Nervous and scared

Full of promise

The Class XII results are out. 8,576 students took the exams last year. And a good 86% of them passed.

They’ve completed school. Some of them will go to college. Some will undergo training. And the rest will enter the world of work. They’ve begun a brand new chapter in their lives, a chapter that should be full of promise and excitement. So we should be happy for them. And we should be excited for them.

But I’m not. I’m not happy. And I’m not excited. Instead, I’m nervous. And I’m scared.

More than 7,300 students passed the Class XII exams. The Royal University of Bhutan’s 10 colleges have room for only 2,000 students. And fewer than 250 students will receive scholarships to study abroad.

The rest of them – about 5,000 students – will have to fend for themselves. They’ll have to look for money to continue their studies. Or they’ll have to look for jobs.

Youth unemployment is already high. So securing jobs won’t be easy. That means that many parents will be forced to take out loans to send their children to study in India. And that means that the remaining thousands of students face the dreadful prospect of unemployment.

The government has promised full employment, especially for educated youth, by creating 75,000 jobs during the Tenth Plan. And most of those jobs were to be generated by the accelerating Bhutan’s socio-economic development (ABSD) program for which McKinsey was employed.

McKinsey’s consultants have come and gone. The Tenth Plan will be over by June next year. Youth unemployment is already high. And thousands of Class XII students will now need jobs.

So it’s time for the government to make good on their promise. It’s time to show us the jobs. Otherwise, it’s time for us, all of us, to get nervous. It’s time to get scared.

Where’s equity?

Bright stuff?

First, the good news: the government has granted autonomy to the Royal University of Bhutan. This means that the university can now concentrate on improving standards without the usual encumbrances of the bureaucracy., a tertiary education search engine, places our university at a lowly 7,418 of the 10,000 universities they rank. Hopefully, their ranking is not accurate. Hopefully, the RUB will correct it to more accurately reflect their real ranking. And hopefully, RUB will improve on their real ranking.

Naturally, a lot more is now possible – and expected – from our university.  There’s a lot of work to do. But I’m optimistic.

Now the bad news: the first thing that an autonomous RUB has done is to start charging fees.

Actually, charging fees is not bad. Tertiary education is expensive. And, in order to improve standards and to ensure sustainability, we must start paying for college.

But the way the university is going about charging fees is questionable. 90% of their students don’t pay any money, while 10% of them are charged hefty fees. Those 10% of the students have to shell out a colossal Nu 69,000 to 83,000 depending on their course. And on top of that, they, unlike the other students, are required to pay boarding fees.

Our last poll asked if RUB should charge fees. 46% answered “Yes”. And 54% said “No”. Perhaps they too would have supported fees if those fees had been applied more sensibly.

So how should RUB charge fees? With equity!

A minority of the students – say 10% of them – should be given full scholarships for, for example, excelling in academics, sports and culture, and to promote diversity and gender balance. The rest should have to pay fees.

So, instead of 10% of the students paying Nu 70,000 per year, there would be 90% of the students paying a much more manageable Nu 7,777 per year.

And in three years, instead of 30% of the students paying Nu 70,000 per year, as envisaged by the university, there would be 90% of the students paying Nu 30,000 per year.

The RUB should charge fees if they must, especially if college standards are set to improve. But they should do so sensibly. And with equity.

Photo credit: Royal University of Bhutan