Policy & Economy

Reversing brain drain

Universities and policymakers should work to attract students instead of lamenting over low enrollments

Back in the day, only the kids from well-off families—mostly from the valley—and a handful of brilliant students with scholarships could go overseas for higher education. But things have changed in recent years, as is evident in the rising number of Nepali students leaving the country, especially after completing high school.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, around 600 students apply for a No Objection Certificate (NOC)—a must for Nepali students wanting to study abroad—daily. In 2022, the total number of students obtaining NOC reached 121,00, up from 44,800 the previous year. English-speaking nations (US, Australia, UK, and Canada) are the most favoured destinations for Nepali students, although non-English-speaking ones, such as Japan, Thailand and Germany, have also attracted many over the years.

Push and pull

The trend of studying abroad results from both push and pull factors. Concerns about political instability, corruption, economic uncertainty and lack of opportunities in the home country may push students to seek a better future elsewhere. Pursuing an education in foreign countries has become a huge status symbol among Nepalis. People boast about the successes of their friends, families and relatives by posting “attractive” pictures on social media, luring others. Meanwhile, students, and by extension their parents, are lured by the modern amenities and living standards of developed countries. Many Nepali parents consider it a failure on their part if their children are not abroad for education or work. Quality education, employment opportunities, higher earnings prospects, global exposure, better living standards and political and economic stability are some factors attracting young students to study abroad.

Enrollment crisis

As students continue to go abroad, Nepali universities and colleges are losing their prospective students. Private and government-funded universities have seen a sharp decline in student enrollment, and colleges, mostly those affiliated with Tribhuvan University (TU), are either terminating programmes or merging with others. Kathmandu University (KU), the country’s leading university known for offering quality education, is also struggling to fill its seats.

The exodus of students has led to a brain drain problem, as only a handful of them return to Nepal after graduation. In my conversations with Nepali students pursuing education in Australia and the US, I have not found anyone who wants to return home after graduating. They do not see any opportunity in Nepal, and many struggle to find the job they deserve even when they return. Even after employment, their salaries are insufficient to pay back their education loan. “We invested a huge amount of hard-earned money to earn the degree and can’t recover our investment by working in Nepal,” a female graduate who works at a New York-based corporate firm told me. Their struggle with paying expensive tuition fees for college and time management for work and study is a different story.

International undergraduate students pay between AUD20,000 and 40,000 yearly for undergraduate study in Australia. Many of them also require a one-year diploma programme for eligibility for undergraduate studies. However, a diploma programme costs as much as an undergraduate degree. Similarly, on average, an American undergraduate degree for international students costs around USD100,000. Nepali students reportedly took USD571 million to various countries for their tuition fees in the last 11 months of FY 2022-23.

Article written by & read more here : The Kathmandu Post

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