-By Serene Khatiwada
This article was originally published in The Himalayan Times on 19 July 2015.
If someone were to graduate fresh out of High School, be it in any field — economics is one subject you can always pursue. The most widely opted for degree is a Bachelor in Arts in Humanities and Social Sciences from Tribhuvan University (which happens to constitute the largest educational body in Nepal grossing 81.58 per cent of the total available campuses and 87.9 per cent of the total student enrolments, UGC Nepal) — with certain subject combinations that you can opt for that includes a hint of economics.
NO DISTINCT DIFFERENTIATION
This is the same story with any other social science subject a student wants to pursue in Nepal — there is no distinct differentiation of degree in the undergraduate level, the best bet is to take subject combinations that most aptly describes the degree a student wants to signal to — Masters being the only point of differentiation.
By comparison even if we look at India, there are a variety of Honour courses you can opt for in government colleges in the undergraduate level along with differentiations in regular level and honour courses — the degree of homogeneity is less and, hence, the degrees given are a lot diverse. By these standards Nepali students are bound to hit a glass ceiling if they want to pursue a more challenging course in the Social Sciences, Humanities or even the Science fields in Nepal simply because there are no options.There are hardly six degrees in average in a stream (without honours) in any University offering you look at.
Glass ceilings are when the academic career of a student hits a dead end because of some institutional reason. In our case, for instance, if a student wanted to compete internationally for a reputed Ph.D — his transcript is already disadvantaged because of institutional reasons. For instance, if someone obtaining the same marks with the same standardised testing score were to apply to any reputed university with an honours degree from any other country — or a degree with a greater specialisation — he will be at an advantage. Moreover, if there are no diverse choices of university courses to signal one’s competency — a glass ceiling is created.
By sheer number, majority of tertiary level enrollment fall in the Management and Education sector in Nepal — which amount to almost 75 per cent of the total student enrolment; Humanities and Social Sciences then holds the major chunk which amounts to 15 per cent of total student enrollments. Science and Technology amounts to 3.76 per cent, Medicine amounts to 3.31 per cent and Engineering amounts to 2.70 per cent. The graduation rate from the number of enrollment in the stream of Humanities and Social Sciences and Management is not appealing. Only 10.16 per cent of the total students enrolled in the faculty of Education in the country graduate; whereas the rate of graduation in the faculty of Management amounts to 8.56 per cent.
CREATING SURPLUS LABOUR
This is a very important indicator which shows what the labour market is bombarded with every year — the skilled labour market of Nepal gets a homogenous pool of skilled labour — and since jobs designed for certain courses are limited in supply, surplus labour and unemployment is created. Thus, a more apt question would be to ask whether or not the market is able to absorb this number of graduates from this degree of homogeneity and differentiate them to substantiate economic returns.
One of the major reasons Nepal saw a steep climb in the boom in banking and the NGO/INGO sector was because the majority of our academic courses were designed to accommodate such jobs — namely development studies; business administration, business management, business studies and similar courses; social work; education; finance and so on — majority of which are non-fundamental interdisciplinary courses. Both of these sectors have been widely considered as intermediaries in a country’s economic development — not final destinations. Moreover, if we look at India (which has the closest education system to us) the percentage of enrolment in BBA is a mere 1.42 per cent, the percentage of enrolment in the field of education is 1.89 per cent. Majority of enrolments of students are in the major courses that require specialisation in fixed streams and not interdisciplinary courses. This acts in benefit for students as they have a more diverse pool of employment and higher education opportunities — for instance, a student who has a BSc honours degree or a BA honours degree can in any point of time after his completion switch to interdisciplinary courses in higher studies.
Even in the Sciences, the options are limited. The two classic options are either in the Medical field or for Engineering where seats are limited, and private players are very dubious in the quality of education they serve (Govinda K C’s effort is an example) — nevertheless if one wants to pursue a BSc degree too, there are very limited options in Nepal. Tribhuvan University (TU) offers a BSc Degree with only two options; one is a BSc in Physics and another is a BSc (Physics, Chemistry and Maths). There are no other options for a student — what if someone wants to do a BSc in Botany, BSc in Zoology, BSc in Economics? In other Universities; Kathmandu University School of Science, for instance, offers three BSc degrees in Applied Physics, Environmental Science and Human Biology and three other Bachelor Degrees in Environmental Engineering, Biotechnology and Pharmacy — a total of six options; the options are still limited. If a student wants to differentiate himself in terms of course load and ability the aspect is very bleak in Nepal, this may be one of the very valid reasons any top ranking University asks for a Master’s Degree from Nepali degree holders.
It is only after Masters, that also in a very limited scope, a student is able to differentiate and signal his ability through course load. This also may be the reason for the large number of students going abroad for studies. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear from the system that there are no efforts until today to do away with the glass ceiling the government system has been imposing in the tertiary education sector until today — let alone the government thinking of improving policies towards improving the pitiful credibility of Nepal’s education sector.
Serene Khatiwada is a research assistant at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation