I am writing this to propose that Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU), Rampur change its land grant mission of research, extension, and teaching to a new more relatable, and observable objective of Creating a generation of depressed, demoralized graduates.
This may sound like hyperbole but let me assure you it is not. I will show it to you through my experience there as a student and now as a graduate.
Most of my batchmates including me were among top students in their respective high schools who had spent ~1.5years after +2 trying to get MBBS Scholarship, which they did not get, and joined BSc. Ag instead. Sure, we knew about the political fights and the bad headlines the university had gathered over the years. Still, it looked an OK deal due to the low cost of attendance, and hopes of either getting a decent job after graduating, in a country plagued with unemployment or as a stepping stone to go to graduate school somewhere better in the United States or Canada or Europe.
The initial excitement I had of attending AFU was all but smothered in the first few semesters by the systemic issues within the university. e.g. political biasedness of faculties & administrators who were politically appointed themselves, immoral behavior of professors, lack of responsibility towards students or answerability to anyone, use of student political bodies as a pawn or proxy for underlying political or personal agendas/tensions/vendetta brewing between employees of rival political parties.(*some professors are exceptions to this and really care about students)
By the time the third-semester starts, which can take anywhere from 1-2years, almost all students are trying to find a mental escape. For some, that meant focusing mostly on sports or student politics or music or extra-curricular or social activism or weed or alcohol or cards. I am not saying these listed things are all necessarily bad but that is not the reason anyone came to the only technical university of the country. By the time 5th -semester starts (which can take anywhere between 3-3.5years), most of the students just want to get out and like a prison sentence want it to be over with, be done with it, so that they can move on from the trauma they had been facing for the last few years.
Finally, they drag themselves to 7th semester and go to LEE internship in partnership with PMAMP, which I have to admit has some good things like you get to see not only is the university screwed up, the local government bodies designed to help farmers are governed based on outdated ideas without solid research backbone, and lead by old, corrupt graduates from the same university. The main action such government bodies seem to be taking is balancing the book after “expenditures”, figuring out how can the travel bonus be maximized. I personally saw the manager even bring old curtains from his home for the office and pass it off as new purchases. I also saw the manager hire two people, and made their appointment date two months before their actual appointment, and simply pocketed their combined salary of two months.
All this is not only enough to make anyone cynical but can make anyone depressed. For me, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with this university or the Lok Sewa. All I had in mind was escaping the system, I couldn’t concretely point out what I learned about agriculture research. All I had was a faint memory of memorizing photocopies of notes and slides given by the professors. Some of the slides given by some professors were just downloaded from Slideshare and used it without acknowledging its source and passing it as their own. Weren’t they the ones supposed to teach us about plagiarism, academic integrity, and the importance of doing good science?
Frustrated by the system but with still some desire to do actual research, I came to the US for graduate school. I felt like I learned more academically in the first year here in the US than I had at 5years of undergraduate degree even though I had taken 12 credits of classwork in the US while my undergrad degree had 160 credit hours of courses. I am learning on the go, adapting to the challenges but I am loving it here in the US, at least academically.
Still, I am haunted by my time at AFU not just mentally but in reality. I graduated from AFU in 2075 but they haven’t given me my degree certificate yet. I have to beg here with my university in the US to remove my registration hold and defer the submission of the missing document every semester. I have already deferred it three times and looks like I have reached the end of a rope, I have to either submit that degree certificate or take an academic leave and leave US soil as I have to take a minimum number of credits as an international student on an F1 visa. I emailed the dean, examination controller, even the office of VC and didn’t get one reply to my email. I sent friends and family to the AFU offices asking for my degree certificate and all they say is that they cannot give a convocation certificate without convocation. And when asked when will the convocation happen, all they say is they don’t know, there needs to be a meeting to organize the convocation and it’s not their problem. I dug deeper to find about why the convocation isn’t being held. As per AFU guidelines (at least that’s what the officials said), convocation is supposed to happen every two years which was supposed to happen on Chaitra 2076 for my batch but it got postponed once before I don’t know why and later due to Covid-19.
But now, more than 10 months after the postponement, there isn’t a single public update about convocation. Why not just organize it virtually? Or just cancel the convocation and let the student get their degree certificate. But no there are rules they need to follow. It feels like the rules are there to exert tyrannical power for some rather than help students. I am not sure what is going to happen now as I was planning to graduate in the summer of 2021 which now seems only a maybe and I dread the possibility of having to return to Nepal without getting the opportunity to complete my degree, all because AFU won’t release my final degree certificate 3 years after I graduated from there. I never thought I would go into Lok Sewa or a government job or anything like that but I still wanted to return to my home in Nepal and do something independently while being close with my family, and help contribute to developing the nation in a small meaningful way. More I think about it now, it feels like AFU is just an example case for what is going on with institutions in Nepal in general. And I keep asking myself is this the fight I want to fight? I have no interest in being an administrator, I just want to invest my skills and time and asking and looking for research questions that concern farmers and the agriculture sector but there doesn’t seem to be an option that doesn’t include me scratching the hairs out of my head. Hope seems to fade, maybe there never was hope and it was all just optimism of a naive
I hope I have convinced you why AFU is demoralizing a whole generation of Agriculture graduates. But what I have mentioned here is just the tip of an ice-berg and the underlying issues are too many to list.
Long reign the Corruption!