Undergraduate studies - Cost v service to nation

If you ask school students about their aim in life, the answer will be “to become a doctor or engineer.” Very seldom you will hear that they want to become businessmen. And never will you hear that they want to become teachers.

However, the education after SLC has driven more students towards management than towards science stream. The scenario has changed over the last decade. Before then the choice of the students would be sc-ience, management, humanities and then education. There may be two reasons why students prefer management to science. One, the time consumed by professional science areas and second the cost involved in becoming a doctor and/or an engineer.

The charm of becoming a doctor has not gone down. The crowd in the entrance preparation classes and the number of students appearing in the entrance classes prove this. The same can be seen in the entrance test of engineering courses. The undergraduate courses of choice have become so costly that only a few can afford. There are only a few scholarships available in the Ministry of Education, which may do justice to poor but intelligent students. But there has been little trust of common people that the selection process would be fair. So the government has not been able to maintain equity in undergraduate courses. Nor even the equality since the major professional areas in the undergraduate classes have enrolled only students from rich families.

Unless the government devises a policy of educational cost based on family income, we cannot hope for educational equity and equality in this country. How can a common Nepali imagine paying Rs. 2 million to a medical school to fulfil the dream of becoming a doctor? It is not even possible to pay Rs. 5 to 7 lakhs for an engineering course. Thus the children of those families end up getting education at TU campuses and find themselves in the midst of pelting stones or burning tires. They hardly get 100 days of education a year, never get their prescribed course completed, cannot pay for extra tuition and become unsuccessful fellows. Whose fault is this? Is this the parents’, their poverty, government mechanism or capitalist nature of education?

One can see the mushrooming growth of medical and engineering colleges in the country every year. The products of those colleges join convocation with enthusiasm. The media starts highlighting the number of MBBS and BE pass students. Where do they go? The country never gets their service. Most of them go abroad for higher education and never come back. This means we are preparing our children not to serve the nation but others in the globe. Producing more than 500 MBBS in home country and not getting their service when needed is a great problem of our education system.

Similar case are there in rich families who send their children to the USA, Britain, Australia and other countries immediately after they complete their 12 years of education regardless of the subjects they study. This tendency has been growing each year. Legally the money spent on those students is about $2 million a year as per Nepal Rastra Bank’s record. The families having their relatives abroad or having their bank account abroad do not seek permission from the Ministry of Education and their record is not seen in the Nepal Rastra Bank. And the expense of such families is estimated to come to four times more than the regular record of the NRB.

On one side we are selling our students to other countries and on the other we are losing foreign currency. So this is a lose-lose situation. The country cannot expect remittances because the students getting jobs outside will have their own account and they use it for themselves seeking permanent residence status at the end.

Talking about medical education and its cost, who prefers to work for Rs.7500 a month after investing Rs. 2 to 2.5 million to become an MBBS doctor? It is natural that they seek other opportunities to get their return as soon as possible. Similar cases are there in costly engineering and management courses. But one thing to be answered is “where do they go after completing their studies through government scholarships?” They become doctors or engineers without spending a penny with a bond that they would serve the country for at least five years after completing their studies. If the government had been able to enforce the bond we would have the service of a doctor and an engineer in each VDC.

The irony is that the patients are dying of common diseases in remote areas. Who is accountable? Is it the doctor who did not follow the bond or is it the government who could not implement the regulation? Whoever it is, it is the crime, which makes both parties equally responsible. In the absence of a proper education plan and a sound education policy no country can provide essential services to its citizens. It seems “borrowing foreign experts would be much cheaper than producing our own”.

Dr Wagley is professor of Education, TU