Dr Raju Adhikari and Dr Bharat Raj Poudel
Brain Gain Centre (BCG), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Government of Nepal organized a webinar in October, 2020 with a theme “Diaspora Engagement and Educational Investment Opportunity in Nepal”. This was one of the webinar series organized globally by BGC to gather information about diaspora's expression of interest and potential projects for investment in the education sector of Nepal.
Nepal has been trying to secure investments through FDI policy from diaspora and foreign companies to seek much needed investment to develop infrastructure and meet Nepal’s 2030 development goals. Education is one of the largest and growing industries in Nepal. This is pertaining to a huge gap in supply and demand of high-quality education and human resources to support local industries. So, the BGC initiatives to conduct educational investment webinar series is a welcoming step to outreach directly to the diaspora community and explore investment opportunity.
Australian Context of Educational System
Australia is looking towards an era of universal tertiary education system. Australia expects almost all the population to join post-school education at some point of time in their lives. But the sense of change and uncertainty is exacerbated by increase in awareness of the demands of ‘globalisation’, ‘internationalisation’ and ‘lifelong learning’. The current Covid-19 crisis has fuelled uncertainty about prospective modest collaboration in the area of research and development which is likely to increase in many ways. Competition and collaboration in education and research have now become important strategic considerations. Competition in education industries concerns holding market share and expanding into new markets. Higher education (HE) and technical and further education (TAFE) have been considered as partners for future collaborations between Australia and Nepal. Aspirations are rising and most of the industry partners see mutual benefits in collaboration. Research and Development (R&D) and partnership in many ways may also facilitate industrial take-up of innovation and support training. As per the significant volume of students from Nepal, Australian universities and educational institutions might have some interests if Nepal can convince or lobby for possible collaboration in future. On the onset of these discourses, countries like Nepal can be benefitted from possible collaborations that are being touted in several contexts.
CoVID-19, Nepal’s stake and possible uncertainty of collaboration
Australia has been trying to explore a possible extension of their educational network throughout the east and south Asia. Some collaborative institutions have already been established in the countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and India. However, uncertain future opportunities for research collaboration is looming due to the global distraction posed by pandemic COVID-19. The prospects for future opportunities for research collaboration are uncertain at least for the next couple of years. Global research system will have to cope with restricted international travel and the shift to online communication may hinder some forms of collaboration and will reduce opportunities for researchers. It might slow down collaboration on international level, with long term implications for the advancement in fields such as tourism and hospitality.
Being one of the major students sending nations, Nepal has been contributing to Australian revenue system by more than 2.2 billion-dollar annually. In return, the possibility of expansion and extension of Australian style education system in Nepal has not been materialised up until today. This is where the crux of brain gain lies. There have been several bilateral visits in the past but nothing concrete has occurred so far to kick-start the educational collaboration between vastly different economies.
The enrollment data below shows the list of courses the international students are studying in the Higher Education, VET, Schools, English language intensive courses for Overseas students (ELICOS) and Non-award sectors in Australia. There are more than 0.6 million international students in Australia (less than 2019 academic year). Out of total international students in Australia, approximately 60 thousand students are from Nepal.
If Nepal can attract the Australian Investment, the revenue spent in Australia for further education would be reasonably distributed in both countries with mutual benefit.
A Report presents a findings on the policy context regarding the higher education institution (HEI) mobility of Australia in the eight countries of The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies (APEC). These APEC countries are: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore and Viet Nam. The report highlights a number of proposed actions to overcome the policy and regulatory impediments in these countries. These include addressing differences in quality assurance and credit recognition arrangements in APEC, information sharing about new innovative forms of cooperation, as well as maintaining open and transparent regulatory regimes.
Steps Identified for The Collaboration
In the recent webinar organized by BGC of Nepal’s Foreign Ministry, some scholars were optimistic on future collaboration with Australia. As we know that the diaspora has invested heavily in Nepal in the past several years on the individual, corporate and institutional levels; mainly in the areas of tourism, hotel, hydro, agriculture(farms), and biomedical areas, the education remains the next. In the education sector, the investment has been mainly on private level besides a handful of public-private entrepreneurship. The major collaborative project in education was the flagship Open University of Nepal project. After a decade of collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Athabasca University and signing several MOUs, the Open University Act was in effect in 2014 after the promulgation of the Open University Act. Unfortunately, the diaspora involvement ceased thereafter and a great opportunity for a long-term partnership with NRNA fizzled out.
Foreign investment through diaspora citizen are more fruitful considering that diaspora not only can bring the capital investment but has sentiments of their homeland and can take advantage of already established linkage with the Australian education institution. The Government of Nepal certainly needs to chalk out plans and should give preferences to diaspora led foreign investment. Foreign Direct Investment-FDI policy is popular but has failed practically to bring any substantial promise and the projected investment in Nepal. Since most of the education investments are less than 20 million dollars, the FDI policy needs to be friendly to small investments as well.
