Government budget allocated for education has doubled in the last four years. But whether the increase in investment has yielded corresponding increase in quality of education is debatable. Most of the investment goes to elementary and secondary education. Around 90 percent of the total education budget of the Rs 63 billion budget gets allocated for these levels, the rest going to university and technical education. The amount spent on technical education deservers some consideration.
Although technical education is extremely important to train skilled labour force for a changing economy, it has not been able to generate enough investment both in terms of money and skilled teachers. It has implications for millions of youth who seek employment inside and outside of the country. The primary reason Nepali migrant workers in the Middle East and the East Asian countries is the low level of technical skills. Higher investment in technical schools, therefore, is bound to help these workers as well as the national economy.
Data from the last 30 years of investment in education shows another worrying trend. Increasingly, the government depends on donor money to fund the expenses to run schools and universities. In early 1980s, just above eight percent of the total budget was funded by foreign aid. This increased to almost 20 percent at the turn of the millennium. This year, almost a quarter of the budget is to be funded by foreign aid. Such dependence on foreign aid not only puts stability in the education sector at the mercy of donor’s will, but also raises the question of sustainability. As it stands now, most of donor money goes to the elementary and secondary education with negligible amount going to university education.
Long-term neglect of the university education has serious consequences. Nepal needs to be able to produce artists, scientists and social scientists capable of diagnosing various needs of the society and provide sustainable solutions. The complexities of the modern society demands specialised knowledge production. Research institutions and specialised researcher can give valuable advice that is a pre-requisite for good policy interventions. A serious implication of insufficient investment at the university level is the pitiful state of research institutions which is contributing to the so-called “brain drain.” Most highly-educated researchers in Nepal cannot find suitable job as a researcher. As a result, most are compelled to migrate to richer countries. There is a reason these countries give high-priority to these scientists and researchers. Policymakers there realise the knowledge, ultimately, is the fuel that drives the society and the economy.
Today, a person in Nepal with a master’s in Physics from Tribhuvan University can easily get a visa to Canada and the US, for example. The same person would find it impossible to make a career in Nepal that fits the hard-earned qualification. In today’s globalised world, the market for knowledge has expanded phenomenally. Contemporary world economy recognises the fact that knowledge is a form of capital essential to the production of every good and service. The sooner we learn to grow and retain this capital by investing in universities and research institution, the brighter will be Nepal’s future.
(Source: The Kathmandu Post)