Nepalese government signals willingness to limit study abroad

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Nepal’s Ministry of Education has announced that it will no longer issue the required approval letters for students going abroad for diploma or language studies
  • Outbound mobility from Nepal has roughly quadrupled in the last five years with large proportions of those students go to Australia and Japan for diploma and language studies
  • Nepal’s Supreme Court has also stepped in to order a stay of the Ministry’s decision, and, pending a further ruling from the court, the Ministry has been obliged by the court to continue issuing approval letters for diploma and language students for the time being

The Nepalese government has demonstrated that it has both the means and inclination to limit outbound mobility from this important growth market in South Asia.

All Nepali students who have been admitted to an institution or school abroad must apply to the government for a No Objection Certificate, or NOC. Students who cannot secure an NOC are not permitted to pursue studies overseas, nor can they send funds abroad. This requirement is enshrined in legislation, which clearly sets out that, “No citizen of Nepal shall go abroad for higher studies without receiving no objection letter to be issued by the Ministry of Education.”

On 12 June, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced that it would no longer issue NOCs for students pursuing diploma or language studies abroad. In a separate 12 June notice, the Ministry also advised that it would not longer provide NOCs to students who had not passed their Grade 12 exams in Nepal.

Both directives were given without advance notice or consultation, and immediately threw the study plans of in-process students into question, along with the prospects for new students to pursue college diploma programmes or language studies abroad. The Ministry’s shift in policy direction appears to be tied to recent difficulties reported by Nepali students abroad, and effectively means that only students admitted to degree studies abroad would be able to obtain an NOC.

In a media briefing, Maheshwor Sharma, chief of the No Objection Certificate Management section at the Ministry said, “We have decided to implement the legal provisions following a rise in the numbers of Nepali students facing problems abroad…A majority of such students are either taking diploma or language course.” Speaking to The Kathmandu Post on background, an anonymous Foreign Ministry official added, “The decision was taken after studying cases in Australia and other countries, where students in diploma courses suffered following the closure of their institutes.”

The International Education Representative Initiative of Nepal (IERIN) is one of several associations of Nepali education agents. Also in The Kathmandu Post, IERIN President Kumar Karki said that the government had erred in setting a complete ban on diploma or language studied abroad. “There are good colleges in New Zealand, for example, that offer diploma courses,” he added.

The growth story

The significance of these decisions is underscored by the rapid growth of Nepali outbound, with official government statistics indicating that just over 16,500 students went abroad in 2013/14. Five years later, in 2017/18, that number had nearly quadrupled with nearly 63,000 Nepali students enrolled overseas.

Of those, roughly half, or 32,000 students, received NOCs for study in Australia, and Nepal is now the third-largest sending market for Australia, after only China and India. Another quarter of that total outbound (15,500) went to Japan last year.

By some estimates, about half of all students bound for Australia are enrolled in diploma programmes, whereas most Nepali students in Japan begin their studies there in language courses.

The court intervenes

No sooner did the Ministry of Education announce its new policy than the country’s Supreme Court stepped in and ordered a stay on the decision to effectively ban diploma and language studies abroad. The stay order, issued by the court on 20 June, instructs the Ministry to provide additional justification for its decision within 15 days, after which the court will make a further ruling on the new policy.

A related update from the Australian Department of Education and Training reflects that the stay order has effectively suspended the ban and indicates that students admitted to diploma or language programmes are still being issued NOCs.

The statement notes that, “The Department of Education and Australian Government agencies have been working with the Nepalese Government to clarify the notice and the subsequent Supreme Court order…The Department of Education have since consulted with the Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Education on 27 June and received clear advice that No Objection Certificates (NOCs) are being issued as per arrangements prior to the [12 June] notice.”

The expectation now is that the Supreme Court will arrive at a further ruling in the immediate future and that the Ministry practice regarding NOCs for diploma and language studies will be set as a result. If indeed the Ministry’s 12 June directives are upheld, this will no doubt be a significant curb on outbound growth from Nepal.

Whatever the outcome, these recent developments once again highlight the important levers held by governments around the world that can have a direct and, in some cases, immediate impact on student mobility.

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