Ministry restores skills study abroad permit – with proviso

After less than a month, Nepal’s government has backtracked on its decision to stop issuing ‘no objection certificates’ (NOC) for vocational, diploma, advanced diploma and language courses for Nepali students wanting to study abroad. However, the permits will only be granted for approved non-degree institutions under a new ministry list.

The move follows pressure from students and education consultancies that recruit on behalf of overseas institutions.

A Ministry of Education, Science and Technology directive in March said certificates for non-university courses would not be issued from 2 April. Permits would be issued only for bachelor and higher degree programmes, it said.

The NOC is a requirement enabling Nepali students to send money overseas to foreign universities to pay their admission costs and tuition fees, along with the cost of food and lodging.

The NOC department under the ministry resumed issuing NOCs for both university and non-university programmes from Thursday 27 April.

“We have restarted issuing the NOC like before for all types of programmes. However, only students who have graduated school education (passed Grade 12) can opt to study abroad,” Krishna Kapri, a joint secretary at the ministry, told University World News. “Similarly, the permits will be issued only for universities, academic institutions and academic institutions listed by the ministry,” he added.

List of recognised institutions and programmes

The ministry said it will prepare a list of institutions and programmes recognised by the Nepal government for NOC purposes. A team of officials led by a joint secretary tasked to oversee higher education has been put together for this purpose.

Currently, 10,600 programmes from hundreds of universities, colleges and institutions in 106 countries have been listed by the ministry.

“If we receive applications for a programme and institutions not listed with the ministry, we will first inquire about it. The NOC will be issued only after a proper study of such institutions and programmes,” said Kapri, who explained Nepal’s overseas missions in the respective countries would be used to inquire about institutions.

“There are Nepali missions in many countries. We also have honorary consulates where there are no embassies,” Kapri said.

The ministry refused to characterise its latest decision as a reversal. “The NOC was stopped briefly due to some procedural confusion. It was not intentional,” according to Kapri. However, an official at the ministry said pressure from the education consultancies, education providers and even the students forced them to rescind the decision.

“A significant rise in the numbers of students opting to study abroad, leading to a sharp decline in the enrolment in domestic universities and colleges and ever-increasing capital flight for education had prompted the restriction of the NOC. However, the restriction did not stand for long,” said an official, on condition of anonymity.

Officials had previously said NOCs for non-university programmes were stopped because of an existing law which says students can travel abroad for higher education but not for diploma courses.

Various associations of education consultancies in Nepal had been lobbying the prime minister, education minister and government officials to lift the restrictions. Similarly, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) on 19 April held an urgent meeting with officials from the Nepali Embassy in Canberra to request a resumption of the permits.

Warnings of renewed action

Education consultancies said while they welcomed the move to lift the ban, they were against the decision to allow students to study only at overseas institutions listed with the Nepali authorities.

“It is a free choice for students to study wherever they like. The provision will restrict students from flying abroad,” Prakash Pandey, president of the Education Consultancy Association of Nepal, said at a press conference on 27 April.

Education consultancies have warned of renewed action if the provision to list ‘approved’ institutions is not scrapped.

However, some believe a partial ban on issuing NOCs for vocational and technical education is necessary in respect of a country such as Australia, where there are concerns about burgeoning TVET programmes aimed at attracting overseas students.

Bijay Sapkota, former president of the Council of International Students in Australia, said VET (vocational education and training) institutions were mushrooming in Australia and many do not offer quality education.

“It is necessary that the government does a screening of the institutions based on employability and other indicators before issuing NOCs,” he told University World News. “I stand against the blanket ban because students must get to study VET in institutions with good reputations.”

Obtaining an NOC is not the only hurdle faced by Nepali students wanting to study abroad. In 2022 only 3.8% of international students applying for vocational courses in Australia from India, Pakistan and Nepal were granted a visa by Australian authorities. Visas are often refused when the authorities are not convinced prospective students want to enter Australia to study.

For Nepali students, only a third of visa applications were accepted for higher education and 15% of visa applications for vocational education in 2022, according to official Australian statistics.