Higher education in Nepal
The education system in Nepal is plagued by various shortcomings including poor quality and inequitable access, which seriously undermine its potential to facilitate positive, transformative outcomes, particularly for the poor. These problems are further compounded in the public school system, where resources are scarce, accountability is weak, teaching is ineffective, and socio-economic conditions are not conducive to learning.
Major international initiatives such as Education for All and Millennium Development Goals have emphasized literacy and primary education and literacy leaving little resources for investment in higher education. However, in today’s ‘education age’, secondary schooling is not enough to be competitive in the job market.
Further, scholarships dry up even as higher education costs skyrocket. Most I/NGOs and corporations are focused on supporting students at the school level where many students can be supported with fewer resources.
Poor Access And Quality
Poor access is a key problem for students from poor and underprivileged households. Firstly, not many students make it past 10th grade. The 10th grade or the School Leaving Certificates Exam (SLC) is considered the most important “iron gate” to higher education and employment opportunities.
In 2015, the pass rate for this exam stood at a dismal 47%, with only 34% of public school students passing the exam. About 80% of students taking SLC attend public schools. The scoring system of tenth grade exams changed in 2016. However, issues of access and quality remain.
Secondly, passing 10th grade doesn’t ensure enrolment in higher education. The cost of higher education is often well beyond the means of many students from rural communities. Students from richer households are 8 times more likely to enroll in high school compared to those from the poorest households (National Living Standards Survey III).
Finally, there are very limited scholarship opportunities at the higher secondary level and beyond. A few scholarships provide partial support to cover either tuition or books and uniform but virtually no scholarship covers all expenses including accommodation. The Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) does provide some scholarships to talented students from community schools, but these scholarships only waive admission and tuition fees.
For those who do gain access, the public higher education suffers from poor quality and lack of market relevance. The problem of poor quality in the education system at the school level persists and is even more pronounced in public higher education. In addition, the low market relevance of higher education means that even those with degrees struggling in transitioning to the labor market.
Beyond access and quality, students from poor backgrounds lack the socio-cultural and economic capital that enables upward mobility. As the generation of students undergoing mass schooling aspires to middle class status, language of instruction becomes increasingly important, with English preferred as the international language.
As public school students make the transition to higher secondary education, their inexperience in‘ modern’ settings (lack of cultural capital) as well as their lack of language fluency affects their performance in higher education. Further, even those students that persevere to pursue higher education and complete their degrees often fail to get the jobs they expect, as the competition for jobs is fierce and they do not have the right networks to facilitate their transition into the job market.
Education holds the potential to change peoples’ lives for the better, as we have found from personal experience, but it is unlikely that the kind of education these students receive would transform their lives as effectively. The education system is sold as a story of hope, where any student who works hard can reap the fruit of their labor. The reality, particularly for the rural poor, is completely different, as talented students are discouraged from pursuing their dreams because they have neither the financial nor the social capital to turn them into realities. Often, entrenched inequities are reproduced by the system.
Samaanta Foundation seeks to address some of the problems in higher education by providing comprehensive fellowships to make opportunities available to deserving students from rural communities.