China offers record number of training programmes and scholarships to Nepali civil servants


The Kathmandu Post

Northern neighbour is currently offering more than 850 opportunities for bureaucrats, up from just 20 in 2004

- ANIL GIRI, KATHMANDU : The number of scholarships and training programmes for Nepali civil servants provided by China has increased exponentially in the last 15 years, amounting to more than 850 for the 2019-20 academic year alone. In 2004, according to the Chinese Embassy website, Beijing had offered just 20 scholarships under the Chinese Government Scholarship Programme, with six seats for undergraduates and 14 for postgraduates.

Minister for Education, Science and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokharel (left) and erstwhile Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong (centre) award a Chinese government scholarship to a Nepali student in August last year. A government secretary says there has been a massive surge in scholarships provided by China in recent years. Xinhua

For the upcoming academic year, China has approved 850 training programmes and scholarships for Nepali civil servants, the Post has learned. These 850 training slots have been allocated to the Ministry of Finance under China’s MOFCOM Scholarships, announced last week. 

A high-level committee chaired by Chief Secretary Lok Darshan Regmi has already notified all the civil servants, as per the Civil Service Act, to apply for the programmes offered if they fulfil the requirements, which include experience, English language proficiency, and an age bar. However, the actual number of training programmes and scholarships offered individually by the Chinese government to other ministries is expected to further supplement this number. 

In addition to these opportunities for civil servants, China also provides a large number of long- and short-term courses for numerous journalists, security officials, students, and political leaders.

In the past, the United States of America, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and some European countries provided such opportunities for civil servants but China has eclipsed every other country with the large number of training programmes and scholarships on offer.
Though India, the US, Japan, and South Korea, among others, still provide academic courses and scholarships to civil servants, seats are limited. However, there are no records for the number of such opportunities provided by other nations, even though India, Thailand and Japan are believed to follow China. 

What the Chinese are offering is more than double of what others are providing, according to government officials who said that exact figures are unavailable as no single entity keeps track of such foreign training programmes and scholarships.

“There has been a massive surge in scholarships provided by the government of China in recent years. They do not have a fixed quota as they keep increasing it,” said Yadav Koirala, secretary at the Ministry of General Administration and Federal Affairs. “Just now, I have sanctioned 20 scholarships provided to my ministry staff.”

Koirala himself had completed a national defence course from China, spending over a year in the country. During their time abroad, civil servants are officially on “paid leave” even as they receive scholarships and stipends from the Chinese government. Such kinds of exposure, along with academic courses and training programmes, are important, but civil servants need to be accountable, said experts.

“Of late, Chinese engagement in Nepal is surging and China is investing a lot to showcase their country and all that they have achieved,” said Kashi Raj Dahal, a former secretary who also chaired a high-level administrative reform committee. “Earlier, this was the US and India’s role but it has shifted to China.” 

While there has been no inkling of divided loyalties, Dahal cautioned that civil servants should be careful to maintain transparency and accountability, especially while taking important governmental decisions. 

The current number of programmes that China is offering is more than double what it had announced during the visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to China last year. A joint communiqué had stated that China had agreed to provide around 400 training opportunities in human resources development and more government scholarships to Nepal.

Furthermore, the Ministry of General Administration and Federal Affairs, on May 31, had issued a public notice asking all interested civil servants serving at all three levels of government to apply for global openings in 27 Chinese universities in over a hundred subjects.

Over 6,400 Nepali students are currently studying subjects ranging from engineering, aeronautics, hydropower, business administration, public health and Chinese language in China. 

“China offers over 10,000 scholarships to South Asian countries on an annual basis, but most of these quotas do not fill up,” said Pramod Jaiswal, a fellow at India’s Institute of Peace and Conflict, who has also served as a visiting faculty member at two Chinese universities.
“The reason behind providing such a huge number of scholarships is obviously its deep pockets,” he said. “China recently increased slots for training and scholarships after the Belt and Road Initiative was launched. This is not a phenomenon limited to Nepal; it applies everywhere.”