Why Nepali universities are failing

Enrolment in Nepali universities and campuses has taken a sharp plunge in recent years while the number of students going abroad for higher education is steadily increasing. What is contributing to this trend?

Abhyudaya Upreti

  • Read Time 8 min.

Case I: Last month, Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s largest and oldest university, issued a notice seeking proposals for a merger between two or more colleges. The decision, according to the university, was made as colleges were struggling to attract students.  

Case II: Kathmandu University is facing a significant challenge in filling seats for its bachelor’s level programs as 30 percent of seats are vacant. 

Case III: The journalism program of the Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus recorded a massive decline in the number of students appearing for the third year examination recently. As many as 500 students were admitted in the program in 2019. But the number of students sitting for the boards in July plunged to 300.  

These three are representative cases of how the number of students in universities is steadily declining in Nepal. 

Several factors contribute to this decreasing trend. One significant factor is the exodus of Nepali students to foreign universities. Many students are opting to pursue higher education abroad, attracted by the opportunities, exposure, and diverse educational environments available internationally. The other reason, according to the academicians, is erosion of the quality of education in Nepal’s educational institutions. 

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

Exodus of students

Every day, a staggering number of 600 students are applying for NOC (No Objection Certificate) certification at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. This certificate is necessary for Nepali students to pursue higher education abroad. 

In the year 2022 alone, a whopping number of 121,000 students acquired the NOC, highlighting the growing trend of Nepali students seeking educational opportunities overseas. This figure represents a significant increase compared to the previous year–in 2021, 44,800 students had obtained the NOC. 

After the proficiency certificate level study, also known as intermediate level study, was phased out by Tribhuvan University early in 2000s, the students stopped attending PCL courses in university. The decision to phase out PCL was influenced by the investors who started to invest in plus two colleges across the country. Business thrived in the private education sector.

Nepali students are venturing to more than 80 countries around the world to pursue their higher education goals. Australia has been the major destination for Nepali students as 66,802 students acquired NOC in 2022. The number was just 8,680 a year earlier. Likewise, Japan and Canada are the second and third preferred destinations as 16,157 and 11,032 students received NOC for those countries in 2022. 

The United Kingdom and the United States of America are the fourth and fifth preferred destinations for Nepalis as 7,627 and 5,120 students got their NOC certificate in 2022 from the government. 

Quality deficit 

Generally, longer the lifespan of a university the more prosperous, richer and more respected it becomes. This does not seem to apply in the case of universities in Nepal.

The quality of education in Nepal has been a matter of concern, leading a significant number of students to choose 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. 

Also, there is a shortage of qualified and experienced teachers, which further hampers the learning process. 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 competitive  job market. The emphasis on rote learning rather than critical thinking and practical knowledge also hinders the development of necessary skills.

Number of students enrolled in foreign affiliated campuses by countries

CountryNumber of students
Source: University Grants Commission

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 a higher standard of education, exposure to advanced facilities, and improved career prospects. By choosing to study abroad, Nepali students aim to access educational institutions renowned for their academic excellence, advanced research facilities, and global recognition. Despite the hefty financial burden, they perceive it as a worthwhile investment for their future.

Visit any public campuses and universities and you will return home with a big sense of disappointment.  When we visited Tri Chandra Campus in Ghantaghar last week we saw the sorry state. As we entered the Chemistry lab, we were confronted with a disheartening sight. The chemicals were not adequately managed, and the overall state of the lab left us disgusted. Such inadequate infrastructure and neglect of essential resources contribute to the poor educational experience for students. 

Another alarming observation was made during a visit to Ratna Rajya Campus in Bhrikutimandap. Even during regular class hours, we were surprised to find students engaged in casual activities rather than focusing on their studies. Some students were playing volleyball, while many others were loitering in the canteen. Such instances indicate a lack of discipline and a failure to create an environment conducive to learning.

The end result of all this is a growing disinterest of the students to pursue higher education in Nepal. Education quality is falling low in Nepal and there is little to hope it will ever change, said Ishan Giri, a student who recently completed his A levels in Nepal and is applying to study in the USA. “And there is a lack of opportunities based on your skills here.” “Even after I have completed my studies with good grades I don’t see any opportunities here. The entire system is dominated and manipulated by those in power. So naturally, I would not want to study here,” he further said.

“I love my country, it’s not that. But if I care about my future, pursuing higher education abroad is the last option as the curriculum here is outdated, the syllabus is unscientific and over the past years there has not been any noteworthy improvement in the field of education,” said Krispee Chetree, another student who also completed her A-levels and is awaiting her result.

Like Giri, she has also made up her mind to leave the country.

Curse of politicization

Be it education, healthcare, or public services, political interference has badly affected these sectors in the country. The government-run universities and colleges are the biggest examples in this regard. This has affected the quality of education in the institutions prompting students to go to other countries to complete their higher studies and ultimately settle abroad.

