Declining student numbers prompts call for college mergers

Plans are afoot in Nepal to merge institutions of higher learning as domestic universities lose students following a significant rise in the numbers opting to study abroad.

Nepal’s University Grants Commission (UGC), which oversees university education, this month proposed a merger of institutions after a recent report showed that 624 colleges, including constituent colleges, community and private institutions of different universities, have fewer than 100 students.

The report also showed an additional 277 colleges have fewer than 200 students. These colleges are over 60% of the total 1,440 colleges that operate under several universities in Nepal.

“Operating colleges that don’t have adequate students is a waste of resources. They need to be merged. The commission is preparing policy and guidelines for the merger in consultation with the universities and colleges,” said Govinda Nepal, a member of the commission.

Proper study

He said the mergers will be based on a proper study of the locations of colleges and evaluation of whether the merger affects students. “The decision for the merger will be taken by the respective colleges and universities after proper study ensuring students aren’t deprived of the opportunity for study,” he said.

The decline in student enrolment began during the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not bounce back after the pandemic ended. Officials blame a significant rise in the numbers of students opting for higher education abroad to be the major reason for the decline.

Brajesh Mishra, associate director at Kathmandu University’s Directorate of Admissions, said the overall student pool had decreased with a sharp rise in the number of students going abroad.

On average 230,000 students in Nepal qualify for university education after completing high school Grade 12. However, in fiscal year 2022-23, 114,000 students acquired the ‘no objection certificate’ (NOC) required from the Nepal Government to study in 72 countries, and an additional 14,000 went to India where enrollment is possible without a NOC, leaving just over 100,000 to apply to Nepal’s universities.

Some of these school leavers do not wish to study further. “We have a student pool of 80,000-90,000. The country’s population growth is ever declining with [population growth] just 0.95%, according to the 2021 census, [and] the problem will only worsen in the future,” said Mishra.

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