Learning from Australia-India and Australia-East Asia Collaboration
A study on Investment in Education suggested five points of engagement between Australian universities and Indian higher education institutions. Ideas of research collaborations to explore STEM and interdisciplinary research collaborations with academics for a research commercialisation was initiated. This was to seek opportunities for research by collaborating with Indian researchers and Australian industry partners where the undergraduate colleges and international student mobility were on the priority. Research scholarships, exchange of scholars, credit transfer and study protocols to facilitate semester study was expected to provide a supportive migration pathways for employment and permanent residency for international students graduating from Australian universities. Another report notes that new forms of social and economic coordination, as well as new modes of knowledge production and utilisation increasingly require universities to become more agile, distributed and able to service the diverse interests.
Recently there was one story published on the portal of East Asia Forum talking about Asia’s rising knowledge profile that underscores the importance of enhancing regional relations in education and research. China and Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan lead Australia in the Global Innovation Index. The Ranking of universities’ research performance shows that, of the top 500 institutions in 2019, 58 are mainland Chinese. Four of them are in the top 100 alongside two from Singapore. In the top 400, Malaysia now has one while Taiwan has three. If most of the neighbouring countries of a tiny Himalayan nation Nepal have been taken on board for the collaboration, Nepal can’t be left out!
Oceania investment opportunities
Oceania region has several investment initiatives in private colleges, vocational training institutions, medical colleges, and hotel management training centers in past few years. The investors are keen to expand their higher education sector businesses in future provided that the Government policies are made more investor friendly post-COVID era.
The future opportunity lies in establishing a world-class institute in Hotel Management, Vocation Education, Agriculture and Biotechnology R&D center, Administration courses, and IT content development. These areas have been identified as future growth areas by the Nepalese Government planning commission due to an increase in the economic growth, tourism, and farming business. These sectors together cover almost 50% of GDP and provide 70% of employment. As already mentioned above, every year 45000 students from Nepal come to Australia for higher education and invest almost $ 2.3 billion into the Australian economy. This reflects the demand and need for a quality education in Nepal and the strength of educational networking and synergy with Australian University. Australia University has also launched an abroad portal to capture the overseas education market in partnership with local universities. This could be an area for potential investment interest for Australian universities in Nepal.
The forgotten past.
In the past there were some good examples of collaboration and partnerships developed between Australia and Nepal. Today, many of the networks that underpinned those collaborations had elapsed as the years passed and alumni retired. The most significant example was about the economic and public diplomacy outcomes of the Australia Awards. The establishment of the 250-member Association of Nepalese Alumni from Australia (ANAA) in 1998 by a core group of alumni has maintained links between alumni and Australians in Nepal. Some of the factors that empowered Australian graduates to maintain networks and foster partnerships and collaboration among Australia with Nepal is reflected in a Case Study recently published. The factors that challenged to maintain networks and foster partnerships and collaboration were many. Some of the critical ones were the lack of support in Australia to build relationships, lack of collaborative opportunity provided by the institution, the waste of time due to wrong choice of a degree; and the divergent views on the appropriate role and services as the study showed. Since the establishment of the Embassy of Nepal in Canberra in 2007, Nepal and Australia have discussed many issues of possible collaboration but not a significant breakthrough has been outlined up until today. Bilateral mechanism between two countries have been established but not many issues were floated since then.
Federal Government of Nepal which has proposed to establish the University of Nepal in Gaidkoat, Bagmati Province is a welcome initiative. NRNA Academy of Nepal Science Foundation, SK&TT Dept, NRNA are part of this initiative. A preliminary report is submitted to the GoN and NRNA by the foundation. The University is envisioned to be a world-class educational and R&D center of excellence and an innovation hub for quality and affordable Science education with outreach to the global knowledge pool. The third Consultative Meeting in Gaidakot, Nawalparasi is planned to take plave on 7th and 8th of Nov 2020. Such a project could be a great public-private partnership model with the diaspora. Nepal Open University was also a flagship project but the NRNA exit from the project was a great judgment error on both Govt and NRNA part. The University of Nepal could be a great opportunity to bring the much-needed education investment by establishing an innovation hub to provide incubation support to future start-ups and educational research.
The Oceania educational webinar has suggested holding a one-day International webinar on Educational investment and invite the potential investors to present their ideas. Such a forum will provide a much-needed boost and incentives to investors to provide and feedback to GoN.
Dr Raju Adhikari, a Principal Scientist in Australia, is a Member Secretary of SK&TT Dept, NRNA and chair of Nepal Science Foundation
Dr Bharat Raj Poudel is Media scholar and sessional academic based in Brisbane
This article's original version is published in The Rising Nepal.