What Growing Student Migration Means to Nepal?
Nepal is a major country of origin for labour migrants. Several factors are responsible for the steady flow of international emigration from Nepal. One is the process of globalization, which has encouraged migration flows all over the world. Another is the intensification of Maoist conflict during early 2000s which resulted in extended political instability and dismal economic performance. In response to this disruption, both internal and external migration surged drastically. As a result, an estimated 900 Nepalese migrate every day to Persian Gulf and East Asian countries for labour.
Thirdly, at the later stage, there has been growing influx of students flying overseas. International student migration could be the result of increasing demand for access to certain types of programmes and fields of study emerging from public higher education system which is not keeping pace with this rising demand. In the developing countries’ context, students have become highly discouraged with deteriorating public institutions that are succumbing to congestion, substandard facilities and services, and political and bureaucratic impasses including prolonged strikes and closures of educational institutions. Education is one of the sectors most affected by conflict which had seriously obstructed the Nepalese schools and universities.
Unlike Nepalese people going for overseas employment, the history of study migration is a recent one. From 1990s onwards, there had been upward shift in the number of students going abroad for higher studies. Now, however, this trend is not confined to privileged groups alone. Increasing numbers of students from middle class families are joining this mainstream. All this evidence clearly points towards the emergence of the private education sector, the continuing massification of higher education in the developing world, and the crucial fact that international education has become economically affordable amongst average households.
Nepalese student migration rates are high. Thousands of student travel to developed countries for higher studies annually. The UK, Australia, Canada and the USA including several EU and Asian countries are major countries of choice for study destinations. The overseas study has been a factor contributing to emigration from Nepal. The overall impact is difficult to ascertain, but it is likely to be negative. It is true that emigration of citizens can have positive effects via remittance and technology transfer. However, the emigration of educated citizens is often detrimental in terms of the depletion of scarce human resources. While some degree of skilled emigration is usually beneficial to developing countries, the net effect is negative where immigration becomes too high. Significantly for Nepal, the optimal level of emigration for undeveloped countries is low. Thus, the migration of educated individuals provides a rationale for understanding the socio-economic impacts on Nepal.
Migration has economic, social and cultural implication. Economic factors are pivotal in increasing the rate of skilled and student migrations. Research has established the positive impacts of international migration and remittance on alleviating poverty amongst developing countries because the emigration of low-skilled migrants act as a safety valve for the failure to create appropriate employment at home. The dramatic increase in remittances due to emigration was responsible for overall reduction in the headcount poverty rate in Nepal from 42% in 1995-96 to 25% in 2010-11. Although the economic benefits received in the form of remittances, skills and entrepreneurships through these migrants are valuable, however, the emigration of qualified people means lost human capital, which damages long‐term growth prospects in developing countries.
Brian drain is a phenomenon in which people of a high level of skills, qualification, and competence, leave their countries and emigrate. One major causes of brain drain happens when students from developing countries studying in the developed countries decide not to return home. In fact, there are many claims that brain drain devoid of healthcare and educational system in developing countries and that failure to stop it could lead to unprecedented level of economic and social catastrophe.
The emigration levels are almost universally higher amongst tertiary educated individuals. Most countries combining low levels of human capital and low emigration rates of their highly-educated are positively affected by the brain drain. By contrast, the brain drain appears to have negative growth effects in countries where the migration rate of the highly educated is higher. There is a strong association between brain drain and a country’s population size. Those countries with less population have a higher proportion of brain drain and this rate increases along with political instability and degree of fractionalization in a country. And, Nepal is following this rigid path whose socio-economic growth potential is still compounded by the slow and uncertain political transition.
The skilled migration has negative effects on the source country in the form of losses of productive resources, however, migrants can potentially accelerate development at home. Students go overseas to acquire valuable skills and knowledge who can contribute to development in the origin country. Many emigrants have played a significant role in transferring technology and entrepreneurship by generating substantial benefits to local economies. The positive relationship between migration and development has been exemplified by the experiences of countries like China, India, Turkey and Taiwan etc.
Nepal is still in the developmental transition. Political instability, bad governance and poor rule of law have sapped development. This has several implications. One major consequence has been the steady increase in emigration for work and study, resulting in brain drain. This inhibits innovation and dynamism leading to further loss of local governance capacity where institutions are already weak. Another consequence is the emergence of a remittance-based development model where remittances become increasingly critical for maintaining socio-economic stability in the country. Nepal is still predominately in the early stages of brain drain, the major issue of concern for the country could be how to discourage emigration and encourage return migration because there is a desperate urge to emigrate and no incentive to return amongst these migrants. And, viable immigration policies in the sector could help address this fundamental issue.
(Bista is doctoral candidate at Central Queensland University (CQU), Sydney, Australia, currently undertaking a research on International Student Migration. Email: email@example.com)
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