Country at a crossroads: Nepal’s brain drain crisis necessitates government remedies

brain drain

Brain drain has been a subject of discussion throughout the country. With young men and women leaving the country every day searching for better opportunities and a brighter future, the long-term consequences of this trend are poised to be significant. This exodus could potentially transform the nation into an ageing population centre, leading to a dwindling economy as a direct result.

In the fiscal year 2021/22, 114,000 students acquired NOCs (No Objection Certificates), allowing them to study abroad. The number is rising every year with the government not knowing how to stop this exodus.

The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) reports that 600 individuals apply for No Objection Studies daily. The surge in demand for NOCs reflects the aspiration of Nepali youth to pursue opportunities overseas. The departure of national sports players has notably intensified this drive to seek opportunities abroad.

Systematic failures

A close friend of mine, an MSc student in Chemistry at Tribhuvan University (TU), opted for a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) due to a scarcity of job opportunities in the field of Chemistry. He recently took his second-year exam and mentioned that he only studied for two days. He said he had done the same in the first year and was confident he would pass even though he had not attended any lectures.

I was shocked that my friend, who comes from a science background, managed to pass the MPA board exam after only two days of study. This phenomenon seems to be prevalent among students pursuing various streams of Master’s degrees.

Unfortunately, it has given rise to a culture where degrees are obtained more on paper than through practical knowledge. This disconnect between education and job opportunities is a pressing issue, as students end up being ill-prepared for the job market, often leading them to consider seeking opportunities abroad as a more viable alternative.

Graduation - Studying Abroad
Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

Similarly, TU’s complex structural equivalency distribution policy has left no choice but to leave the country for many highly qualified and capable graduates. Graduates who return home after pursuing their education abroad have to go through a lot of hassle to get the equivalency of their degree. Without that equivalency certificate, they are not able to apply for jobs in the government sector.

The government despite spending Rs 1.4 trillion in the education sector over the past 12 years, has failed to address the gap between the education curriculum and job market. It has failed to eradicate the chaos created by the political sister organisations from the biggest university which has led to the failure to execute the academic calendar. There are no established career service units in secondary and higher secondary education institutions to provide career counselling and support.

Global exposure of Nepali universities is insignificant because of limited partnerships with international institutions for exchange programmes, joint degrees and research collaboration. Talent recognition and utilisation have never been the priority of any government. Research and development (R & D) has not even sprouted yet, in 2022 only 0.3 per cent of GDP was spent on R&D.

Along with this, political instability, corruption, and economic uncertainty have acted as other major push factors whereas employment opportunities, global exposure, and higher earning prospectus abroad have been major pull factors of brain drain.

Reversing brain drain

File: Nepali migrant workers leaving for foreign employment at the Kathmandu airport - Foreign employment
File photo

In the early 1980s, students and professionals from Taiwan were going to the US to study and work for US companies, and more than 80 per cent of graduates were not returning. To curb that, the Taiwanese government developed a strategy to lure them back, by guaranteeing them jobs, paying travel costs and giving tax reabets to start companies. It worked.

Thousands of professionals returned and started companies. One of them was engineer Morris Chang, who founded the company Taiwan’s Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), FABS (microprocessor manufacturing plant) in 1987. The government gave 48 per cent of start-up capital and contemporary Prime Minister Yu Kuo-hwa personally urged investors to invest in the company.

Taiwan, a country that came into existence in 1912 and was under military dictatorship till 1945, now dominates the chip manufacturing industry, currently holding 68 per cent of the global market share. Chip manufacturing contributes 25 per cent to its GDP. 

Nepal too should identify feasible industries. Then develop policies and strategies to implement them and develop a conducive environment to lure the Nepali diaspora from all over the world with immediate attention taking a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Hence reversing brain drain.

Developed countries like the USA, China, Japan, and South Korea spent 2.6 per cent, 3 per cent, 3.4 per cent, and 5 per cent of GDP respectively in 2022 in R&D. This indicates Nepal should increase its spending in R&D for identifying areas of research, planning and conducting research and utilising such result on development and market it, to retain researcher and scientific talent.

TU needs to rectify the equivalency policy updating it with global standards. The focus should be made on maintaining the global ranking of the universities of Nepal, developing a market-oriented curriculum with proper coordination between the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), National Planning Commission (NPC) and industries with research and fellowship so that international students are attracted along with domestic ones.

Brain drain should be addressed in the policies, planning and strategies of government and proactive measures should be taken. The practice of the right man in the right place should be implemented since many gazetted officers are leaving jobs and settling abroad, stating they cannot contribute as they want in the current order of bureaucracy.

Politicians should channel their efforts towards development and prosperity. The culture of pork barreling must be avoided by every political leader. Evidence, study and research-based policies should be formulated for effective implementation in a way that the young generation starts to feel the change and solidarity among people will develop to stay in the country and contribute in the best way possible.                                                                                                                                                                                 

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N.L Bhattarai is a civil servant.

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