A recent statistic reveals that during the first three months of this year, nearly 40,000 students obtained no objection certificates of the Ministry of Education for university studies abroad. Students need the certificate to earn foreign exchange to pay for their tuition, travel, and accommodation costs. Although only counted in official figures, some $300 million flew away with them at a time when Nepal is reeling under the pressure of a rapid Decline in foreign exchange reserves. At this rate, the number of students leaving the country is likely to top 100,000 this year alone.
Comprehensive and credible data on the exact number of students leaving the country for higher education and the number bleeding out of the national treasury are extremely scarce. Conservative Dear Let’s assume that some 60-75,000 students fly out of the country each year, mostly to developed countries, and at least $1.5 billion fly with them. Almost an equal amount is suspected to flow informally. the ministry statistics show that until the last fiscal year, about 400,000 students went to study abroad during the period of the last decade. This trend has only grown over the years, and following the lifting of Covid-19 related restrictions by major destination countries such as Australia, the UK, Japan, the US and others, growth has been geometric.
The paradox of supply and demand in Nepal’s higher education is precariously manifested by an incessant outflow of students and foreign exchange, while higher education institutions generally cannot even fill approved vacancies for admission. Students go to foreign countries not only for highly technical and scientific courses such as artificial intelligence, astronomy, biochemical engineering, or nuclear science, but also for regular courses in the humanities and social sciences.
The reason for such an exodus is generally touted as the “unacceptable” quality of educational output from Nepalese institutions. In essence, this phenomenon has jeopardized both the future of Nepal’s higher education and the billions of dollars in private investment in the sector. Nepal’s higher education institutions, including 12 universities and hundreds of their affiliates, educators and legislators seem powerless to defend this persistently ominous accusation. This implicitly connotes that our national higher education system has not met national expectations.
In addition to the hordes of students leaving the country, educational institutions in Nepal are also feeling the heat of increased market competition on several fronts. Private universities here are operating with international university affiliation and many renowned international institutions are vying to open campuses in Nepal. Furthermore, there are clear indications that after India adopted its National Education Policy 2020 With one of the key priorities being the “internationalization” of Indian education, several Indian educational institutions plan to be physically present in the Nepalese market, further exacerbating competition.
Needless to say, in terms of poor results in the face of huge public investments, state-funded universities have largely failed the nation. Self-funded public universities like Kathmandu University, despite their undisputed best performance over the years, are deprived of adequate support of publicly funded resources to maintain quality and expand their programs. Apart from other things, such a state policy would have prevented at least a few thousand students from going abroad each year. Universities cannot admit given quota of students due to extremely conservative policy approaches as in admission to medical education. For example, him Nepal Medical CompanyThe mission, last year, did not even pass an adequate number of students through the entrance test for medical schools to fill their approved vacancies. Higher education has attracted substantial private investment. But their quality was unlikely to be expected to exceed the average of their respective home universities. This is a clear stumbling block to Nepal’s inability to get out of the infamous “licensing regime” in education where inefficient “licensing” authorities still hold sway.
Looking at things from an ecosystem approach, quality doesn’t seem to be the only reason students want to leave the country. Perhaps it is due more to the lack of credible mechanisms to obtain financial support, including easy loans, to obtain higher education, coupled with the absence of post-education job security. Therefore, the problem is also related to the structure of the internal labor market.
Three restrictive bottlenecks are particularly evident in the reform of Nepal’s higher education system. First, policy reform is too late. Policy-making leadership, both political and administrative, has consistently failed to understand the rapidly changing paradigms of education, as well as the dynamics of the future labor market. Ongoing reform in curricula and pedagogy often takes a backseat. The delivery of even pre-built courses has pervasively remained suboptimal. The idea of linking academic production with the potential demand for skills in the labor market is hardly embedded in the policy-making process.
Second, the availability of a well-qualified faculty remains another daunting challenge. Teaching in Nepal is a relatively poorly paid and poorly respected profession. It does not attract the best graduates. Most of the hired professors are mediocre and left over from more attractive jobs outside of academia. The scarcity of teacher training and development opportunities is having an adverse effect on quality.
Third, Nepal’s education system has historically suffered from chronic underinvestment. The government budget for the current fiscal year has allocated Rs180 billion for the sector, which constitutes only about 4.2 percent of GDP. This is quite low even compared to the practices in developing countries. Furthermore, the proper utilization of allocated funds versus educational outcomes is also pathetic, to say the least.
Things were expected to improve substantially after the enactment of the federal constitution that categorically separated the responsibilities of providing school education at the local level and higher education at the federal and provincial levels. But the successive governments of the last seven years have failed to pass the necessary legislation to regulate university education. The long-awaited “Comprehensive Higher Education Bill” is still in limbo. Clearly, there seems to be an absence of political will to improve higher education in the country without which it is impossible to avoid going downhill.