Nepali Universities ReelUnder Falling StudentEnrollment

Every day, 600 students are applying for NOC (No Objection Certificate) at the Ministry of Education

the HRM

  • This year, Tribhuvan University was forced to conduct the Central Management Admission Test (CMAT) twice as the number of students appearing for the admission test for the Master of Business Studies (MBS) was insufficient. The number of applicants for admission has dropped by approximately 2,000 compared to the previous year, even with the provision of two exam opportunities.
  • In 2022 alone, more than 100,000 students were issued no objection certificates (NOCs) by the Ministry of Education for their further studies abroad.
  • This year, the Management department of Tribhuvan University closed the Masters in Business Management (MBM) program due to insufficient enrollment. In previous years, 50 students would get enrolled 50 in the program.
  • The total enrollment in all schools of Kathmandu University stood at 70 percent this academic year except for the School of Law.

These are a few cases that show the deepening of problems in the education sector.

The ‘brain drain’ that Nepal has been facing for over the last two decades is so high currently that there is an exodus of youths who do not see any good prospects for them here after they complete their higher studies. With the country surrounded by a deep economic downturn and political instability, this has become more apparent.

At the same time, the allure of foreign universities, with their extensive range of courses, well-established global reputation, and potential career prospects, has influenced Nepali students’ decisions to explore educational avenues outside their home country.

The exodus
Every day, 600 students are applying for NOC (No Objection Certificate) at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology to pursue higher education abroad.

In 2022, 121,000 students were issued NOCs from 44,800 students in 2021. The restrictions on international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic stopped many youths in 2020 and 2021 to go abroad. After the pandemic subsided in 2022, the number of students flying out of the country surged dramatically.

Official data show Nepali students are going to more than 80 countries to pursue their higher education. Australia is the major destination for Nepali students as 66,802 students received NOCs to fly to the country Oceania in 2022 from 8,680 a year earlier. Likewise, Japan and Canada were the second and third preferred destinations as 16,157 and 11,032 students received NOCs for the countries in 2022.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom and the United States of America are the fourth and fifth preferred destinations for Nepalis as 7,627 and 5,120 NOCs were issued for these countries respectively in 2022.

Academicians cite a number of reasons behind this flight of Nepali youths. “The exodus of students can be attributed to several factors. First, students are increasingly opting to pursue educational opportunities in developed countries due to the allure of better living prospects and higher paychecks. This trend has been fueled by the availability of better opportunities abroad compared to Nepal. Advanced nations have continued to expand their opportunities even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, while Nepal’s economic crisis has led to a shrinking job market at home,” said Ashesh Maharjan, Founder Director at Academy of Culinary Arts. According to him, political uncertainty in the country is the second significant reason for the current exodus which is negatively impacting the youths. “The prevailing political climate in Nepal has left many young people feeling disheartened and hopeless about the nation’s future. This sense of despair has served as a trigger for many youths to seek better opportunities elsewhere, where they perceive more stability and opportunities for personal growth,” said Maharjan.

The quality of education
For many Nepalis, the quality of education in Nepal has been a matter of concern, leading to a significant number of students choosing the option of studying abroad despite the substantial financial burden it entails. One of the primary reasons behind this trend is the perception that the education system in Nepal falls short in terms of quality, infrastructure, and teaching standards. Insufficient investment in educational institutions has resulted in outdated facilities, inadequate resources, and a lack of modern teaching methods, say experts.

Another factor impacting education quality is the outdated curriculum. The content taught in schools and colleges often fails to meet the demands of the modern world, leaving graduates ill-prepared for the job market. The emphasis on rote learning rather than critical thinking and practical knowledge also hinders the development of necessary skills.

The issues such as corruption, political interference, and administrative inefficiency have plagued the education system, undermining its overall effectiveness. These challenges have led students and their families to seek better opportunities abroad, where they believe they can receive education of higher standard, exposure to advanced facilities, and improved career prospects.

According to Dr. Bharat Singh Thapa, Director of MBA Finance Program, Central Department of Management, Tribhuvan University, the current state of universities in Nepal, particularly Tribhuvan University, is a cause for concern. “A total of 85 percent of Nepali students are enrolled in this university, However, the programs offered by the university are outdated and as a result, the students graduating in the programs lack the necessary skills demanded in the job market,” he said, adding, “Students are aware that traditional programs are not highly recognized by employers. This makes them prefer more innovative and market-oriented programs and hence they seek to go abroad for their further studies.”

Jyoti Regmi Adhikary, Head of Department – Human Resource and General Management at Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM), observes that unprofessionalism and business-oriented approach of many educational institutions in Nepal are also contributing to the exodus of Nepali students. “Rather than prioritizing principles and quality education, they focus on making profits. This lack of professionalism leads to problems such as delayed publication of results and a lack of accountability,” she said. “Responsibility for these issues lies with various entities, including deans, controller examiners, universities as a whole, and governing bodies like the senate.”

Another concern, according to Adhikary, is the outdated curriculum in certain fields of study. “For example, in computer engineering, students are being taught technologies that are 30 years old, which limits their practical skills and employability,” she mentioned. She says students expect their education to be more practical and relevant to real-world applications. “In contrast, foreign universities often offer the flexibility to choose subjects outside of one’s major and transfer credits. This flexibility allows students to explore diverse areas of knowledge and adapt to changing career demands,” Adhikary added.

