By Nick Clark, Editor, World Education News & Reviews
Nepal’s Ministry of Education and Sports was established in 1951 and oversees all aspects of education in the Kingdom of Nepal. There are other government agencies responsible for administering and supervising education at the different levels, but all report to the ministry.
Prior to 1951, schooling in Nepal was reserved primarily for elite groups and the royal family in Kathmandu and other urban areas, and served just 250 students. Political reforms in 1951 opened access to schooling and participation rates have risen exponentially since then, but still remain low relative to other countries in the region and globally.
The government has committed to achieving the goals of UNESCO’s Education for All initiatives that would see all students of primary age accessing good quality primary education by 2015. There are now over 34,000 primary and secondary schools in the country, nine university-level institutions with over a 1,000 colleges and affiliated campuses.
Internationally Mobile Students
Considering that Nepal is a country of just 26.5 million people (Census: 2011) with about one-quarter of its population living below the poverty line, it is somewhat surprising how many Nepali nationals travel abroad for higher studies. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, there were over 24,000 Nepali students studying overseas in 2010 (Global Education Digest: 2012), up from approximately 17,700 in 2008.
The major contributing factors to the outflow of students to foreign countries are a perceived lack of quality in domestic institutions, a shortage of places at the best institutions, political instability and the politicization of university campuses, and a lack of merit-based job opportunities for university graduates. Many Nepali traveling abroad to study are influenced in their choice of destination by host country immigration and workplace laws, as often they need supplemental income to help fund their education and, due to a lack of jobs in Nepal, are looking for post-graduation employment opportunities as routes to future careers.
Recent changes to student visa regulations in major destination countries, in combination with the global economic downturn, has led to a reduction in the number of Nepali students heading abroad – especially to countries in the West – in recent years, according to indicators from the Ministry of Education. Anecdotal evidence from Nepali-based recruiting agencies suggests that students are increasingly looking at study options in neighboring India and China as cheaper alternatives.
In the United States, Nepal ranks as the 11th largest source of international students with close to 10,000 students enrolled in a program of higher education in the 2011/12 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education’s most recent Open Doors report. However, this does represent a significant drop from a high of over 11,500 students in the 2008/09 academic year, with current numbers being propped up to a certain degree by those engaged in a year (or more in STEM fields) of Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Among the Nepali student body in the United States, the top fields of study over the last three years have been business and management, physical and life sciences, and engineering. Historically, graduate students have made up less than 30 percent of the U.S.-based Nepali student body, although overall graduate numbers have held steady over the last four years while undergraduate numbers have dropped.
Structure of School Education in Nepal
The school system in Nepal consists of primary, lower secondary, secondary and higher secondary education, lasting a total of 12 years (5+3+2+2). Basic education lasts eight years, with a five-year primary cycle and a three-year lower secondary cycle. Students take a further two years of schooling at the secondary level, which concludes with the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) Examination, required for admission to the upper secondary level. Upper secondary schooling is a further two years, which is undertaken within the school system or through a similar certificate program offered at universities.
From 2009, the government of Nepal has been implementing a School Sector Reform Program (SSRP: 2009-15), which aims to restructure school education by better integrating the various levels into basic education (grades 1-8) and secondary education (grades 9-12), in hopes of boosting school retention rates and overall enrollments. A vocational stream at the secondary level (from grade 9) is also being introduced under the new system, which will enable students on a vocational track to enter tertiary education after completing an additional one-year bridge course. The SSR program has resulted in significant improvements in access to primary education, with knock-on effects in participation rates at the secondary and upper secondary levels.
Types of School
There are three main types of secondary schools in Nepal: community schools, institutional schools, and higher secondary schools. Community schools are usually run by the government or a community. Institutional schools are often referred to as ‘private’ schools. Both community schools and institutional schools cater to primary and lower secondary students, whereas only higher secondary schools provide education at the higher secondary level.
Diploma courses of three years, equivalent to higher secondary education, are also offered by colleges under the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT). Colleges also offer SLC-level certificate programs of between one and two years. CTEVT curriculum details are available here.
Improving School Participation Rates
Since the 2008-09 academic year, the net enrollment rate (NER) in primary education (ratio of relevant age group in primary education) has increased from 91.9 percent to 95.1 percent (2011). Overall, primary enrollments increased from 4,030,000 to 4,782,000 between 2004 and 2011, while lower secondary enrollments increased from 1,444,997 to 1,812,690 over the same timeframe. The NER at the lower secondary level has increased from 57.3 percent to 70 percent since 2008.
At the secondary level (grades 9-10), total enrollment in 2011 was 848,569, up significantly from 587,566 in 2004, while at the upper secondary level (grade 11-12) enrollments grew from 280,447 in 2009 to 353,338 in 2011. The NER between 2009 and 2011 has increased from 40.8 percent to 52.1 percent at the secondary level and from just 6.8 percent to 9.4 percent at the upper secondary level. However, it should be noted that the gross enrollment ratio (ratio of enrolled students of all ages as a percentage of total relevant age group) for students at both secondary levels is significantly higher, which suggests a large enrollment of over-age students at those levels.
