Nepal’s first university—Tribhuvan University (TU)—was established only in 1959, although there was a serious effort to set up a university a decade earlier, in 1949, during the reign of the last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher. The earlier effort did not realize a university: it was aborted after an exercise of a year or so, due mainly to internal political, financial and external factors (Parajuli forthcoming). There doesn’t seem to be much of a headway/interest in pushing the university idea immediately after the political change of 1951. However, with the setting up of the National Education Planning Commission in March 1954, the idea of a national university was reinvigorated—the Commission’s report recommended for the “immediate action to open a university” (see Pandey, KC and Wood 1956). The Government of Nepal (GON) also took up this recommendation, as it figured in the first Five Year Plan (Shakya 1984). Soon after, the existing education related agreement between the GON and the United States Operation Mission (USOM) was amended, and a higher education component was added to support the endeavor to establish the university in the country. In the meantime, two university commissions were formed. Kaisher Bahadur KC reportedly led the first commission, which it seems very few people knew and heard about, and it somehow collapsed shortly afterwards (Shakya 1984). The second commission under the co-chair-ship of the two queen mothers (wives of late king Tribhuvan) was formed in March 1956 with Dr Parashar Narayan Suwal as its member secretary. With the tutelage of queen mothers and with also the support of the US through the higher education project, one may think that the university project sailed through rather smoothly, and the extant published literature may allude to a linear progression (e.g., Shakya 1984; Upadhyay 2058 v.s.; TU 2066). However, a close reading of the published documents, and particularly the archival documents portray a different, convoluted story. This paper argues that there were conflicting interests at play: the university project was stymied from the outset by the “cold war” within the palace led by queen mothers on one front and the disinterested reigning King Mahendra on the other, as well as the competition between the US and India to exert their sphere of influence in Nepal. Based primarily on the personal/official records available at the HB Wood collections of Hoover Archives, this paper narrates the intricate story of the politics of the founding of the Tribhuvan University.

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Parajuli, Lokranjan. Forthcoming. A University for the Nation’s Survival? A History of the University that Didn’t Become. In Nepal: Cultural Politics in the Long 1950s. Mark Liechty, Pratyoush Onta and Lokranjan Parajuli, eds.
Shakya, Soorya Bahadur. 1984. Establishing and Development of Tribhuvan University (1955-1973). Kathmandu: Research Division, Rector’s Office, TU.
TU (Tribhuvan University). 2066 v.s. Tribhuvan Vishwovidayalay Swarna Jayanti Smarika 2066. Kathmandu: TU.
Upadhyay, Purushottam Prasad. 2058 v.s. Tribhuvan Vishwovidyalaya : Vigatdekhi Vartamansamma. Kathmandu: Bina Upadhyay.