.

According to Nepal’s Ministry of Education, primary and secondary schools suffered the most from the huge quake.

An estimated 5,000 school buildings – around 350 in the Kathmandu Valley alone – of both public and private schools have been destroyed. Saturday's major earthquake and aftershocks, some measuring over 6 on the Richter scale, have taken their toll on the schools from 11 districts, which include Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Sindhupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Dhading, Gorkha, Dolakha, Lamjung and Nuwakot.

"A majority of schools that were destroyed are older than 50 years and were built out of mud and mortar," said Joint Secretary Hari Prasad Lamsal, spokesperson at the Ministry of Education.

Among the schools destroyed was the 150-year-old Durbar High School. Established in 1854, it has been completely damaged with no possibility of bringing it back into use without reconstruction. "The tremor not only damaged our schools but also destroyed our history," Lamsal said.

The unprecedented destruction has compelled the ministry to close the schools for next two weeks, while the umbrella bodies of the private schools have decided to postpone classes until 15 May. The Higher Secondary Education Board has also postponed the grade 11 examinations scheduled to kick off on 3 May.

Last Wednesday private schools mobilised their 500 school buses to ferry their students to their home towns as life in Kathmandu is becoming harder due to the lack of drinking water, power supply and daily commodities.

"We urge all our donor organisations to help us repair and reconstruct our academic institutions so that we can run our classes smoothly,” Lamsal said. Currently, around 7.5 million students are studying from pre-primary to grade 12 in over 39,000 schools across the country and around 25% of them are stationed in the 11 most affected districts, including Kathmandu Valley.