Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
31st Oct 2013

Market Snapshot: Nepal

A tiny country often overshadowed by its booming neighbour to the south, Nepal could soon be on many an international student recruiter’s travel itinerary. ICEF Monitor provides a clear overview of the challenges and opportunities that await recruiters in this mountainous nation.

Education system

Previously, students in Nepal went to school for ten years, from age five to age fourteen. In the 10th grade they took the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) and could then leave school or go on for a further two years to higher secondary education, grades 11 and 12 (Plus 2). The SLC is seen as equivalent to the British GCSE, and a student who has successfully completed Plus 2 education has qualifications similar to an American high school graduate. School reforms are currently underway to introduce an integrated education system in line with international standards, and, all going well, by 2015 the new system is expected to be in place. Basic education will consist of grades 1-8 and secondary education grades 9-12. It is hoped the School Sector Reform plan (SSR) will “contribute to Nepal’s socio-economic and sustainable development through a continuous process of enhancing institutional and organisational capacity as well as developing human capitals at all levels.” Editor's Note: In January 2014, the Ministry of Education unveiled a ten-year plan to run classes in English medium in all community (government) schools.

Higher education

Students wishing to pursue tertiary education can apply to one of the six universities in Nepal; although, like many of its neighbours in South Asia, demand for higher education outstrips supply in Nepal. Nepalese students who consider a foreign higher education do so for a variety of reasons: the perceived quality of universities overseas, employment potential in the host country post-graduation, scholarship opportunities, or a chance to escape the country’s political instability. For more on the mindset of prospective international students from Nepal, readers might appreciate the British Council's Student Insight report. For a small country, Nepal sends out a surprising number of students to study at the tertiary level. In 2010 there were over 24,000 Nepalese students studying outside of Nepal, up from 17,700 in 2008. As the British Council’s report The future of the world’s mobile students to 2024 suggests, this number keeps climbing - making Nepal a source country to keep an eye on.

Market potential

Nepal’s total population in 2011 was 26.5 million, although the CIA World Factbook estimates the population is now over 30.4 million. Education providers worldwide can look to Nepal as a source market for a number of years. As of June 2011, 55% of Nepal’s total population was under 25 years of age. This means that the number of students seeking university and other higher education opportunities will continue to grow, at least for the medium-term.

Economic challenges

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a per capita GDP of US $1,300 (2012 est) it ranks 207th out of 229 countries. However, on the positive side, the country’s total GDP grew by 3.6% in fiscal year 2013, and although that was down from 4.5% the year before, the forecast for next year is growth again. Simply put, a growing economy means more people with money to spend on education. This indicates a growing middle class population who are eager to send their children to university, but the skyrocketing costs of higher education overseas puts it out of reach for most Nepali families. The US has long been a popular destination for high-achieving Nepalese students because of the scholarships many American colleges and universities offer. According to International Educational Exchange's (IIE) 2012 Open Doors report, Nepal ranked 11th as a place of origin for international students to the US, with the majority of them studying at the undergraduate level. Other popular destinations include Australia, Japan, India and the UK.

Immigration issues

Several of the top destination countries for Nepalese students – US, UK, Australia – have implemented changes in immigration policies recently which have negatively affected international student recruitment. The UK’s repeal of their Post Study Work (PSW) visa saw a marked drop in the number of students from across South Asia, and after Australian authorities introduced stricter visa regulations, they “saw enrolments from South Asia nosedive.” These worries are confirmed in a recent headline from The Rising Nepal newspaper: “Nepalese students going abroad for studies declining.” Laxmi Khadka, chief of the scholarship section of the Ministry of Education, said:

“This trend, however, has nothing to do with the declining interests of the students. Changing policies and stricter regulations in the destination countries have discouraged the students to go abroad for studies.”

The government has no exact figures on the number of students studying abroad; instead they rely on the number of students seeking no-objection letters from the Ministry of Education as an indicator. In terms of the numbers of students who received no-objection letters from the Ministry, the statistics are as follows:

  • 2008/09: 587
  • 2009/10: 24,824
  • 2010/11: 26,948 total, with 19,068 students acquiring no-objection letters for the UK alone
  • 2011/12: 11,912 total, with 3,075 for the UK
  • 2012/13: 16,499

The year 2011/12 was markedly down, and the US fared no better. World Education News & Reviews reported earlier this year, “the number of F-1 visas issued to Nepali students declined 71% between the 2008/09 and the 2011/12 academic years.” And the Open Doors 2012 report indicated that in the 2011/12 academic year, the US saw a 6.6% decline in the number of students from Nepal (when 9,621 went to the US).