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 it leaves space for interference. 

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 rather than merit.

Universities are failing

According to the University Grant Commission, the number of students pursuing higher education in Nepal is declining every year. According to its report, the number of students pursuing higher education in Nepal was 361,000 in Fiscal year 2016-2017, 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. The data shows the number has started to  plunge in the last two years.

According to the Commission, universities like Kathmandu University and Purwanchal University have experienced slight fluctuations in student enrollment. Other universities such as Tribhuvan University, Midwestern University, and Far Western University have witnessed a declining trend in student numbers.

As the data provided by the UGC is a year old, experts say the number of students in Nepal’s universities could have plunged even further. 

Number of students receiving NOC

Source: Education Ministry

“The students are disinterested in the education of Nepal because the education system is non-scientific and the syllabus is not updated,” said Hemraj Karki, who is associate professor at Saraswoti Multiple Campus. “Students do not feel motivated also because of traditional pedagogy.”  

Another reason why people are not studying in Nepali universities, according to academicians, is because they do not see the employment opportunities here. “Even after completing their master’s degree, people do not get decent jobs. They get jobs that pay them Rs 18000-20000 a month, which is too little. This is very sad,” said Dr Mahananda Chalise, a professor at Tribhuvan University.

But this is not all. Many students in Nepal think they can earn a lot if they go abroad. “Large number of students in Nepal dream of earning a hefty sum immediately after completing +2 or equivalent education. This in turn results in a plunge in universitie’s enrollment and the decrease in the quality of education in Nepal,along with the prejudice the parents and society hold that one’s social status increases after visiting or studying in foreign land,” said Aakash Pokhrel, a teacher at Chelsea International Academy. 

Pokhrel attributes the loss of interest in students to study within the country to the problems related to syllabus as well. “The burden that is placed on the students as a result of the bulky syllabus and the number of subjects is excessive,” he said. Also the carelessness and negligence with which the universities make question papers and the lack of accountability they show for not publishing results in a timely manner demotivate students to study in national universities, according to him.

According to Dr Mahananda Chalise, the trend of studying abroad is driven by the opportunities for undergraduate students to work and gain practical experience. “Unfortunately, Nepali students often lack such platforms. There is a need for universities in Nepal to emphasize a “learn and earn” approach, where students can gain work experience alongside their studies,” Chalise said. “Learn and earn approach would enhance their employability and better prepare them for the job market.” 

All this has taken a toll on enrolment in various departments of TU. In the TU’s Central Department of Management, there are five programs offered, 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.

A significant majority of Nepali students enroll in Tribhuvan University. However, the university’s administration is plagued with issues, particularly in terms of their academic calendar and result publication. It is unacceptable for students that it takes nearly two years to publish results, and there is a lack of accountability within the system. 

This delay in result publication adds unnecessary frustration for the students. 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 a 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,” said professor Hemraj Karki. “This situation puts undue pressure on students and hampers their educational journey.” 

Last year, the Tribhuvan University took at least two years to publish the results of the bachelor’s level examination. This year too, even after a year has passed since the students took the BA first year exam, the results are yet to be published.  According to the law, the university should have published the results within three months after conducting the examination.

Attraction for foreign universities

The number of campuses with foreign university affiliations in Nepal is 58, while there are currently 32 foreign universities in the country. Whereas there are only 9 national universities. According to data from the University Grants Commission, the total number of students enrolled in these campuses is 19,982. 

The increasing attraction of students towards these universities is evident from the growing enrollment numbers. The availability of 32 universities within Nepal highlights the demand and interest of students in pursuing education with an international perspective. The opportunities provided by these affiliations, including exposure to global standards, diverse academic programs, and potential career prospects, are likely the contributing factors to the rising appeal among students. It is worth acknowledging the efforts made by these campuses and universities to provide quality education and foster an environment conducive to academic growth.

Reversing the trend

So what can be done to change the situation? Academicians say improving the quality of education is one of the best remedies.  “The Ministry of Education needs to enforce stricter regulations and licensing requirements to ensure the quality of education provided by these colleges,” said Dr Mahananda Chalise. 

Professor Hemraj Karki says that restructuring of the entire education system is necessary. “This restructuring should focus on updating the curriculum, improving the examination process, ensuring accountability and efficiency, maintaining a well-structured academic calendar, and addressing the challenges in the job market,” Karki said. According to him, steps should also be taken to prevent political appointments and prioritize academicians for leadership positions. “Only through these reforms can the universities in Nepal provide quality education and meet the demands of the evolving job market,” said Karki.

According to Dr Mahananda Chalise, we need to place competent people, who can ensure delivery of quality education, at the leadership roles in the universities and campuses. “Not those who are inefficient and insincere,” he said.