Nepalese government moves again to curb non-degree study abroad
- Nepal’s Ministry of Education has effectively banned non-degree study for outbound students
- The move will immediately prevent students from going abroad for language or vocational studies
- The ban on non-degree programmes is being vigorously challenged by peak bodies within Nepal and abroad
Nepal has emerged as a key growth market for student recruitment in South Asia. More than 125,000 Nepali students went abroad in 2022, with most opting to study in Australia, Japan, India, and the United States.
All outbound students must apply to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) 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.”
More than 100,000 NOCs were issued in the 2021/22 fiscal year, and the country has been on track for a similar volume in 2022/23 (the fiscal year begins and ends in July).
In essence, the NOC is a mechanism of government control over outbound student mobility. And the Nepalese government has, at various points over the last decade, shown its willingness to exercise that control.
In 2016, for example, a new law was passed stipulating that NOCs would only be approved for degree programmes abroad. The Ministry of Education, however, has continued to issue NOCs for all levels of study in the years since.
That pattern was briefly interrupted on 12 June 2019 when the government abruptly announced that that it would no longer issue NOCs for students pursuing diploma or language studies abroad. That order was subsequently quashed via a 20 June 2019 stay order from Nepal's Supreme Court which called on the Ministry to provide additional justification for limiting NOCs to degree-seeking students.
On 5 April 2023, the government moved again to ban non-degree study abroad with a new directive indicating that NOCs would no longer be issued for language or diploma studies.
“The directive was issued as per our legal provisions which say the NOC would be issued to study higher education abroad,” Krishna Kapri, a joint secretary at the ministry of education, told The Kathmandu Post. “Bachelor’s and courses beyond that level are considered higher education.”
Separate statements from the Ministry of Education this month have indicated that NOCs would only be issued for language studies if such courses are "embedded" within degree programmes.
The reasons for the move are unclear but various media reports have pointed to concerns around "capital flight" (that is, the amount of funds being sent outside the country to support study abroad) as well as declining enrolments in Nepali universities and colleges.
Especially alarming for Australia and Japan
As we reported recently, a number of destinations have recorded significant growth in Nepali enrolments in recent years. However, Australia and Japan remain the clear favourites for Nepali students, with the former especially popular for vocational studies and the latter for Japanese language courses (often as a path to further study in Japan).
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) is the peak body for private-sector vocational institutes and training providers, and it has been quick to raise the issue with Nepal's consular officials in Australia.
"In a crushing move for Australia’s international education sector, the Nepalese government has stopped issuing no objection certificates for students planning to study skills training or language courses abroad,” said Troy Williams, ITECA's chief executive. “ITECA is committed to working through the issues with both the Nepalese and Australian governments with the aim of ensuring that international students from Nepal can once again access quality skills training courses in Australia.”
Agency associations in Nepal have been quick to raise the alarm as well, with several delegates joining a briefing on the NOC issue with Ministry officials in Kathmandu on 10 April. “Not all students can afford to join colleges and universities. Only those with deep pockets will get to study abroad with the new rules. This is discriminatory,” said Santosh Pyakurel, chair of the National Educational Consultancies Association (NECA).
"We have expressed our deep concern on some provisions like restrictions in NOC for language, vocational diploma, and advanced diploma." added Hemanta Bhattarai, the president of the International Education Representatives' Initiative of Nepal (IERIN).
The associations are once again demanding that the ban on non-degree study be withdrawn, and it remains to be seen, as was the case in 2019, whether or not the courts will once again intervene in the matter.
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