On the rebound

It’s not all doom and gloom. An article in The Australian recently reported, “The latest Australian Immigration Department statistics show that student numbers from the subcontinent have rebounded under the new streamlined visa processing system. Visas for Pakistanis and Nepalese to study higher education have more than doubled, compared to the same period in 2011/12.” ICEF Monitor wrote about favourable changes to the UK’s immigration rules which took place at the beginning of this month: “UK’s new immigration rules signal more welcoming approach to international students.” Meanwhile, up-and-coming destination countries, such as China, are making their move to attract top talent from Nepal. In May, thirteen Chinese universities staged a China Education Exhibition in Kathmandu to inform Nepali student about higher education in China and to encourage them to apply. According to the article on the Study in China website, nearly 3,000 Nepalese students were studying at Chinese universities last year. At the opening of the exhibition, the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai proclaimed, “Higher education in China is developing very fast and it is of international standards.” As the Nepalese market is price sensitive, students are also increasingly looking at educational opportunities in India, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Germany (a nation they have strong ties with, and which funds various language centres in Nepal). It is not uncommon for students to begin their studies in one of these more cost efficient destinations, and then look to transfer to the US, for example, to complete their degree.

Agents and recruitment

Like other countries in South Asia, student recruitment in Nepal is agent driven. Most recruitment agencies are small operations based in Kathmandu, and there seems to be some effort to regulate the market and maintain a standard level of service with the National Education Consultancies Association (NECA), although it is difficult to tell how active this organisation is. A nod to quality control from the NECA website should give education providers who are thinking about venturing into Nepal some hope: “It is the students' right to receive genuine counseling and true information on education abroad. As the number of Nepali students aspiring to study abroad is an increasing trend, it is incumbent upon educational consultancies to be more responsible and meticulous in terms of dealing with those who aspire to study abroad.” For a first-hand glimpse into student recruitment in Nepal from an American viewpoint, this blog post by a Vanderbilt University admissions officer is a fun read, if slightly sentimental. To give you an idea of the interest there, the author “had several phenomenal school visits and met with over 200 students (more than I will see in most domestic territories) who attended my reception/presentation.” Jonathan Weller, Associate Director at the Office of Admissions for the University of Cincinnati, also has a lot of experience recruiting from Nepal. At last year's AIRC conference in Miami, he gave a talk about the market and explained that overall, there two key challenges to be aware of when recruiting there: financial constraints and high visa denial rates. In terms of finances, as mentioned previously, price is a chief concern. According to Mr Weller, some families will practically bankrupt themselves to send their children to college. The weak Nepali rupee further threatens their ability to afford an education overseas, as we've seen with the Indian rupee.

This makes Nepal an interesting market for schools offering excellent value for money in terms of an education, and/or scholarships for students overseas, as well as the opportunity for students to work (on campus if visa restrictions apply) during their studies.

In Mr Weller's experience, the student recruitment agencies there tend to have high staff turnover, so it is important to consider the time and money needed to invest in agent training and relationship building. His university has contracts with five or six agencies there in order to ensure results. Nepal has a close knit agent community and there is some consolidation happening now, with some agencies banding together. Not everyone is as enamoured with the market, however. This article out of Finland, “Finland stops recruiting students from developing world,” describes how Finnish universities have found students from poor, developing countries are unable to pay their fees. Many students from Nepal face similar financial concerns in the US, UK and Australia, and some colleges and universities are asking themselves if it is worth recruiting there, both for ethical reasons as well as financial ones.

To conclude

It may not be a primary market due to financial and visa challenges, but with the promise of growth, Nepal is going to be on the radar. Only a two-hour flight from New Delhi, a recruitment trip to Nepal could be combined with one to India. The evidence suggests Nepalese students want to study overseas, and foreign education providers are welcome.

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