Friday, March 1, 2024

Declining number of students in Nepal's colleges

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There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of students enrolling in Nepal's colleges, although comprehensive data for recent years might not be available. This trend has been a cause for concern among college principals and education experts.

Several media reports and statements from college principals and education experts have indicated a decline in student enrollment in Nepal's colleges.

Many private college principals have expressed concerns about their institutions facing financial troubles due to a lack of sufficient student numbers.

Professor Pradip Paudyal is directly feeling the burnt. 'Since last few years, we are experiencing constant decline in students' enrollment, in almost all the engineering colleges,' Principal of Acme Engineering College, Kathmandu, engineer Paudyal says.

Rudra Pandey, a Nepali software engineer and educationist, has recently tweeted 'Colleges of Nepal are going empty. But our policy makers seem dumb. Nobody is even speaking about higher education and its problems.'

Educationists and experts attribute the declining trend to various factors, such as, demographic changes, uncertain future prospect, perception of quality, economic factors, political instability and relevance of courses.

Tribhuvan University Professor Govind Prasad Acharya sees the quality of education as the main factor. 'Colleges providing quality education do not have any problem in getting students,' he informs, and adds, 'Yes, most of our 12-grade graduates do not see better future in Nepal because of uncertainty in employment.'

Professor Paudyal observes political instability as the main reason behind declining students in Nepali colleges. 'Every college-going youth I meet questions about his/her future. 'What next once I complete my study?' is the common question I face,' Paudyal laments. He questions, "Does anybody have an answer?'

Based on experts' and other stakeholders' views, a compilation of factors behind declining enrollment in Nepali colleges are listed here:

  1. Factors behind declining students' enrollment:

Demographic changes: Nepal has experienced a decline in the number of individuals in the college-going age group due to declining birth rates and migration.

The decline in the student population affects the potential pool of college applicants, leading to reduced enrollments.

Perception of quality and employability: Some students and their parents may perceive a lack of quality education and limited employability prospects in domestic colleges.

This perception could lead potential students to explore educational opportunities abroad, resulting in decreased enrollment in Nepal's colleges.

Economic factors: Financial constraints faced by families can also impact college enrollments.

The cost of college education, including tuition fees, living expenses, and associated costs, may be prohibitive for some families, leading to reduced access to higher education.

Relevance of courses: The curriculum and courses offered by some colleges may not align with the evolving needs of the job market.

Political instability: Political instability and rampant corruption have direct impact on employment opportunities. Widespread corruption hinders quality graduates entering better jobs.

Students and their families may prioritize fields of study that have better employment prospects, potentially leading to decreased enrollment in colleges offering courses perceived as less relevant.

  1. Destination of grade 12 graduates:

While it varies from individual to individual, a significant number of Nepali students who complete grade 12 have been opting to pursue higher education abroad. Countries like India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are popular destinations for Nepali students seeking higher education opportunities.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable trend among grade 12 graduates in Nepal to pursue higher education abroad. This shift in preference can be attributed to several factors that influence their decision to seek educational opportunities outside the country. Some of the reasons for this are:

Quality of education: One of the key reasons behind the inclination to study abroad is the perception that foreign educational institutions offer a higher quality of education. Many students and their parents believe that international universities provide a more advanced curriculum, cutting-edge research facilities, and a more practical and industry-oriented approach to learning. The pursuit of quality education is seen as a pathway to gaining a competitive edge in the global job market.

Broad range of courses: Foreign universities often provide a broader range of academic disciplines and specialized programs compared to what is available in Nepal. This diversity allows Nepali students to choose from a wide array of subjects and explore their specific interests and career aspirations. The availability of niche programs, interdisciplinary studies, and emerging fields can attract students who seek unique learning opportunities.

Employment and career prospects: Many students perceive that obtaining a degree from a foreign institution can enhance their employment and career prospects, both domestically and internationally. They believe that degrees from reputable universities abroad carry prestige and are more recognized and valued by potential employers. The exposure to international networks and industry connections during their studies can also increase their chances of securing job opportunities.

Research and innovation opportunities: Nepali students with a passion for research and innovation are often drawn to foreign universities renowned for their cutting-edge research facilities, infrastructure, and funding opportunities. They see the potential for conducting high-quality research, working with renowned scholars, and contributing to advancements in their chosen fields. The emphasis on research-driven education and innovation can be a significant motivating factor for students seeking intellectual growth and academic excellence.

Cultural exposure and global perspective: Studying abroad provides an opportunity for Nepali students to experience different cultures, languages, and ways of life. It broadens their horizons, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and promotes a global perspective. Exposure to diverse environments and international communities can nurture their personal and professional development, fostering adaptability, resilience, and intercultural competence.

