Student mobility

Nepal should attract foreign stu

Mahendra Singh

Mobility is a centuries-old phenomenon. However, its current dynamics are unique in knowledge sector. The 21st century is the age of knowledge. Modern-day employers are now going to the office of employees to get their job done, largely due to the development of information technology. Outsourcing was an agenda of debate in the presidential election of the US. Profitably speaking, corporate sectors are foreseeing a great fortune in this knowledge sector. Knowledge is being treated as a commodity capital. Trading in knowledge is flourishing. Increasing significance of knowledge is reflected in the WTO charter. As a result, human resource now has global demand.

This phenomenon has inspired universities and other higher institutions of the world to enhance an attractive atmosphere for students and scholars in their own institutions. They are promising brilliant students, teachers and scholars from developing countries to become their academic leaders for tomorrow. These institutions are out for hunting talents through student and faculty exchange, grant, scholarship and joint research. The cumulative effect has been a phenomenal growth in global student mobility over the last decade. In 2000, there were an estimated 1.7 million international students around the world. According to recent projections by IDP Australia, it will reach 7.2 million by 2025. Asia is going to dominate the scene, accounting for 70 per cent of the global demand; particularly India and China are emerging as top source countries.

Nepal cannot remain aloof for long. A case study by the Centre for International Relation (CIR), an organ of TU, shows that TU has already headed towards international experience. Academic exchange and collaborative research are going to be important programmes of this scholarly culture at TU. Since its start, CIR has been providing general information regarding academic programmes offered by TU to foreign as well as Nepali students. It is also cooperating with “study abroad programmes’ run by foreign universities in the area of student and faculty exchange. Having bilateral relations with more than 100 universities of the world, TU is offering high-quality graduate courses in medicine and engineering. The number of students from Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ukraine, and Japan etc. has reached about 100.

Besides, in degree-oriented programmes more than 50 foreign researchers are doing their non-degree research. Above all, TU has its own constituent campuses of International Language, where about 60 foreign students and 4098 Nepali students are studying foreign language. Despite steady growth in the number of foreign students at TU, greater numbers of students are going abroad annually through institutional and personal initiatives. Accessibility to the Internet and research funding has made overseas study more attractive. For young Nepali scholars, to include international experience in their studies has become a dream. Virtually, student mobility is recognised as a qualification path in view of a career development.

Student mobility is a most desirable thing. It is beneficial for both receiving and sending countries. But mobility is still a one-way flow from Nepal. Nepal is sending more and receiving less number of students. It is proving a drain on our slowly depleting foreign exchange reserves. There is thus a gap to be filled up on priority basis. All of such issues raise some questions. How can the realised but overlooked imbalance in benefits resulting from student mobility be overcome? How will the two-way flow be encouraged? TU is playing a leading role in attracting foreign students. However, a lot has to be done to harness the full potential of TU as a preferred destination. Other redbrick institutions of higher education of the country should also play a complementary role by adopting suitable strategies for raising the demand for Nepali education. TU, on its part, does not only want to see a quantity rise in student mobility to Nepal, it also wants students to stay in Nepal to be qualitatively better.

For this a cooperative approach to mapping and promoting flows of international students is required. But lack of accommodation for foreign students is a big problem. TU runs an international hostel. Along with this, some of the academic programmes should be restructured in the global framework, so as to attract more foreign students. Credit transfer facilities should also be provided to foreign students on which a team of TU is working. In order to encourage foreign students, there should be a consortium in certain subjects among Nepali universities. The government should also realise the importance of student mobility as a source of foreign exchange. It should take enough responsibilities in promoting this area. Time consuming process of granting “official visa” to foreign scholars is one example. Fixation of official visa quota for universities, without prior study of requirements of big or small institutions, may have discouraging effects on students’ arrivals.

Process needs review. What is needed, indeed, is a combined effort and action plan by universities, government and civil societies to harness the potential of international scholars and students, who bring with them new ideas, perspectives and currencies. Unfortunately, students’ mobility has not yet generated serious debates and discussions. Right time is now.

Prof Singh is rector, TU