The other way aroundWith the right policies, Nepal can be turned into a destination for foreign students
A vast number of students are going abroad to study, even though several good quality courses are available in Nepal. Are they all motivated by concerns over the quality of education here? Of course not. Most of these students are more concerned about job opportunities, wage rates, the possibility of earning enough to cover tuition and living expenses, and most importantly, the chance of securing permanent residency status abroad after graduation.
Amid the exodus of Nepali students flying off to various developed countries for higher education, it might sound absurd to discuss the possibility of attracting international students to Nepal. Notwithstanding the growing wave of outbound students, one can still claim that there is good potential to make Nepal an attraction for foreign students provided our government formulates appropriate policies and programmes. Unfortunately, our policymakers are simply making a fuss about this trend and doing nothing concrete to stem it. Rather interestingly, many of them are trying to send their own children abroad.
Demand exists, even without promotion
The rise in the number of youths going abroad for education is not a problem; the problem is that we are not doing anything to promote the courses and institutions that have the potential to attract students from other countries. There is already a growing attraction among international students from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the US, Germany and Canada to study medicine, language, religion, culture, ethnicity, geography, environment and rural development in various institutions affiliated to Tribhuvan University (TU) and Kathmandu University (KU).
Until some years ago, there were around 1,081 international students at KU, now this number must have gone up. Many foreign students are showing increased interest in studying medical courses in Nepal, as well, but our government is planning to limit the number of medical colleges. Admittedly, we still lag behind in terms of technology and innovation, but we have a plethora of fields of study related to medicinal herbs, minerals and Nepal’s geographical, social, cultural and linguistic diversity that can attract many research students.
Wouldn’t it be interesting for a foreign student to study the 6,500 species of flowering plants available in Nepal? Furthermore, tourism courses and Buddhist studies in our country can also have strong appeal for many international students. If the government works with our universities, many international students will come here to join regular courses and research degree and non-degree courses. Hence, there is still a ray of hope that Nepal may become a destination for study.
Education reform for prosperity
The major political parties have repeatedly been saying that now is the time to bring economic prosperity to Nepal. Economic progress and education are inextricably interwoven. However, none of the parties have put forth a clear vision as to the importance of reforming Nepal’s higher education system and internationalising it. Talking about economic prosperity without revamping the current education system is a good instance of paying lip service to the idea.
It’s high time our policymakers started coming up with some initiatives towards internationalising our education by attracting a large number of foreign students. The existing universities should be upgraded by having more international programmes like academic collaboration, student/faculty exchange and internship programmes in collaboration with the best universities around the world.
The way should also be open for private universities to function with specialisation in particular fields of study. There should be separate autonomous bodies besides the University Grants Commission for accreditation of institutions to ensure quality. With the view of increasing the number of international students, there should be a nodal point under the government to facilitate efforts to promote Nepali education among the Nepali diaspora, as well as foreign students. There are tens of thousands of Nepali students spread across more than 40 countries around the world, and we can frame outreach plans to use them as our ambassadors. The government can develop scholarships and incentive plans in coordination with our universities to encourage the best brains to come to Nepal as researchers.
We can learn from the efforts made by our two next-door neighbours, India and China, to bring international students. India has a separate designated government body named EdCIL to promote Indian education in foreign markets and admit international students. They have taken a number of practical and strategic steps to attract international students. As per a report, India has set a target to enrol 100,000 foreign students by 2020, while China’s target is 500,000 students by the same year. In contrast, educational consultancies in Nepal are given targets by foreign institutions to send our students to them.
If we fail to bring globalisation into our education system, educational institutions in Nepal, far from attracting foreign students, will turn into places to study for students from poor families who cannot afford to go abroad. Thus, if we hope to see Nepal not only as a source country but also a host country for international students, our voices for education reform should be a symphony, and not a cacophony.
Chapagain works in the field of student advising for international education