University still in ruins three years after earthquake

Three years since a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, the reconstruction of academic and administrative buildings of the country’s universities and colleges has made little headway, mainly because of inadequate funding. University Grants Commission officials say university reconstruction has not been a government priority, with only 10% of the total required budget for reconstruction released so far.

Among the nine universities severely damaged or completely ruined during the 2015 earthquake, Tribhuvan University and Nepal Sanskrit University suffered the greatest losses.

The April 2015 earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale, with a series of aftershocks, severely damaged homes and buildings, including 32 university and college buildings that were reduced to rubble. The main administrative office of Tribhuvan University (TU), Nepal’s oldest and the largest university, was in ruins. In addition, 44 other administrative and academic buildings were severely damaged, while 99 other campus buildings suffered minor damage.

Some 54 community colleges mainly affiliated with TU also collapsed in the disaster and 171 suffered damage.

However, three years down the line, only two administrative buildings of TU have been constructed, while just 10 damaged properties have been repaired.

“The government hasn’t prioritised our reconstruction. We will have to wait for years if the process is not expedited,” said TU Rector Sudha Tripathi.

She said many constituent and community colleges are conducting teaching and learning activities in private houses, which have been rented due to the lack of secure buildings. For instance, the TU Teachers Service Commission has been shifted to a women’s hostel, while hostel accommodation itself is now in a rented house.

A block of TU’s Nepal Commerce Campus, in Minbhawan in the heart of the capital Kathmandu, collapsed in the disaster. Though the rubble of the building which housed undergraduate business studies classes has been removed, there is no sign of reconstruction. The college has set up a prefab structure to house half of the classes while the rest are held in some administrative buildings. “We are facing problems with the lack of sound-proof rooms,” said Deependra Neupane, a lecturer from the college.

The main academic building of Nepal Lalitkala Campus, the fine art college in Kathmandu, was severely damaged and needs to be demolished. However, the building still stands in the same poor condition as it was three years back. The classes are being run in rented buildings.

Having foreseen the present scenario, TU’s previous administration tried to raise the money on its own for reconstruction. However, it could only generate NPR150 million (US$1.4 million) through its ‘Reconstruction Fund’ drive, hardly enough to help rebuild the main administrative buildings.

Some 400,000 students are studying at university level in Nepal, 80% of them at TU alone.

Funds not available

Records at the University Grants Commission (UGC), the government entity that oversees university education, show the disaster destroyed 454 classrooms while damaging 1,021 others, hampering teaching and learning in universities and the colleges.

“Our assessment shows a minimum of NPR8 billion (US$74 million) will be required for the reconstruction of infrastructures at the university level,” said Binod Bhattarai, programme and planning officer at the UGC, adding, “So far hardly NPR855 million (US$8 million) has been released by the government.”

Bhattarai said the UGC has only been able to allocate NPR20 million (US$186,000) for the reconstruction of the community schools. The government did not allocate any money during the fiscal year 2015-16 for the reconstruction of university infrastructure, while it allocated just NPR477 million (US$4.4 million) in the fiscal year 2016-17 and NPR380 million (US$3.5 million) for the present fiscal year.

Without an adequate budget the UGC hasn’t released any funds other than small amounts to TU.

Officials at the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), the government entity to oversee the reconstruction, say they are currently focused on reconstruction of individual houses and are looking for funding for the reconstruction of university properties. Bhisma Raj Bhusal, chief of the foreign aid department at the NRA, said there is still a US$1.6 billion deficit for the entire reconstruction process.

“We are planning to use some of the amount out of the US$750 million pledged by the Indian government, for the construction of university infrastructures,” he said.

The higher education sector is not alone. Since the 2015 earthquake that killed around 9,000 and destroyed property worth US$7 billion, reconstruction has gone at snail’s pace. Not even half of the 1,197 hospitals or health posts destroyed in the earthquake have been reconstructed.

Similarly, only 3,613 of the 7,553 schools destroyed have been completed, while of 753 heritage sites that needed reconstruction, only 100 have been completed so far.

Among 767,705 households listed to get government support, only 119,229 houses have been reconstructed so far, while another 430,393 are under construction, and 218,083 households are yet to begin reconstruction.