Prof. Padam Simkhada : The Pedagogical Vanguard

November 17, 2014 , by Pragya Thapaliya, 6 Comments
Prof. Padam Simkhada : The Pedagogical Vanguard » My Dreams Mag
When a sapling grows to a tree, it grows new leaves, gains new heights, expands to a wide area. But its strength always depends on its roots. An identity runs parallel to the origin and one can only achieve self-actualisation if that identity is embraced. Professor Padam Simkhada is a tree whose present has been strengthened by the roots. Born in a tiny village of Gumdi VDC in Dhading, Padam Simkhada is now an established name in the UK. But Simkhada is the one who knows his roots Simkhada recently got promoted to Professor in International Public Health, a promotion that will see him lending lessons at the Liverpool John Moores University from this December. Prof. Simkhada is a firm believer that one should appreciate their origin and pay back to the community. He was honoured with the prestigious “Global Health Award 2013” by Confederation of Epidemiological Associations for significant contributions to both global health research and North-South Partnership among higher education institutions. Prof Simkhada also took the lead to launch a module in "International Development in Nepal" in the University of Sheffield. DREAMS caught up with him and talked about his struggles and journeys and his ongoing and future projects.

How would you describe your journey from a tiny village in Dhading to being a doctor and a senior lecturer and professor at a renowned university in the U.K?

It is probably an organized walk! I think this is a combination of luck, continuous dedication, support from my family members and friends, and opportunities that I received. I never thought that I would be a professor in the most renowned university in the UK.

I think my parents’ decision to send me to school education when many of my friends in my village never went to school probably opened me the doors for further education. The initial journey began with my brothers’ support and guidance for university education in Kathmandu and it got a complete shape with a hard decision to move to UK. I am lucky enough to meet and work with good people who supported me to step up the academic ladder quickly.


Out of all the fields you could choose to explore yourself, why health?

Well, I wanted to be a traffic police officer. When I came to Kathmandu for the first time as a 14-year-old boy, I saw traffic police showing directions and instructing pedestrians and drivers in the Kingsway. I was mesmerised by their outfit, particularly the cap and gloves imagining myself in their dress code.

I was keen to study engineering in the 10th grade. But after I passed my SLC with first division, everyone including my family members encouraged me to study health science and I did proficiency certificate in general and traditional medicine. I later worked for ‘Save the Children UK’ in Sindhupalchowk district as a Health Worker, that was the turning point for me.


What are the factors that have shaped you as a person today?

Well, I think there are a number of factors. I think it is luck, team work, networking, mentoring from seniors, support from family and friends. More importantly, it is opportunity as well. If you want to become a successful researcher or an academic in the UK (I am not sure whether I am successful or not), you need to work in a team. You cannot progress alone.

When I came to the UK, academic environment was new for me. Having a good mentor and support was vital for my progress. I always respect and remember my supervisor at Brunel University London – late Prof Theo McDonald. He was a real hero and the true definition of ‘GURU’ in my life. When I moved to Aberdeen I met Prof Edwin venTeijlingen, great scholar and fan of Nepal and Nepali people, who is also one of the biggest mentors in my life. We are still working together although we are in different universities. I do not think I would be here without his support in my academic life. I think working in an academic field is the same as working in other field but I think there are certain things which should get priority. Being productive with your time is essential in working towards your goals, both professionally and personally.

There will always be times of uncertainty in our lives but we have to be ready to face it. I believe that successful people never venture out on their own. In fact, it’s impossible particularly in academic life. Having people who can mentor you, keep you accountable, and talk through your concerns will always help you.

University of Sheffield has recently launched a module in "International Development in Nepal". How did this programme get launched?

Globalisation is a key feature of UK Universities these days. Students face unprecedented choice and the expectations of a global learning experience irrespective of the countries they study in. Sheffield University was also keen to start International development related study in one of the developing countries and I proposed to choose Nepal as a study country. I believe there are a lot of things students from UK can learn from Nepal. University agreed my proposal and started the ‘International Development Field’ class module about Nepal in the Sheffield University.


