In this rapidly globalizing world, it has become imperative for nations to provide their people with the lifestyle of a global standard. It is safe to say that Nepal currently has failed to do so. As a result, along with the workers who migrate to the Gulf countries for employment, educated students are migrating to different parts of the world to secure better opportunities for education, job and lifestyle. With the drastically increasing number of educated and skilled human resources migrating abroad, and many of them choosing to stay and work abroad during their most active years, it is evident that Nepal is losing its most valuable resource – its people – to catch up to globalization. As a result, with every new generation, the number of people leaving the country increases, and thus innovation and development are left in a state of limbo. To understand how we got here, and how might we protect the upcoming generation, we must look at the policy prioritization of higher education, innovation and the job market of Nepal.
Whenever any discourses related to education happen in Nepal on a policy level, most of the discourses are centred around the poor condition of school education in Nepal. While this is true, this is also a conversation that has been going on for a better part of the century. The only discourses we hear about university education in Nepal are often tarnished by student politics or the political influence in the placements of staff and students – with Tribhuvan University being at the centre. The conversations are rarely about academic advancements, innovative amalgamation of research work and job market, or at the very least, timely updating of the course structure, or publishing results. Instead, even the innovative initiatives taken by individuals are discouraged – a recent example being Mahabir Pun’s protest demanding the government’s attention through policy and budget allocation for the research and innovation sector of Nepal.
While universities globally are considered a space to produce skilled human resources, accelerate innovation, and enhance the industries of the nation, Nepali university education has merely become just another box to check after high school. Even research or thesis papers can be bought proving that research in Nepali universities is just a subject to pass, rather than a scientific skill leading to innovation in different fronts. There is a clear lack of connection between the academic and innovation sector in Nepal, which already shows how educated human resource is not translated into developing forces of the country. With a lack of government policies dedicated to enhancing educational experience, encouraging research or establishing science parks within or working closely with the industries, there is a lack of incentive to invest time and energy in research that has no innovative impact.
For any country to develop, it needs to innovate and in order to innovate, it needs well-educated human resources, and for all three of these to function coherently, a country needs the foundation of strong plans and policies that work in its favour – Nepal currently lacks this very foundation. In most developed or rapidly developing countries, universities are a significant part of the development. These countries invest in their human resource through impactful education and innovation policies and encourage a close-knit relationship among educational institutions and leading industries. Countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, have seen exponential development in the past few decades, with policies investing in education and innovation. Most developed countries attract bright students from other countries with much better education and job opportunities. Nepal, while clearly incompetent to attract foreign skills inward, has instead been driving Nepali students away with inconsistent classes through political disturbance, delays in examinations and results, and subpar classroom experiences. The students, thus, have been paying a hefty sum of tuition fees abroad, just to get a sound academic experience in pursuit of a better future, and exchange their skills for the development of other countries.
This problem extends beyond just the education and research sector but also to the job market of Nepal. The job market in Nepal is underwhelming at its best, where individuals with degrees have not been getting proper jobs or financial remuneration in accordance with their investment of time and money for their degrees. The better-paid employees in Nepal, other than medical professionals or CEOs of big companies, are currently either employed by international organizations such as INGOs, or international private companies hiring Nepali employees through remote work, such as IT companies. There is a significant lack of policy protection for industrial and entrepreneurial pursuits in Nepal, with these policies limiting the industries’ growth, and creating an overall state of unemployment. As a result, skilled Nepali youth prefer being hired in or by a foreign entity where they have a better assurance of making a better living.
As a landlocked country, Nepal can never copy countries like Bangladesh or Vietnam into being a manufacturing-based economy due to high transportation costs. This plays a vital role in strategizing what we specialize in and developing a competitive advantage. If there is any way of excelling beyond manufacturing bottlenecks, it is through groundbreaking innovations involving educated youths. Sadly, cases like that of the issue of Yatri Motorcycles and the absence of laws to register a Nepal-made vehicle in Nepal make it evident how behind we are in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in Nepal. Nepal currently requires the legislative body to actively work for amending such bottlenecks to mandate a better innovative environment to ensure that the youth find incentives to work for development.
With a large number of educated youth leaving for abroad opportunities, Nepal has been left in a stagnant, if not depreciating, state of development. This phenomenon is more crucial now than ever with Nepal currently experiencing a youth bulge, meaning that this is the right time to invest the human capital for innovation and development, and most importantly, to prepare for the surge of old and retired demography that is coming with the next generation. Approximately 121,000 students received their NOC (No Objection Certificate) for higher education in 2022, and this financial year, the number has already crossed 80,000. The government is focused more on limiting the free choices of these students by creating hurdles in going abroad, rather than addressing the root cause of this problem. The current state of education, job market, and living standard has been a deterrent for the youth, which is even more detrimental for the coming generation. Does this mean the Nepali youth should stay back home with a ‘come what may’ attitude? No. It is upon the government and legislative body to create policies that enhance the current state of education, innovation, and industry. In failing to do so, our country will be stuck in this trend of youth spending their productive years abroad while the government will have a massive number of dependent demography to take care of for the upcoming generation, unable to stay relevant to this globalizing world.