The problem of attracting foreign affiliates that are themselves poorly ranked has disastrous consequences for the local academic ecosystem. In a metaphorical programming language, we can refer to this as garbage in, garbage out. If we attract shoddy foreign institutions, our academics learn shoddy stuff, which then gets transferred to our own institutions.
Public criticism of our universities has increased over the past decades. Seizing this opportunity, foreign universities have now established themselves strongly in our country. However, these universities are only accessible to a small group of the population, mainly those who belong to the middle or upper sects. The rest are grappling with the old-fashioned education offered by our universities. This article presents issues with foreign universities and their affiliates (hereafter referred to as affiliates), and explains how Nepalese universities and government can work together for the benefit of our local universities.
Problem with our universities and existing foreign affiliates
There are two issues with foreign universities and their affiliated colleges for Nepal. First, the educational inequality it creates is problematic. Only the rich have access to such colleges and as a result the gap between rich and poor is widening, albeit academically. Second, and what is even more worrying, is that foreign affiliates are bringing a lot of Nepalese money back to their own countries. More surprisingly, the government failed to react to this phenomenon of the rise of foreign universities. Through this article, I am discussing some alternatives that we can work on in the short and long term to ensure that we invest money in our own universities and enable them to stand up to foreign competition.
Our universities are lagging behind in designing and researching study programs. For example, while other (foreign) universities offer simulations to reproduce real-world scenarios for their students, our universities are stuck in the same old mode of rote learning. Students are assessed on questions that are repeated each year. In this older model, students are encouraged to purchase question “guides” that exist with ready-made answers, and students are assessed on how well they can imitate such answers. Unfortunately, this produces graduates with degrees that look charming but without any underlying knowledge that will benefit them in the future.
Our universities are in desperate need of change. We can start by learning from these foreign affiliates, but our universities have to be choosy. Not all affiliates in Nepal are quality. Indeed, the majority of affiliates are in the 500-1000 rank. These universities are generally not known for the quality of their research.
Learning from neighbors
A more promising avenue is to increase our ability to attract our own Nepalese graduates from the best universities in the world. This is also in sync with the attempts in India, where the government has initiated the Prime Minister’s Scientists Return to India (SRI) program. Scholars of Indian descent are encouraged and given good remuneration as well as airline tickets to visit and contribute to academia in India under the SRI program. China has also been running a similar program for some time. Unfortunately, we are also lagging behind on this aspect.
The problem of attracting foreign affiliates that are themselves poorly ranked has disastrous consequences for the local academic ecosystem. In a metaphorical programming language, we can refer to this as garbage in, garbage out. If we attract shoddy foreign institutions, our academics learn shoddy stuff, which then gets transferred to our own institutions. Our neighbors, on the other hand, have been successful in attracting top renowned universities such as Harvard and New York University, among others.
It’s time to say goodbye to foreign affiliates
We don’t have to worry too much about these existing foreign affiliates. The government has put in place a rule that requires these foreign affiliates to renew their license every two years. The government can implement strict policies such as requiring these foreign affiliates to publish X number of research articles in X leading journals, which will then force them to improve their local level. Those who do not meet this criterion will be forced to stop. Such a policy works wonderfully. In fact, professors from top universities are promoted based on their number of publications in top journals. You can use the same criteria to decide which universities to keep and which to get rid of. For example, business and management schools can use the Australian Business Deans Council’s Journal Quality List and require foreign affiliates to publish at least one A * article and two A-rated articles every three years. This will help create a quality-based knowledge ecosystem, which will ultimately benefit our own institutions.
Our government should also proactively monitor the amount of money coming out of these foreign affiliates. For a country like ours that relies heavily on remittances, we cannot afford to lose a lot of money. Of course, monitoring by itself does not solve the problem. The biggest problem lies in upgrading our local universities and providing them with huge research funds which will replace foreign universities over time.
We need a program like the SRI initiative in India. Our teachers must be trained to publish in the best journals in their field. Our science labs need equipment upgrades that are accessible to students. We must make the choice of which universities to let in and to whom to say goodbye. We need to invest heavily in research over the next decade so that we can strengthen our own academic position in the global market. Our government should come up with strict policies to discourage foreign universities that continue to flood our market. Nepalese students should be as proud of having a Nepalese degree as they would if they had a British or American degree.
I repeat, our educational ecosystem needs a complete overhaul. We need to rethink our study programs, but more importantly, pay attention to the existing ecosystem of foreign affiliates with low global rankings. We need the best universities to enter the local market so that we can learn from them, while ensuring that our students obtain the best degrees and acquire knowledge that allows them to have a competitive advantage in the global market.
(The author is a doctoral candidate in strategic management at the University of New South Wales in Australia.)