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Bhattarai Awarded Prestigious Fulbright Specialist Opportunity in Nepal in Urban Planning

By Jeff Murphy, May 24, 2018

WARRENSBURG, MO – Exemplifying the University of Central Missouri’s commitment to bring a worldwide perspective into the classroom, Keshav Bhattarai will have more international experience to share with students this fall after serving as a Fulbright Specialist in Nepal June 20 to July 24. He will work in an urban planning capacity at Tribbuvan University (TU) in Kathmandu, as part of the prestigious Fulbright program through the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


The impetus for Bhattarai to be considered as a Fulbright Specialist came after TU submitted a proposal to the Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu seeking assistance in the fields of agriculture, computer science, math education, economics, and urban planning.


“Since my field is close to urban planning, I applied as an Urban Planning Specialist,” said Bhattarai.


The UCM professor of geography has experience teaching courses in areas such as geospatial analysis (GIS), including use of GIS software to help compile and study data related to the environmental and life sciences. 


“The Central Department of Geography (CDG) and Institute of Engineering (IoE) of Tribbuvan University are aspiring to be the lead institutions in urban planning in Nepal by linking research with teaching and policy recommendations,” Bhattarai said. “In many aspects, these institutions have been very successful. However, in view of the current rapid rate of urbanization in Nepal from 15 percent until 2015 to abrupt rise to 65 percent in 2017 while implementing the new constitution with federal structure, Nepal is facing daunting tasks in improving urban life quality.”


Bhattarai noted that under Nepal’s new constitution, the country has experienced a significant reduction in the number of local political units, which has dropped from more than 3,700 in 2014 to 753 in 2017. Urban political units – which include municipalities, sub-metropolitan cities, and metropolitan cities -- increased from 105 to 205 units during the same time frame, along with additional responsibilities.


“The newly formed urban areas have appended many rural areas to meet the population thresholds to form municipality, sub-metropolitan and metropolitan units. However, many of these urban areas so classified are characterized by ‘ruralopolises’ where people living in rural settings within the legally defined urban areas are competing with the limited facilities of the urban cores,” Bhattarai said. “Despite such competition for limited resources/facilities, many of the ruralopolises are aspiring to becoming ‘smart cities’.” 


The problem faced by political leaders and urban planners in Nepal is the lack of real-time geospatial data to promote these ruralopolises into “smart cities” and their conurbation, according to Bhattarai. Although TU wants to become a lead institution in urban planning, its faculty members who offer courses on urban planning,  need new tools and methods for urban planning with  the introduction of geospatial technology.  TU also lacks advanced level geospatial courses using state-of-the-art urban planning technology.


“As a Fulbright Specialist, I will facilitate TU and its affiliated institutions to develop and offer short-term geospatial courses, and will try to bridge between the University of Central Missouri and  TU to share geospatial software,” Bhaattarai said.


 He also will develop short-term courses for graduate students; interact with elected representatives and urban planners and educators within the Kathmandu Valley. He will visit urban areas to understand the ground realities and engage in discussions with elected representatives, urban planners, and educators of various levels, environmentalists, demographers, and social scientists; organize workshops; and assist in advancing geospatial courses that integrate both theoretical and practical aspects of urban planning.


“Utilizing this Fulbright opportunity, I will help in the collection of real time data by disseminating geospatial knowledge,” Bhattarai said. “Once this system is institutionalized, TU will play a very effective role in urban planning in Nepal.”


Among the many benefits of being a Fulbright Specialist in Nepal, Bhattarai will help develop a long-term collaborative framework for strengthening teaching and research between TU, Nepal, and UCM.  This includes opportunities to share knowledge gained through scholarly research and classroom applications, and in helping to develop the university’s Urban Planning course, which also can be integrated with business education.    


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