Issues with Higher Education Sector in Nepal
The education sector in Nepal is very heterogeneous with visible differences among the existing institutions. Notably, public and private educational institutions vary widely in terms of education financing, infrastructure, quality, admission, retention and graduation rates. Nepal’s education system is very peculiar especially when available data are compared to other countries with the enrollment rates being lower than half of the global average. It can be easily discerned that higher education in Nepal is fragile and inconsistent within and beyond the system. The data discussed below suggests that enrollment rates diminish with increasing educational level. This article discusses some barriers to enroll into the educational system and some barriers to graduate in Nepal.
Higher education in Nepal is limited to a very few umbrella institutions with the majority of students still enrolled in colleges affiliated to Tribhuvan University. Although all universities in Nepal are public, three of the largest universities after TU, Kathmandu University, Purbanchal University and Pokhara University have autonomy highly comparable to private universities. Hence, these universities have to depend on tuition fees as their primary source of funding. Most of the educational grants from the government are provided to TU through the University Grants Commission. Around 3.5 percent of the total educational budget is allocated for higher education and that amount when distributed for more than a third of enrolled students is inadequate.
ISSUES WITH NEPAL’S EDUCATION SECTOR
According to the World Bank, Government of Nepal’s spending on education as a percentage of the GDP and total budget, both are higher than the world and South Asian average. That could have been the key to increased enrollment rates in primary and secondary schools in recent years. Net enrollment in elementary schools has reached 97 percent in the last two decades and that in secondary schools is 60 percent. But the enrollment rate in higher education in 2019/20 was just 14.9 percent which is less than half of the global average (WENR) and 12 percent less than that of other developing countries like India and Vietnam. This trend suggests that enrollment rates diminish with increasing educational level.
Despite plans to increase domestic funding for education, the process of allocation and distribution of funds is ambiguous with the transition to federalism. Educational loans are available through commercial banks but the complexity of the process with high interest rates has made those schemes unpopular. Hence, students are highly constrained with access to educational financing. Thus, low federal aid and those constraints along with increasing tuition fees have made it harder for students to finance their education.
The heterogeneity within educational institutions in terms of budget translates to variation in quality of education. Publicly funded institutions are compelled to use inferior technology compared to private institutions who serve a limited population, mostly those in Nepal’s urban areas. The University Grants Commission claims that lack of standard norms and mapping of Higher Educational Institutions has made the sustainability of educational programs and resource mobilization difficult. Also, the highly centralized economy has led to the establishment of majority institutions in limited cities. For a student graduating high school from a remote district, there is a need to move to a bigger city which is an additional financial burden. So, a large population is compelled to enroll into public colleges which teach limited coursework. All these factors impose a barrier to enter the higher educational system.
Among those who enroll into higher education, graduation rate is low. Tribhuvan University, with more than 75 percent of students within the country, had a pass rate of 26.6 percent in 2015/16 and 26.1 percent in 2019/20. The National Educational Policy 2019/20 has identified irregularity in educational policy, irrelevancy of coursework in the labor market and uncompetitive and hackneyed nature of degree programs as the main challenges in higher education. The enrollment rate in the management sector is 46.37 percent with that in the STEM field being 8.38 percent. On the contrary, the STEM field is the most popular among Nepali students going abroad for higher education. This implies that either the standard of STEM education in Nepal is low or a STEM degree has less chance of landing a job after graduation in the related areas. The government plans to formulate policies where students graduating from subjects of national demand will be required to serve under government supervision for at least a year. This could be beneficial for recent graduates searching for entry level jobs. On the other hand, local governments will have educated youths working for them. Moving higher in the educational spectrum, less than one percent of total students in higher education are in post-graduate degrees focused on academia like PhD, MPhil or PGD. Although the UGC claims that the target of publishing 85 publications in international journals was exceeded in the 2019/20 academic year, there is very limited research done in applied sciences with most publications being theoretical.
Another major problem within higher education in Nepal is internal inefficiency. This includes poor management, delayed admission and exam results and ineffective communication. Many students are forced to wait elongated periods for exam results. Even the simplest of administrative processes are tortuous. The inclusion of politics especially in public institutions has caused frequent disturbances in colleges often leading to violence. While youth involvement in collegiate government is important and could be beneficial in terms of equity and inclusion of all parties in college, educational institutions should never be a place to ignite political ideologies. The internal inefficiency along with negative external influence has exacerbated the structure of higher educational institutions in Nepal.
While there is a long way to go in terms of cutting off the barriers to enter and exit higher education in Nepal, there is some rainbow within the clouds. The share of female students in higher education has increased with 52.04 percent making the Gender Parity Index 1.9. Historically, female population has been deprived of education with all higher educational institutions being male dominated but this is a notable improvement. It is disappointing to see that National Education Policy 2019/20 lacks plans to accommodate people of LGBTQ community in education although recent movements through civil societies have apprised the government to promote diversity and inclusion within the educational sector. Resource wise, educational budget has decreased but the Ministry of Education recognizes the need to increase the allocation to 20 percent of the national budget in order to upgrade from under-developed to developing country by 2022. The National Education Policy 2019/20 plans to focus on technical education and training, collaborate with national and international institutions for research and development and increase emphasis on tourism, sports, entrepreneurship and ayurvedic and herbal education, and spirituality. The government and the Department of Education is often claimed to follow a circuitous route for a lot of reasons, most stated above, their recent publications regarding plans and policies have recognized the deficiencies within themselves, which is a good place to start.
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