Studying abroadIn recent years, the ever-increasing trend of Nepali students leaving the country for higher education has been in the spotlight.
In recent years, the ever-increasing trend of Nepali students leaving the country for higher education has been in the spotlight. It has been statistically substantiated that the number of study-abroad aspirants has leapfrogged, suggesting that foreign educational institutions and the degrees they bestow are growing in popularity, particularly at the tertiary level of education. There has been an unprecedented surge in outbound student mobility since 2012-13.
According to sources at the Ministry of Education, 16,499 students obtained No Objection Certificates (NOCs) in that school year, and the number doubled by 2015-16 with 33,000 students receiving NOCs. This figure is not exact because not all the students who collect NOCs obtain a visa from the embassies/high commissions of the respective countries. But the number is estimated to be even higher, since around 80 percent of India-bound students do not apply for NOCs even though it has been made compulsory. Around 15,000 students are estimated to be joining Indian institutions every year, making India the top study destination for Nepali students.
This trend angers some people, including those holding high government positions. They argue that education in Nepal has lost billions of rupees and that this has triggered a ‘brain drain’. But instead of lamenting this trend, it is high time we started pondering the motivation behind studying abroad and deliberated on ways of getting graduates back to Nepal.
Reasons for going
A number of factors contribute to the rising number of students who want to go abroad. Our higher education system has not yet been able to create a convincing link between educational degrees and jobs. This contributes to a bleak outlook for students who study in Nepal. The curricula of most of our universities are merely knowledge-driven rather than industry-driven, which is why many of our students obtain degrees not knowing what to do after graduation. The core of higher education should be research and innovation (RI)—which is still a distant dream for our universities.
Conversely, the education systems of developed nations have a strong focus on RI, and there are high prospects for employment. This entices our students to study abroad. Furthermore, there is a lack of meritocracy in leading positions in Nepali academia due to thoughtless political meddling. Other factors, like most of the universities not following academic calendars, and anomalies in conducting academic activities also push the students abroad.
Although our government has been striving to improve the quality, relevance, and efficiency of higher education through various programmes, like the Nepal Higher Education Reform Project with loan assistance worth $65 million from the World Bank, the changes seen so far are more cosmetic than substantive. Arguably, our education policy makers still do not seem to realise that a private sector with proper state monitoring can play a significant role in boosting the quality of education. Welcoming the private sector to establish universities with academic autonomy could help minimise the outward flow of students. At a time when our nearest neighbour India has more than 770 private universities, we do not have a single one.
Coming up with a vision
Student mobility should not be as worrisome as some of us think. It has now become a global phenomenon. A study has shown that China, India, and Korea now hold leading positions in terms of sending students aboard. China and Japan have adopted the strategies of utilising the knowledge and skill of their foreign-graduated students for technical, economic, and human resource development. They encourage students who have studied abroad to return, by offering high level positions in the government and private industries.
Initially, we can do two things: create more employment opportunities and an atmosphere which encourages self-entrepreneurship, so that students can utilise the knowledge gained abroad. Now is the time to constitute a forum consisting of experts representing our academia, bureaucrats, parents, industry, and educational consultancies that will deliberate and hold symposia and discussions. They should make suggestions on how to ensure that our students select quality institutions abroad, and how the skills, knowledge, and expertise they obtain there can best be utilised to transform our impoverished and underdeveloped country into a prosperous and developed nation. At the same time, we should also exert pressure on the government so that our higher education system embraces the international trends of research and innovation. By doing so, the outbound flow of students may gradually decrease while giving a boost to inbound mobility.
To quote Will Archer, CEO of the International Graduate Insight Group: “The whole idea of education is that it is a circulation of brains.” If we have a more open perspective towards student mobility, brain-drain can become brain-gain and brain-exchange, too. Provided that we take the initiative to get the expert brains back, it can be a boon rather than a bane for our country.
Chapagain and Bhattarai work in the field of student advising for international education