Migration and settlement opportunities: For some Nepali students, the decision to study abroad is driven by a desire to explore migration and settlement opportunities in the long term. They see higher education as a stepping stone towards building a career and a life in a different country. The prospect of better living standards, access to advanced technologies, and improved socio-economic opportunities can be enticing factors for those considering migration.

Analyzing the destination preferences of grade 12 graduates in Nepal provides insights into the changing dynamics of higher education and the aspirations of Nepali students. By understanding these factors, policymakers, educational institutions, and stakeholders can work towards enhancing the quality and relevance of higher education within Nepal, addressing the concerns that lead students to seek educational opportunities abroad.

  1. Addressing the challenge:

If the present trend of declining student enrollment continues, Nepal's educational institutions may face significant challenges in the future. These challenges may include financial troubles for colleges, reduced employment opportunities for teaching and non-teaching staff, reduced human resources production at home, and limited resources for academic and infrastructural development.

Addressing the challenges of declining student enrollment in Nepal's colleges requires concerted efforts from various stakeholders, including the government, educational institutions, and the broader community. By implementing strategic steps, it is possible to tackle this issue and revitalize the college education sector. Here is an outline of the steps to be taken and the responsible parties involved in addressing the challenges:

  1. Enhancing the perception of quality and relevance:

Educational institutions: Colleges should focus on improving the quality of education, updating their curriculum, and incorporating practical and industry-relevant components. Collaboration with industries and experts can help bridge the gap between academia and the job market.

Government: The government can establish accreditation systems and quality assurance mechanisms to ensure that colleges meet set standards. Encouraging colleges to undergo international accreditation can enhance their credibility and attract more students.

For example, the government can introduce policies that incentivize colleges to collaborate with industries, ensuring that courses offered align with market demands. This can be done by offering grants, tax benefits, or other financial incentives.

  1. Strengthening vocational and technical education:

Educational institutions: Colleges can expand their vocational and technical education programs to cater to the diverse needs and aspirations of students. By providing practical skills and hands-on training, these programs can enhance employability.

Government: The government can promote vocational and technical education by allocating resources, establishing specialized institutes, such as CTEVT, and developing industry-specific training programs.

For example, establishing vocational training centers in collaboration with industries, where students can gain practical skills and industry certifications, can help address the mismatch between skills and job requirements.

  1. Enhancing collaboration between academia and industry:

Educational institutions: Colleges should actively engage with industries to understand their requirements and tailor courses accordingly. Internship programs, guest lectures, and industry partnerships can provide students with real-world exposure and enhance their employability.

Government: The government can facilitate collaborations between colleges and industries by establishing platforms for dialogue, providing funding for joint projects, and incentivizing industry engagement.

For example, the government can establish industry-academia liaison offices to facilitate collaborations, ensuring that college graduates are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge demanded by the job market.

  1. Making higher education affordable:

Educational institutions: Colleges can explore flexible fee structures, scholarships, and financial aid programs to make education more accessible to students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

Government: The government can increase funding for scholarships, grants, and subsidized loan schemes. It can also collaborate with financial institutions to provide education loans with favorable terms.

For example, Implementing income-based repayment systems for education loans, where graduates start repaying loans only after they secure stable employment, can alleviate the financial burden and encourage students to pursue higher education.

  1. Strengthening career counseling and guidance:

Educational institutions: Colleges should provide comprehensive career counseling services to help students make informed decisions about their educational and career pathways. This includes guidance on course selection, career prospects, and opportunities for further studies.

Government: The government can establish career counseling centers in collaboration with colleges and industry professionals. It can also conduct awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of career planning and the value of college education.

For example, organizing career fairs, inviting industry professionals as guest speakers, and facilitating internships and job placement services within colleges can empower students with the necessary knowledge and resources to make informed decisions.

  1. Promoting research and innovation:

Educational institutions: Colleges can encourage and support research activities among faculty and students. Establishing research centers, providing research grants, and fostering a culture of innovation can attract students seeking intellectual growth and academic excellence.

Government: The government can allocate research funding, promote collaboration between colleges and research institutions, and provide incentives for publications and patents.

For example, recognizing and rewarding colleges that excel in research and innovation can create a competitive environment and inspire students to pursue higher education domestically.

Addressing the challenges of declining student enrollment requires a collaborative approach involving the government, educational institutions, industry stakeholders, and the community. By implementing these steps, Nepal can create a conducive environment for higher education, enhance the reputation and relevance of its colleges, and ultimately attract and retain more students within the country.

The author can be reached at: [email protected]

Published on 26 May 2023

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