Higher Education Abroad: Need for Better Guidance

On April 3, 2014:

The focus of education policy in Nepal has largely centered on School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP) with a strong emphasis on budget expansion and school enrolment figures. However, there lacks a vibrant debate over the need for effective policies geared towards enhancing student's awareness on higher education abroad. This has been further exacerbated by a dearth of evidence on a rapidly growing education market aimed at students aspiring to pursue graduate studied abroad.

In the last eighteen months, almost 30,000 students have reportedly sought formal no-objection certificates from the Ministry of Education to pursue higher studies in 67 countries. In addition, high demand for study abroad has led to a massive growth in the number of private educational consultancies mostly in Kathmandu. Yet, the linkage between service provided by the consultancies and the path towards making well-informed decisions by the students is not quite clear. Much worse, the Australian High Commission's recent decision to stop processing visas of almost 2,000 prospective Nepali Students and the subsequent investigation over the matter has led major concerns over future of the students as well as the quality of the consultancies subjected to close scrutiny. More important, this issue has raised serious questions that young students today need to ask themselves for an honest self-evaluation.

First and foremost, the problem lies in student's lack of awareness and poor investment decisions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that majority of the students pay Rs 100,000 as processing fees to the consultancies. This charge entails Rs. 10,000-15,000 for initiating applications and Rs. 75,000 for visa and other processes. Unfortunately, students are vying for a rat-race, hoping to quickly receive admission offer from a single institution affiliated with the consultancies and get visas approved. While they could allocate the same budget to apply to 8-9 schools of their choice including an application fee of 50-75$ each, they choose to be spoon-fed with convenient shortcut methods offered by the consultancies. They often shy away from drafting multiple revisions of research statements for graduate programs, partly because they are not encouraged to perform their own research on programs that match their academic interests and financial needs. Admittedly, their sheer reluctance to take an initiative on their own in terms of research and a bit more hard work has led to their outright reliance on the growing number of education consultancies.

Second and most important of all, most of the education consultancies appear to encourage students for such exorbitantly tempting shortcut methods. They seem more concerned about highlighting the number of students who have previously used their service before successfully getting them enrolled in a foreign university. The rather unfortunate emphasis on quantity over quality in higher education has led to students develop blind faith towards the efficacy of education consultancies. This has resulted to a trend that involves students solely taking standardized tests and presenting their mark sheets and certificates for further action from the consultancies. Most of the consultancies neither encourage students to perform detailed research nor ask them to create an organized time line for standardized tests and application submission. They don't motivate students to write individual essays for respective programs and seldom offer individual feedback on writing. Rather, they expedite the whole process for students at a certain price, which looks like a win-win for both of the parties. However, this rosy prospect overlooks the failure of students to exercise power of demonstrating their individual scholarly potential in university applications. Sadly, students have followed the herd and received paid services from education consultancies lest their independent initiatives lead them astray.

On a brighter side, the solution for these potential problems lies in the hands of students themselves. Their current approach towards higher education abroad resembles what most of the young and the hopeless seek from man power agencies in Nepal. Yet, receiving high quality education abroad is nowhere similar to seeking low wage employment in the Arab world. They need to better use their acquired set of cognitive skills and effectively translate such attributes to sound decision-making. They can afford to be slightly more patient, be more alert with their comprehensive research, and aspire to undertake a fairly challenging task of applying to universities on their own. This will give them an opportunity to demonstrate their scholarly potential and creativity, build their confidence and help them make a well-informed decision on their academic future.

Students, however, can't do much without substantial support from the relevant stakeholders: private educational consultancies as well as the parents. We need to undergo a radical shift in the higher education abroad discussion: focus less on what constitutes successful visa approvals and more on what makes a strong university graduate application. Most of the private consultancies can potentially simulate the United States Education Foundation-based model for accurate, reliable, unbiased and free information on higher education abroad. They should provide library services, conduct both group and individual advising sessions, and shed insights on how can students better prepare themselves for university applications. Parents, on the other hand, need to provide continuous support in letting their children handle their education matters cautiously and patiently. They should contribute directly towards enhancing their child's creativity and spurring motivation for hard work.

Although the growing desire among the youth to pursue higher education abroad is well-understood and fairly justifiable, the obsession for a quick route towards getting enrolled in a foreign educational institution deserves serious attention and critical thinking. Partly, the private educational consultancies are moderately responsible for glorifying the services they deliver, thus distracting students away from hard work they need to put in. Similarly, most of the students fail to demonstrate the initiative for applying to schools on their own and instead succumb to pay-and-deliver mentality cultivated over the years. The verdict on the recent allegations against financial matters of 2,000 Nepalese students will take its own course; however, what's more important is the development of culture that necessitates students to be more self-reliant and make well-informed decisions about their long-term educational goals.