Higher Secondary Curriculum
The higher secondary curriculum consists of 10 compulsory and optional subjects, each worth 100 marks. Students take five subjects each year, generally studying the same three optional subjects over the two years and one additional optional subject for one year. Results from grade 11 and 12 studies are combined to obtain a final mark out of 1000.
There are three compulsory subjects, which generally include English and Nepali, with just one of these being studied for the full two years. Students can choose their remaining seven subjects from a list of approximately 40 optional subjects in four streams: Science, Management, Humanities, and Education.
The Higher Secondary Education Board Certificate is awarded in one of these four streams. The Science and Management streams are the most popular, and the Education stream is the training program for lower secondary school teachers. The Higher Secondary Education Board is the supervising and awarding body.
Access to Higher Studies
The Higher Secondary Education Board Certificate provides access to university studies, in addition to a range of vocational training programs.
A pass in the Higher Secondary School Certificate is the minimum academic requirement for admission to degree programs. Many programs require a minimum overall mark of 50 percent, as well as 50 percent or better in specified subjects. Entrance to most programs is competitive, and may also include an interview.
Tertiary Enrollment Patterns
According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics’ Global Education Digest, there were 377,000 students enrolled at the tertiary level in 2010, an increase of 88,000 students versus 2009 (289,000), and an increase of 122,000 students versus 2008 (255,000). Nonetheless, the gross enrollment ratio at the higher education level remains well below the South and West Asia average of 17 percent (GED: 2010) at approximately 10 percent (UGC estimate: 2011). Of the total tertiary student body in 2010, 59 percent were attending private institutions.
Ministry of Education figures for pass rates in the SLC, taken at the end of grade 10, also show steadily increasing numbers of students qualifying for higher secondary studies, which in turn suggests an increasing pipeline of university-ready students. In 2006, 113,020 students passed the SLC (out of 294,216 – 38 percent pass rate) and this jumped to 259,916 successful candidates in 2010 (out of 427,051 – 62 percent pass rate).
Types of Institutions
Established in 1959, Tribhuvan University is the oldest institution in Nepal and enrolls nearly 90 percent of the total student population through its five institutes, four faculties, four research centers, and 878 constituent and affiliated colleges spread out across the country.
Four other universities were established in the 1980s and 1990s: Nepal Sanskrit University, Kathmandu University, Purbanchal University, Pokhara University. Three other universities – Far-Western, Mid-Western, and Agriculture and Forestry – are currently being established to help meet student demand.
Additionally, there are three other university-level institutes and academies under the purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC). These are: B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences, Patan Academy of Health Sciences.
More information on university-level institutions, their affiliated colleges, academic offerings and enrollment numbers is available from the UGC’s latest annual report.
Technical and Vocational
Technical and vocational education in Nepal is provided by both public and private institutions, and offered under the purview of the Council for Technical and Vocational Training, established in 1989.
Technical schools and polytechnics offer a mix of short- and long-term training programs.
Tribhuvan University offers diploma level programs in technical fields, and some of the newer private universities also offer diploma programs accredited by the Council through their affiliated campuses.
There are three stages to higher education in Nepal: bachelor degree, postgraduate diploma and master degree, and doctoral degree.
In addition, sub-degree proficiency certificates are offered at most universities. They are considered equivalent to upper secondary awards and offer access to higher studies. However, these are being phased out under current reforms.
Bachelor programs vary in length from three to five years depending on the field.
Arts, science, commerce, education and social sciences are usually three-year programs, and law is offered as a three-year graduate entry program.
Engineering, pharmacy, agriculture and business administration and information management are four-year programs.
Architecture and law are five-year programs. Medicine, veterinary science and animal husbandry are all 5.5-year programs.
Program lengths may vary by university, but academic transcripts typically state the normal duration of each program.
The graduate diploma requires one year of full-time study after a bachelor degree.
Most master degrees require two years of study after a bachelor degree, and usually in the same area of study.
Professional master degrees are based on a professional bachelor degree in the same field, and are most commonly offered in medical fields.
Doctoral programs are usually a minimum of three years, typically including coursework subjects on research methodology and some specialized subjects, with approximately two-thirds of the time devoted to a research thesis.
Grade Conversions and Documentation Requirements for Credential Evaluation
Please see the WES Grade Conversion Guide for details on Nepal degree classification equivalencies, and the WES Required Documents page for WES documentation requirements for Nepali credential evaluations.
Nepal is in the nascent stages of developing a formal quality assurance process. The UGC has initiated the process of establishing a National QAA Board and a draft act was submitted to the ministry in 2011.
Access to education at all levels has widened significantly in Nepal over the last two decades; however, the education sector as a whole continues to face problems related to underfunding, lack of quality and politicization. The government is working to address these issues, but progress is oftentimes slow.
Due to a general lack of capacity and quality in the tertiary sector, many Nepalese students seek educational opportunities abroad, which has made the small mountain Kingdom an appealing destination for universities recruiting in the region. While the United States remains the destination of choice for a majority of internationally mobile Nepali students, it has declined in popularity in recent years due to a tightening of visa and immigration laws. As a result, budget-conscious Nepali students are increasingly looking at study options in neighboring China and India, in addition to other affordable countries.