Ministry issues ban on study abroad for diploma, languages

The dreams of dozens of students wanting to study abroad were affected by the sudden decision from the government of Nepal to stop issuing certificates granting permission to study abroad to students enrolled on only diploma or language courses.

The decision taken on 12 June to stop ‘No Objection Certification’ (NOC) without any consultation with stakeholders represents an implementation of the existing law and was made in response to increasing problems with students attending discredited colleges or not turning up for studies once abroad.

Maheshwor Sharma, chief of the No Objection Certificate Management section at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said: “We have decided to implement the legal provisions following a rise in the numbers of Nepali students facing problems abroad,” he said. “A majority of such students are either taking diploma or language course.” He said those going abroad for language courses have even been found working to make money instead of pursuing their studies.

On 21 June Nepal's education ministry was forced to resume providing NOCs to all students following an interim order from the Supreme Court of Nepal. The court called on ministry officials to provide a reason for imposing this change on students. This interim order is in place pending a final verdict by the apex court.

Students blocked from studying

The original decision had left some students unable to pursue their chosen courses.

Sunil Kumar Thapa (21) from Surkhet in western Nepal was rejected when he applied for the certificate to study a language course before taking on university education in Japan. He had applied for the ‘no objection certificate’ to take a two-year course at the Okinawa-based Japanese Cultural Study Academy, but the officials asked him to produce the confirmation of enrolment letter for the bachelor degree together with the language course.

“How can I get the confirmation of enrolment for the bachelor degree without completing the given language course,” he asked. “This is ridiculous.” His friend Astha KC, who is going to the same language school, received the NOC because she applied on Monday. Thapa feels it’s an injustice to him.

Anita Shrestha (20) from Syangja, some 250 kilometres west of Kathmandu, was also shocked after her application for the NOC to study a diploma in nursing in Australia was rejected by ministry officials.

She was asked to produce an offer letter for a bachelor degree together with the diploma course to qualify for the NOC. She had applied for the NOC after Perth-based West Australian Institute of Further Studies allowed her admission.

The government officials say the decision was taken based on existing legal provisions, which envision providing the letter only to students who want to study higher education in foreign lands. Clause 3 (B) of the Scholarship Act of 1964 (amendment in 2016) and its regulation make it mandatory for all students travelling abroad to acquire the certification in order to send money to the respective academic institutions.

The act says no citizen can go abroad for higher study without receiving the NOC letter, to be issued by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The officials say that as grade 11 and 12 were incorporated into school education after the eighth amendment to the Education Act three years ago, only university education will now be considered as higher education.

Though the amended act came into effect in June 2016, those students wanting to study only diploma or language courses had still been getting the certification until Tuesday.

Blanket ban ‘unjust’

Shrestha said the government had attacked students’ rights to pursue the education of their choice by imposing a blanket ban, stopping them from taking the diploma courses. She said it is wrong to bar everyone from diploma study just because some institutions were problematic.

“The government could have imposed a selective ban if some institutions were not genuine, but the government has put all the institutions in the same basket,” she said.

Hundreds of Nepali students enrolled for diploma courses are in a dilemma after the Australia Institute of Business and Technology faced deregistration from the country’s regulator for the vocational and training sector.

Bijay Sapkota, president of the Council of International Students Australia, said dozens of vocational education and training institutions in Australia have faced action for failing to meet the criteria set by the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

No warning

The representatives of the education consultancies say the government took the decision in the manner that demonetisation is done – without any prior warning.

“Such decisions, even if they are needed, must be taken after proper consultation, allowing ample time for preparation,” said Santosh Pyakurel, coordinator of the National Educational Consultancies Association, one of seven umbrella bodies of education consultancies in Nepal. “The government must revoke it without delay.”

Around half of the students flying to Australia opt for a diploma course, while a majority of those going to study in Japan take a language course first.

The Nepalese government’s records show that 62,800 students acquired the NOC to study in 72 countries in the fiscal year 2017-18 and among them, some 32,200 students went to study in Australia and 15,500 in Japan. Nepal is currently the third-largest contributor of international students to Australia.

This article has been updated to reflect the changed situation after a Supreme Court interim order on 21 June.