Academic Mobility and the Education System of Nepal


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.

Higher Education

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.

Quality Assurance

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.