In which year can the students take this course? What are the topics covered in it? And does the course include visits to Nepal?

Master Degree students of Sheffield University can take this module. At the moment, students who are doing Masters in Public Health, Masters in International Development and Masters in Environment Science can take this module. The module is worth 15 credits. Course consists of face to face teaching in Sheffield for 6-8 weeks and two-week long field visit in Nepal and group work. We cover wide range of Nepal related topics in this module such as socio-political context of Nepal, contemporary development issues, health care, education system, community development, gender issues, migration and community participation.

Within health topic, we cover maternal health, mental health, reproductive and sexual health, sanitation, use of traditional healers and few others. As a part of field visit in Nepal, a group of students work with Nepali research guide team and investigate or explore one of the issues that is important for Nepal. After the field visit, students produce a report and policy brief and hand it to the policy makers and local government. There are a lot of opportunities to learn from each other. Last year we took 22 students and three teachers to Nepal. We are hoping to bring around 30 students and three staffs this year as well.

As an health expert, what are the priority areas do you think the Government of Nepal needs to address right away and what are the best way to combat them?

There are a number of challenges for the Government of Nepal. Political instability has hit Nepal hardly in the last two decades. The country has been ruled by 20 governments since the introduction of democracy in 1990 with the country slipping down to 157th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index. As I am working in the higher education and health sectors, I would like to focus on some of the challenges in these sectors.

While there has been substantial progress on health indicators, malnutrition remains very high. Nearly half of the children under 5 are stunted, and 36 percent under weight. At the same time, obesity and overweight is growing among urban children. We have communicable diseases in one hand and there are growing problems on non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Mental health, particularly suicide among reproductive age women is really growing concern these days. There is evidence of worsening economic inequalities in access and use of health services and it is essential to tackle this disparity and improve access to care in remote areas. For example, maternal mortality is higher among women from mountain districts, rural areas, and in certain caste/ethnic groups. Similarly, there is need to improve quality of care and develop an accountable system.

How often do you travel to Nepal? Are their currently any ongoing projects in Nepal?

I visit Nepal almost every two months. I visited Nepal five times last year. Although I am based in UK University, my heart and mind is in Nepal. I love working with Nepali people, researchers and students. We have a number of research and capacity development projects in Nepal and I am leading some of them. I think my team has made significant progress in health research, institutional collaboration and capacity building activities in Nepal.

A number of public health researches like sex trafficking of women, sexual behaviour of trekking guides, improving maternal health, community based health promotion interventions, women migration in gulf countries are currently running in Nepal. Similarly, I am involved on capacity building projects such as Development of Partnership in Higher Education in Nepal (known as DelPHE project), orientation for Nepali MPs on evidence based policy, workshops in qualitative research, systematic review for Nepali academics.

I have played key role to develop the collaboration among UK universities and Nepali higher education institutions and NGOs. We have institutional collaboration with Pokhara University, Nobel College, Manmohan Institute of Health Science, Tribhuvan University, BP Koirala Institute of Health Science Dharan, Green Tara Nepal, PHASE Nepal and other institutions.


You have also talked about privatization of medicinal institutions and how it widens the gap between the elites and the poorest of the poor. What measures should the government take to bridge this gap?

Yes! Privatization in medical education increases the gaps between rich and poor. If you look at the current situation, you need to donate millions of rupees to get a place in medical education. Many poor Nepali students cannot even dream to afford it. What we have seen over the past decade or so is that, higher education enrollment is expanding primarily in the private sector. This is likely to restrict even more the access to higher education for the poorest part of the population. If you look, even in public sector, the bottom two quintiles’ share in higher education is less than 2%.

