18 Aug 2017
9 min read
This year’s grade 12 results were published a few weeks ago. Our high school grads will now be looking to enrol in undergraduate programmes. For some majors—such as medicine, engineering and IT—our government and private colleges provide as good an education as colleges in India and the West do, at a fraction of the cost students would have to incur abroad. Our private colleges that teach business are also starting to provide a great education right here. To be sure, there are students who want to get a comprehensive liberal arts degree, and for them, the US is still the preferred destination, but for most others, if they pick their college wisely, Nepali colleges also have a lot to offer.
Every year thousands of students opt for studying MBBS. And a majority of them join one of the 21 medical colleges in the country that offer undergraduate medical courses, out of which three are government-run: the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj; Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Patan; B P Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Dharan. In a country where government-run educational institutions are synonymous with lack of quality, the government-run medical colleges are an exception. In fact, they are considered the best in the country and the limited number of seats available in these schools are highly contested.
“The overall quality of medical education in Nepal is considered one of the best in the region,” says Prof. Dr Rajendra Koju, Dean of Kathmandu University of School of Medical Sciences (KUSMS). KUSMS’s MBBS programme, which started in 2001, says Dr Koju, has a very community-oriented curriculum and the approach to learning is very integrated and systematic.
Every year, a significant number of Nepali students also go to countries like China, India, Bangladesh and Russia to pursue an MBBS degree. “There are some excellent medical colleges in these countries; but not only are the fees in these top-tier colleges very expensive, these colleges are also very difficult to get into. But there are also plenty of substandard medical colleges in these countries, the ones that students need to be wary of, that lure students by offering courses at very affordable rates. The quality of education at these colleges is so poor that we have seen graduates from such colleges failing to pass the Nepal Medical Council’s licencing exam,” says Dr Koju. “When applying for medical colleges, be it in Nepal or abroad, it’s important that both parents and students conduct proper research on different colleges—regarding the quality of education they offer and the facilities they provide to enhance the learning experience.”
That said, in Nepal too, there are substandard private medical colleges—which operate without having the required infrastructure but still charge exorbitant fees. In fact, medical colleges have become a sector for businessmen and politicians to make a quick buck with zero regard to providing quality education. That’s why Dr Govinda KC, an orthopaedic surgeon and a professor of orthopaedics at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, has been sitting on multiple fast-unto-death protests to coerce the government to bring about positive changes in the sector. Dr KC’s demand include setting up a regulating body to keep a check on the colleges, the decentralisation of medical colleges, a ban on new medical colleges being set up in the Valley for the next 10 years, and granting the Health Profession Education Commission the right to grant affiliation to medical colleges that meet the criteria set by the commission.
But getting an MBBS from a good private/public college means you’ve only got past the first hurdle to your becoming a doctor. You’ll need to then enrol in an MD/MS programme, and only a few medical schools in the country offer that degree. “Every year, fewer than 500 MD/MS seats are up for grabs in the country. As for pursuing the course abroad, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is the most preferred choice for many,” says Dr Koju. “It’s a tough exam and often takes years of preparation, but still, every year, a substantial number of MBBS graduates from Nepal do pass it, which also goes to show the quality of education in our country.”
There are more than 80 educational institutions in the country that offer Bachelor’s in Nursing and BSc Nursing courses, and thousands graduate every year from these institutions. Once these graduates get their nursing licence from Nepal Nursing Council, they start applying for jobs. But nursing jobs are scarce, for the country produces more nurses than the industry can accommodate. This has been the case for the past few years.
It took Anu KC, a 2015 graduate, eight months to get a job. “As soon as I got my nursing licence, I started dropping my CV at hospitals, but not even a single hospital got back. I was then told by friends that if I am to get a job at hospital, I’d have to volunteer there first,” she says. KC volunteered for three months, but that job offer never came. When KC came to know that there were other nurses at the hospital who had been volunteering for a year—with no signs of a job offer materialising—she quit.
“According to international standards, hospitals are supposed to have nurse to patient ratio of 1:1 in the ICU and 1:4 to 5 in the general ward, but in Nepal, hospitals flout this regulation. In general wards of some hospitals, the nurse to patient ratio is 2:40 to 50,” says Narbada Khanal, Principal, Om Health Campus. “If the government bodies tasked with regulating hospitals take strict action against hospitals flouting this rule, that would both ensure that patients got better care and the nurse unemployment wouldn’t be this bad.”
But despite the job outlook, the number of students opting to study nursing still remains very high. More than 300 applicants applied for the 30-seat BSc Nursing course at Om Health Campus last year. “The high unemployment rate for nurses in the country hasn’t decreased the number of students pursuing nursing. Many of them join nursing with the hope of getting jobs abroad, mainly in the US, the UK and Australia,” says Khanal. But even for countries like Australia, a prime destination of choice, nursing graduates from countries like Nepal often have to take further courses abroad—and even then they only end up working as aides in old-folks’ homes.
KC says that had she known about the bleak employment prospects for nursing graduates, she would have probably thought twice before pursuing nursing.