Politicization of universities
In Nepal, education is among the sectors badly affected by political interference. The government-run universities and colleges have been victimized the most in this context. Talking to students of these educational institutions who solely want to focus on their studies will reveal how frustrating the education environment has become over the past years.

Political interference in education is in fact a deep-rooted problem in Nepal. Even the laws governing the universities have been formulated in such a way that gives way to political meddling. Currently, there are 11 universities in Nepal, and all of them have Acts that mandate the Prime Minister to be the Chancellor and the Education Minister to be the Pro-chancellor of the institutions, and that the vice-chancellors and other top positions are appointed on the basis of their political affiliations.

“The problem in Nepali universities is the practice of political appointments. Instead of academicians, universities are often led by those close to political party leaders. This undermines the institution’s vision and hampers its progress,” said Thapa. “It is crucial to prioritize qualified and experienced individuals from academia for leadership roles within universities.”
Adhikary is of the view that the government also plays a crucial role in the exodus of students. According to her, there is a lack of effective policies to monitor and regulate higher education.

Nepal’s universities are losing students 
The University Grants Commission (UGC), an autonomous government body that looks after the universities in the country, has reported a steep decline in the number of students pursuing higher studies in the last two years. The latest UGC report shows that number of students pursuing higher education in Nepal was 361,000 in fiscal year 2016/17, 371,000 in FY 2017/2018, 423,000 in 2018/2019, 471,000 in 2019/2020, and 466,000 in 2020/2021, and 460,000 in FY 2021/2022.

According to UGC, while universities like Kathmandu University and Purwanchal University have experienced slight fluctuations in student enrollment, Tribhuvan University, Midwestern University, and Far Western University have witnessed a declining trend in student numbers.

For instance, The Central Department of Management of TU offers five programs including MBS (Master of Business Studies), MBA (Master of Business Administration) in Finance, MBA in Marketing, MBA in Corporate Leadership, and MBM (Master of Business Management). However, the application ratio for these programs has significantly declined. As a result, the MBM program had to be closed due to insufficient enrollment, whereas MBA in Marketing and MBA in Corporate Leadership are running at only 75 percent capacity.

“The allure of obtaining permanent residency (PR) in advanced nations has played a significant role in enticing Nepali students to leave their home country. If the current situation persists, this trend is likely to continue and intensify. It is not just students who are affected by these circumstances; even businesspersons in Nepal are experiencing a sense of hopelessness at present,” said Maharjan.

According to Adhikary, the trend of studying abroad is also driven by the opportunities for undergraduate students to work and gain practical experience. “Unfortunately, students often lack such platforms here. So, there is a need for universities to emphasize a “learn and earn” approach, where students can gain work experience alongside their studies,” she said.

Lack of job opportunities is another major reason behind the flight of Nepali youths. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was estimated that job openings in the public and private sectors stood at 50,000 per year, which is far too insufficient to employ over 400,000 youths graduating from universities in the country. “The job market in Nepal has become highly saturated, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the situation. “Vacancies across various sectors, including banks and financial institutions, have significantly declined. The job cuts resulting from the pandemic have not been reversed, leading to a challenging employment landscape for graduates,” said Thapa.

Biggest university fails
A significant majority, approximately 85 percent, of Nepali students are enrolled in Tribhuvan University. However, the university’s administration is plagued with issues, particularly in terms of its academic calendar and result publication. Students find it frustrating and unacceptable that it takes nearly two years to publish results, which clearly points to a lack of accountability within the system.

Moreover, the traditional examination process in Nepal›s universities further exacerbates the problems. Students have to wait for two months to obtain their transcripts, which should be a relatively simple and straightforward task. There is a dire need for comprehensive reform in the examination system to streamline the process and make it more efficient.

The lack of a well-structured academic calendar is another major concern. Many students complain that a four-year bachelor’s program takes six years to complete due to various hassles and delays. Last year, Tribhuvan University took at least two years to publish the results of the bachelor’s level examination. This year too, it has already been more than a year since the examinations for the BA first-year were held. However, the results are still pending.

Increasing attraction in foreign universities in Nepal
Currently, 58 colleges in Nepal are affiliated with 32 foreign universities. According to UGC, 19,982 students are studying in these educational institutions.
The availability of 32 universities within Nepal highlights the demand and interest of students in pursuing education from an international perspective. The opportunities provided by these affiliations, including exposure to global standards, diverse academic programs, and potential career prospects, are likely contributing factors to the rising appeal among students.

According to Maharjan, the choice of students to enroll in foreign university-affiliated colleges in Nepal is influenced by several factors, including their perception of the quality of education offered by these institutions. “Foreign university-affiliated colleges in Nepal often follow the curriculum and teaching methodologies of their parent universities abroad. This alignment with renowned foreign institutions creates a perception among students that they will receive a similar quality of education without the need to go overseas,” said Maharjan. Adhikary observes that the students are attracted to foreign universities-affiliated colleges as they provide the latest curriculum and are focused on practical-based education rather than theoretical-based knowledge. “These colleges are providing what students want and what global practices are,” she said.

Thapa agrees with Adhikary. “These colleges maintain an updated academic calendar and offer relevant curricula,” he said. But he also sees some issues in the context of colleges with foreign affiliations. “Some institutions grant degrees without adequately assessing students’ knowledge and skills,” he said. To tackle this problem, he suggests the Ministry of Education enforce stricter regulations and licensing requirements to ensure the quality of education provided by these colleges. “UGC should play a crucial role in controlling the trend of granting degrees solely based on student enrollment,” he said.

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