Political Economy of Education Governance in Nepal


Research Team

Punya Prasad Neupane, Trilochan Pokharel, Hari Dhungana, Trilochan Paudel, Ishwori Ghimire, Anil Gupta, Anita Poudel

Executive Summary

The new Constitution of Nepal, promulgated in 2015, devolved the power and jurisdiction on school education to the local governments. They are tasked to take up the function on education, when its quality in Nepal’s schools remain dismal (World Bank, 2018), despite some impressive progress, especially in net enrolment (National Planning Commission [NPC], 2015).  Accordingly, the onus of improving access and quality of education amongst Nepal’s children and young population now rests on the local governments. But, how are the local governments preparing themselves for this mandate? How are they envisioning the take-over of this mandate? What blockages and opportunities do they have in hand, and how are they navigating through challenges, given their electoral and other commitments regarding education? This study aims to highlight how the local governments are preparing to take on and deliver their constitutionally recognized responsibilities and functions on education, and how the actors and institutions facilitate and constrain this process. This paper looks into the process of transfer of power in education, the barriers experienced by the local governments and strategies for going forward.
Nepal Administrative Staff College (NASC) conducted this study in collaboration with The Asia Foundation, as part of a groundwork to strengthen sub-national governance in Nepal. It adopted a political economy approach by identifying actors and institutions and their incentives in facilitating or constraining the transfer of power on education from the central level to the local governments. The approach also provided a framework to map the relationships across actors, and to look through conflicts and contestations that characterize the resistance to transfer of power.
This study was conducted during a period when the jurisdiction on education was being transferred to the local governments as part of the implementation of restructuring of Nepal. The local governments started taking charge of the local jurisdictions after a long vacuum of elected leadership from 2002 to 2017. The newly elected government officials recognize education as a critical responsibility but their primary concern at present is to bridge the gap in quality of education imparted in private and public (community) schools. They recognize the effort required to improve the quality of education and to ensure enrolment of every child in a school.
This study first examines education in terms of fundamental right, the division of power in the new Constitution, and outlines the trajectory of its devolution through political regimes. Nepal’s “modern” education began as a centrally-planned and nationalized system in the 1950s. This gave way to modest devolution of education in early 2000s under the local governance laws. The new Constitution, however, provided unprecedented rights to the local governments on school education as enumerated jurisdiction. As this transfer of authority unfolds there is cooperation in some areas and conflict in others and this study dwells upon the challenges that the local government officials encounter in this process.
The immediate challenges are concerned with the responsibilities which are transferred to the local governments, such as, merger of schools, transfer of staffs, textbook distribution, management of teachers, and conducting school examinations. Some of the additional hurdles for the local governments were the continued assertion for centralization of power, and slow devolution of authority to the local level officials. Filling the void of local governments for 15 years after the political instability is indeed proving to be difficult for them.
Overall, local governments in Nepal are taking over the constitutional jurisdiction on education. In this process, they are facing resistance and hurdles in the transfer of power, in addition to the problems lingering in the education sector for years. Thus, in order to address these issues, the local governments need to negotiate with the federal and provincial governments and with multiple local actors; enhance their capacity with technical backstopping and support on planning, execution, and accountability. 

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