In the last decade, the number of hotel management schools in the country has shot up immensely. With many hotel management graduates from the country managing to land well-paying jobs in the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries, more and more students have thought about pursuing hotel management; and to meet these students’ needs, hotel management schools have cropped up in larger numbers too. Currently, approximately 3,000 students graduate from the nearly three dozen hotel management schools in the country. And with leading international chain hotels like Marriott, Sheraton, InterContinental, Aloft, Dusit Thani having started or starting operations in the country in the coming years, the demand for hotel management graduates in the country is bound to increase.
Students who are looking to pursue an undergraduate degree in hotel management in the country can either opt for a Diploma in Hotel Management, which is usually a three-year course, or a Bachelor in Hotel Management, which could be both a three-year or a four-year course, depending on the university the college is affiliated with.
The Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management (NATHM), the only government-run institution that offers a Bachelors in Hotel Management from Tribhuvan University, is one of the most preferred hotel management colleges in the country. As for those looking for a hotel management degree/diploma from a foreign university, there are colleges here that offer such degrees too.
“Regardless of whether a college is affiliated to a national university or an international one, hotel management is a rigorous course. There’s this general misconception among students that the course is easy and that you can breeze through it. It isn’t easy to digest all the theory or to master the practical components to do with every aspect of operating a hotel—from food and beverage science, culinary management and housekeeping to human resources and sales and marketing,” says Khem Raj Lakai, CEO, GATE College. “You also have to complete a one-year internship, which most curriculums demand; that gives students a hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in a hotel, before they even start their career.”
For 26-year-old Akash Gurung, who graduated from a hotel management school in 2012, owning his own restaurant was a dream come true. “After graduation, I worked in a restaurant in Kathmandu for two years and then went to Dubai and worked in F&B for two more years,” says Gurung. “I then started my own restaurant in December 2016. You can do more than just get a job in a hotel with this degree. If you are willing to work a little harder and combine the degree with a few years of experience, then you can actually start your own little successful business.”
For hotel management students looking to become entrepreneurs, it makes more sense to pursue the course here in the country, rather than to go abroad. Studying here exposes them to the local market elements, while internships abroad (which are part of the curriculum here) gives them the requisite global exposure, a combination of which is crucial for succeeding in hospitality.
It’s not been that many years that Information Technology (IT) started to be considered a preferred major in Nepal. Today, IT has taken the world by storm, and Nepal’s own IT industry has seen considerable growth in the last few years, resulting in the mushrooming of colleges that offer IT courses.
“A lot of IT projects are now being outsourced to Nepal, but there’s a lack of trained manpower in the field,” says Sanjiv Udas, Course Leader, MSc IT and BSc IT at Islington College. “Still, from programming and software development to animation and VFX works for Hollywood projects--a lot of stuff is being done in Nepal by Nepali IT professionals. There are even Nepali IT specialists working at Facebook and Google.”
“An IT education has become much more than just a subject you study to become a programmer or a coder,” says Udas. You can today pursue a BSc in Computing degree and become a programmer, software developer; a BSc in Computer Networking and IT Security will allow you to apply for positions such as network administrator, information security representative or a network and security designer; a BSc in Multimedia Technologies will help you become an audio engineer, digital video producer, video compositor, web developer, web content producer or a visual architect. “There’s also a world of difference between a computer engineer and an IT professional. While computer engineering also covers the mathematical underpinnings of computer science, and is mainly research based, IT courses are more narrow and specific to the kind of area that you want to gain expertise in.”
Because their industry continues to grow rapidly, IT graduates with the required skill set have great scope in the country. “In a technical field like IT, you learn from doing, and if you learn enough as you go, the possibilities for you are endless,” says Udas.
In a country where being a doctor or an engineer is usually seen to be the best career options, humanities, as a stream, has been constantly overlooked. And despite there being more than 300 colleges providing undergraduate courses in the humanities and social science streams, there are only a select few courses students can choose from if they want to pursue these majors—most of them focused primarily on development subjects—such as Bachelor’s in Social Work, Bachelor’s in Rural Development, Bachelor’s in Development Studies, and so on.
“Among the few courses that are taught here, most are very theory-heavy, with very little of the practical aspects being taught,” says Shankar Prasad Sharma, director of Texas College, Kathmandu. “The courses in most government colleges are outdated, and exams almost never take place on time. This has pushed students to opt for an education outside of Nepal, where they have the option to choose the subjects they want to study and where the courses start and finish on time.”
Private colleges, like Texas College, are trying to fill these gaps and retain students in the country by providing international-standard education that implements a more practicals-based approach in their courses. Like with their Bachelor’s in Social Work course, which they started five years ago. This three-year course, under Tribhuvan University, which follows the semester system, gives equal focus to the three-hour examinations that students take at the end of every semester as well as to all the assignments they have to do. These private colleges also focus on personality development, skill development, and professional development and overall growth of students by organising various workshops and sending students on field studies and internships, etc.
Along with this new practicals-based approach, the burgeoning number of private colleges in and around Kathmandu are also introducing new courses like the Bachelor’s in Media Studies, Bachelor’s in Ethnomusicology and Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts and Sciences, in affiliation with universities like Kathmandu University and Pokhara University.