Nepal’s education system is part of its century-old autocratic and feudalistic political legacy as such has contributed with the country’s socio-economic inequalities. Specifically, higher education was male dominated and elitist; almost half of public spending on education used to absorb by the richest 20% of the population and very little was spent on the poorest 20%. Most vocational courses such as engineering and medicine, which lead to high status and generally well-paid jobs, are generally affordable only to the rich and upper middle classes.


You asked me the solution, which is not easy. Health and education is a human right and government should guarantee it to every citizen. The quality of the public universities must be improved by reviewing the higher education system. It will be hard work to get everybody to accept and adopt such drastic paradigm shift. While revamping Nepal’s higher education system, attention should be given to address the diversity of the population (e.g. socio-economic status, rural/urban, ethnicity, gender) and the country’s geography. It is unclear what will happen in the future, but it is clear to me that the country needs a clear-cut education policy to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

It is difficult to change the higher education without improving Tribhuvan University’s situation first, as it caters to more than 90 percent of higher education students in the country. It will need to resolve concerns over the content of the curriculum. Education section should be an intellectual platform to generate new knowledge and it should be out of party politic.


As an NRN, you have been constantly dedicating your time, energy and resources for the betterment of Nepal. Would you like to extend some words of wisdom for other Nepalese on how they can give back to their motherland?

Distance makes no difference if you really want to help your motherland. The world has become a smaller place, thanks to the globalisation. So, you can support your community and country wherever you live in. I like the quote by John F. Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” I think all the NRNs should feel this from our heart.

As you know, many of us blame our country for being poor. We cannot choose the place of birth and death, as it is all destiny. If you feel that you were born in a developing nation, you must contribute your best to ensure its progress. People often migrate to the developed countries like the UK or the USA and forget to contribute to their countries where they were born. There is nothing wrong migrating to these nations. But not giving back to your mother land definitely is.

Prof. Simkhada has put up a milestone initiating this module of education and made an appraisable effort to make Nepal more traceable in the world map. Distance has never been a hindrance in his case. Simkhada’s altruism has inspired many Nepalese, both within the nation, and out. DREAMS wishes him success in the days to come and hopes more people will follow his lead.

In conversation with Pragya Thapaliya.
Follow Pragya on Twitter @pragya16

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Categorised in: Interviews, People

6 comments on “Prof. Padam Simkhada : The Pedagogical Vanguard

  1. Rudra Dhakal says:

    Dr Padam Simkhada is an inspiring figure in my life. He personally has inspired me a lot towards the journey of my education.

  2. Sarita Panday says:

    There is no doubt that you have contributed substantially to help Nepal to get wider recognition in the Academic world. The most important accomplishment I feel is providing opportunities for the international students and researchers to undertake studies on the grounds of your homeland. I have met many students and researchers in the UK getting inspired to work in Nepal or already had some exposure in Nepal through your help, which makes me feel proud. Your hard work and dedication for the health improvement of Nepal is exemplary. Wish you all the best for your future endeavor!

  3. Uttam Nepali says:

    I would like to Congratulate to DREAMS for wonderful and really inspiring interview. I have read Prof Simkhada’s other interviews which were really educational and inspiring.
    I think he has made significant contributions for Nepal and Nepali community.
    I wish you will have similar interviews in coming issues as well.

  4. namata kadel says:

    I found Padam as a show piece. He advertise each and very activities that he does, in the Facebook such as presented a paper, visited the places , i did this and that. if you have potential , you should not have to advertise yourself. He does not seems intellectual person , seeing his cheap advertisement of his work.I request him as a well wisher, please do not do cheap advertisement, this will not attract the intellectual person.
    I don’t know,how he is rated in the UK.

  5. namata kadel says:

    If you do not believe, see his Facebook status..i am afraid to see that, this is from a lecturer of UK university. Such a cheap publicity.

    • Uttam Nepali says:

      Dear Namata ji
      I think sharing the success, useful information and publications on social media (face book, twitter or other places) is good practice. I think Prof Padam is doing extremely good things. You have to do it otherwise how other people will know it. Your Facebook is your personal and people use it in different ways.

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