(Feature image source: http://southwestern.edu.np)
By CareerPlan Consultant Writer (a Nepalese professional)
We the Nepalese tend to introduce ourselves as coming from a small country, land-locked between China and India. But this notion of smallness is not true when you look at the proportion of international students who come to Australia every year from Nepal. Just have a look at Fig 1 below – and this becomes obvious.
As this figure from the Australian government Department of Education and Training highlights, Nepal is the third largest source of students, right after China and India.
Another source says that in the first six months of 2017, a staggering number of 15, 386 Nepalese students were enrolled in the higher education sector.
Fig 1: Nepal ranked third in the number of student population in Australia after China and India. Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training, website click here, site visited: 18 Feb 2018)
Equally interesting is that the Nepalese student number has grown significantly in the past few years (see Fig 2).
Figure 2. Source (Austrade: Australian Trade and Investment Commission)
The numbers are undebatable, but still one may wonder: how come Nepal with just 30 million population (and also lower per capita GNP) is following China and India, both of which with over 1 billion population).
There are, of course, forces working on both the supply and the demand sides. On the supply side, two key factors are at play: Nepal’s growing middle class and the escalating frustrations among the youths about their future in Nepal following the conflict and unstable politics in the country. They now have both capacity and ambition to go overseas for education (often as a first step to migration). A large network of Nepalese Australian migration agents has also helped young people to go overseas.
But why does an overwhelmingly large number of Nepalese students choose Australia? Data shows that nearly half of Nepalese students going to the Western countries choose Australia.
A report published by Myrepublica estimates slightly less number of students leaving for Australia for Nepal, but this also confirms Australia as the choice of the largest number of students.
Fig 3: Students leaving for various countries from Nepal for studies (source: b Aryal, Myrepublica, 24 Jan 2017).
So demand side factors in Australia are also important.
Educational agents highlight a number of attractive features of Australian education sector: ‘world class’, ‘welcoming and engaging’, and a ‘tolerant and multicultural society’. They are not wrong in several of their advertising claims.
Australia’s internationally competitive education system and the openness to merit based permanent residence have played the major part in attracting Nepalese students to Australia.
Australia competes well with the USA and the UK. Australia has maintained a satisfactory level of quality in the delivery of education. Annual student survey commissioned by the Australian Government shows that international students’ experience with Australian education is very positive: 93% of students surveyed in 2014 indicated they chose Australia for quality, reputation and safety reasons.
Australia has also favoured Nepalese students in terms of the level of scrutiny in processing visa, compared to other South Asian countries.
In addition, a key attraction to international students is the right to work while they study. Most Nepalese students come with a plan to pay the fees and living costs through a mix of part time employment earnings, partner incomes (if married) and parent contributions. Obviously, the good wage rates in Australia are a major factor in the decision to choose this Country for higher education.
The large volume of Nepalese students also bring benefits to Australia.
Australia’s federal education minister recognises international education as the country’s third largest export sector, generating more than $21 billion of economic activity in Australia. Australia’s National Strategy for for International Education 2025 sets an ambitious targets to increase its share of intentional students in the global market (recognising the USA and the UK as as the closest competitors).
Media cite reports of increasing contribution of Nepalese students to Australian economy. In the financial year 2014-15, Nepalese students had contributed $621 million as opposed to $487 million the previous year. This is approximately 20 times as large as the Australia’s official development assistance to Nepal in a year (which is $31.6 million in 2016-7, as per the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).
However, the life of Nepalese students is not as good as anticipated, and there are some worrying trends emerging. The future looks even more challenging.
Living in the new culture is the greatest challenge to the majority of students who are below 30, and sadly, cases of casualties, mental illness, cultural shock and unemployment are rising.
A practicing medical doctor and Nepalese community leader in Victoria Dr Anupam Pokharel wrote in an article in the Nepali media that Nepalese students are experiencing growing cases of mental illness, as they find more challenging situations to live and study in Australia. This kind of cases has been reported by other Nepali media as well.
Many students report that they did not get right information from the education consultants at the time of planning the study. “I was told that the University I was enrolled is close to Sydney, but I knew only after I came here that it was Wollongong 2 hours of train ride away from Sydney”, a student who recently landed in Australia said to the writer.
Unemployment rate is lowest among the developed countries, but Nepalese students face tremendous difficulty in getting jobs in their chosen profession.
Exploitation in employment cases are also emerging, and Nepalese students are not free from this problem.
Students come unplanned – often thinking to return after graduation. But they later decide stay and many have had to change course to secure permanent residence.
Nepalese students also face challenges in picking up the learning style in Australia. “Teachers do not provide enough guidance on assignment and we need to do a lot of research ourselves”, a post graduate Nepali student said to us. Nepalese students still need to think themselves as more empowered actors in the education setting, beyond seeing themselves as passive subjects within the conventional teacher-student relations paradigm still common in Nepalese school level and undergraduate education system.
The Western’ method of education is not necessarily the most superior educational system. However, there are certain aspects of this educational system which the Eastern style education can learn from. For example, the use of reason rather than intuition and emption is more prevalent in Western society, and this underpins much of educational practice in Australia. Likewise, knowing content is important, but what has become even more important is communicating what you know effectively to others.
Given these opportunities and challenges, Nepalese students who are considering Australia for their higher education must think carefully before coming to Australia. Besides being aware of the fundamental learning and cultural adjustment challenges, practical matters like financing your study and getting a sense of job prospect and migration possibilities (if you want to stay on) after graduating are what you must carefully consider while planning.