Apex College, affiliated to Pokhara University, takes in approximately 350 students (40-45 students in each section), every year, for the four business streams that are available there: BCIS, BBA, BBA-BI and BBA-TT.
Because of the demand among prospective business students, there are today more than 40 business schools in and around Kathmandu. Among them, Ace Institute of Management, Apex College, Kathmandu University School of Management, White House Graduate School of Management are some of the best schools that are privately managed, and in the government school sector, colleges like Nepal Commerce College and Shanker Dev Campus are some of the more famous colleges. But there is vast difference in the education provided between the private colleges that teach business programmes and the government ones—with the private ones providing a far superior education.
“Students in the business programmes are required to work on research-based projects, go on field and industry visits, and so on,” says Dr Gangaram BK, Assistant Professor, Central Department of Management, Tribhuvan University. “Along with theoretical knowledge, we focus primarily on resource training and make students participate in clubs like the linguistics club, the IT club, the sports club, et cetera. Colleges also hold programmes like College to Corporate Development, with guest lecturers every semester, to provide a more interactive approach to learning.”
“However, the number of students that graduate from business schools all over Nepal add up to be much more than the market needs, making it difficult for fresh graduates to find jobs,” says BK, adding that this has resulted in students not pursuing business at the master’s level. Many of them end up setting up small-scale businesses of their own or pursuing a different education stream altogether.
Among an approximate 12,500 students who take the entrance exams at Tribhuvan University’s engineering schools every year, only 3,300 make the cut. And out of that, only a few hundred get into Pulchowk Engineering College, one of the most respected engineering institutions in the country.
For students, Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Engineering’s constituent colleges like Pulchowk Engineering College, Thapathali Campus, Purwanchal Campus and Pashchimanchal Campus are an obvious first choice. These are respected institutions that have international recognition and charge lower tuition rates than private colleges. A degree from these government-run colleges will come to cost about only Rs 3 lakhs a year, while at private institutions, you’ll have to pay up to Rs 10 lakhs. “The competition in the engineering sector is cut-throat, especially in the constituent colleges of Tribhuvan University. When students do not get into the four constituent colleges, then they apply to private colleges,” says Binod Sapkota, assistant professor at Thapathali Campus. “But private colleges are pretty good too. Private colleges provide a more interactive environment for students and teachers; they have good infrastructure and well-trained staff. They also offer scholarships; out of a 100 applicants, 10 students get to study at private schools for the tuition fee they would have to pay at a government institution.”
There are 50 engineering colleges in Nepal under different universities—Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University, Pokhara University, Purbanchal University—which offer courses in geomatic engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, agricultural engineering, hydropower engineering and architectural engineering. At these colleges, students go through a rigorous four-year semester system, which comprises 75 per cent theory and 25 per cent practical work. “The courses and the curriculum are designed well. But the colleges have limited seats,” says Sapkota. “Hardly a couple of hundred students get the chance to study the subject they want to. The course one wants to study may or may not be available at his/her preferred college. For example, let’s say I want to study Computer Engineering at Pulchowk Engineering Campus. I have to beat thousands of other students to be one of 48 students who actually gets to study the subject.” This is one of the major reasons why many students resort to applying for private engineering colleges in Nepal, India and beyond.
“Students with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Nepal are as capable as students from other countries. But they do not have too many options to pursue a post-graduate degree in the country,” says Sapkota. Many students, especially civil engineers, opt to stay in Nepal and start working. But students who want to pursue their masters or their PhD and work on their research projects have to go abroad to get a further education.
In 2006, when Prakritee Yonzon wanted to study law, she had to go to India for lack of a good private law school here. The few undergraduate schools that were here were substandard; the courses were outdated and taught in Nepali, the classes and exams did not take place in time, and there were limited resources. Now, things have changed. Today, private law colleges in Nepal provide integrated courses like the five-year BBM LLB and BA LLM courses and three-year LLB courses. The schools, boasting very capable faculties, teach through interactive teacher-student sessions, conduct regular student assessments and provide a lot of resources for their students. And individuals like Yonzon, who completed her BBA LLB from Symbiosis Law School (Pune) and then her LLM from the London School of Economics, are now lecturers at schools such as the Kathmandu University School of Law (KUSL).
The quality of education provided by private law schools in Nepal is maintained by how these private institutions practice quality control, how they structure the course, how they maintain a good faculty, and how they select the number of students according to their credentials. “For example, at KUSL, class sizes are small, with around 40 students, to ensure proper attention is given to all the students,” says Yonzon.
Along with KUSL, the other prominent law colleges in Kathmandu are Kathmandu School of Law (under Purbanchal University) and National Law Campus (under Tribhuvan University). All these schools follow a very practicals-based approach. “Each semester has a fresh set of six to seven subjects and the exams at the end of each semester make up 50 per cent of the students’ grades, and the other 50 per cent comes from internal assessments, where students are required to put in around three presentations every semester,” says Yonzon.
Yonzon says that although pursuing an education in law outside of Nepal has its advantages (in terms of students getting a lot of exposure and forging better links to other universities), it is also important to study in the country you want to practice in as a professional: because you will be more familiar with the exact laws of that country.