Quake-hit university seeks foreign donors to rebuild

Tribhuvan University, which was left in ruins by the earthquake in April last year, has hosted an international donors conference to appeal to the international community for financial support to reconstruct its buildings, after its own fundraising initiative drew too little support.

Diplomats from the embassies of India, the USA, Pakistan, China and Japan, and representatives from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme attended the Tribhuvan University conference on 12 February.

Though no specific sums were pledged, a majority of the donors agreed to support the university if it came back with concrete proposals.

The largest and oldest university of the country, Tribhuvan University, or TU, was left in ruins after the 25 April earthquake and aftershocks with the value of property destroyed valued at at NPR9.43 billion (US$86 million).

India’s Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae said the Indian government was ready to allocate TU a share of the US$1 billion occasional line of credit announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an official visit to Nepal in August 2014.

"As per their [the donors'] request we will develop separate proposals seeking their help," said Dilli Uprety, registrar at TU.

Knocking on doors

Uprety said the university had no alternative but to knock on donors’ doors because the university’s own initiative to collect funds from staff, well-wishers and alumni could not garner enough, and Nepal’s government has for the first phase of reconstruction prioritised the reconstruction and repair of school buildings, rather than higher education institutions.

Just NPR180 million has been deposited in the university’s 'TU Reconstruction Fund' set up in May 2015. Most of it is from staff donations. There has been little support from alumni though many influential people, including some political party leaders, bureaucrats, private sector workers and civil society members in the country, are among their number.

The central office with 20 departments including the offices of the vice-chancellor, rector and registrar, two dozen college buildings, in addition to a building of the examination controller's office, were destroyed in the disaster, while an equal number of buildings suffered minor damage. A university estimate shows NPR10 billion is required for reconstruction and renovation of the existing property.

The total annual budget of TU is around NPR2.5 billion, which includes staff salaries and other administrative costs.

According to Rhidesh Kumar Pokharel, chief of TU’s Planning Council, despite the lack of an adequate budget, reconstruction will start on 24 April – the eve of the first anniversary of the quake - by laying a foundation stone for a new central office building.

"We can commence work with the money in the fund in the hope that we get further support from the donors and government," said Pokharel.

With over half a million students, TU is one of the largest universities in the world in terms of student enrolment.

The donors conference is an unusual move for a higher education institution, although the Nepal government has held donors conferences for major projects, including a foreign donors meeting in June 2015 – not long after the earthquake and aftershocks that hit the country in April and May. Donors led by India and China pledged some US$3 billion for reconstruction.

Nepal said it needed around US$6.7 billion to recover from the quake, which killed almost 9,000, injured 20,000 and destroyed 608,000 homes. Another 300,000 homes were partially damaged.