Will U.S. Enrollments Among Nepali Students Rebound?

By Paul Schulmann, WES Research & Advisory Services [1]

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Nepal is one of Asia’s least developed countries, yet for several years it has punched above its weight in terms of international student mobility.  Despite the political turmoil and poverty that has blighted the country, it is currently the 11th largest source of international students in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). Since the 2008/2009 academic year however, the number of Nepali students enrolling in U.S. higher education institutions (HEIs) has declined by over 14 percent.

WENR_0313_mobility_nepalNEW [3]

According to Nepal’s Ministry of Education [4], the decline is the result of changing visa policies in the United States.  Indeed, the number of F-1 visas issued to Nepali students declined 71 percent between the 2008/2009 and the 2011/2012 academic years, even as the overall refusal rate for F-1 visas decreased1 [5].  However, data on Nepali student mobility indicates that the overall decline does not apply to all segments and educational levels (see chart).  Over the same period referenced above, graduate enrollment remained steady while Optional Practical Training (OPT) enrollment grew 197 percent [6] as a result of a 17-month extension granted to students in the STEM fields. This suggests that it is becoming more difficult for Nepali students to obtain visas for associates and bachelor’s degrees.

Although IIE country data consolidates associates and bachelor’s degrees into an “undergraduate” category, its special report on community colleges [7] shows that between 2008 and 2012 the number of Nepali students as a percentage of overall international community college enrollments dropped from 4 percent to 2.5 percent, while new international enrollments as a whole at associates institutions dropped 13.9 percent. Concomitantly, the overall outbound mobility of Nepali students increased from 2008 to 2010 [8], suggesting that U.S. visa changes are leading to a divergence from traditional destinations to different markets.

For many HEIs, Nepal has become an increasingly attractive country for international recruitment as access to school education improves.  Over the last four decades Nepal has more than doubled its literacy rate [9], reduced educational disparities [10] between the genders and increased public expenditures on education [11]. Notwithstanding these impressive gains, Nepal’s domestic enrollment in tertiary education is stagnant at best and meager compared to regional competitors at 5.5 percent [12]. It lacks the educational infrastructure to meet the growing demands of its citizens, and has only five universities to accommodate a population of approximately 30 million2 [13], enhancing its attractiveness as a source of international students. Although the overall number of Nepali students travelling to the United States has declined steadily in the past few years, Nepal is still a promising source for international recruitment at the graduate level, particularly in the STEM fields.

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WES Research & Advisory Services [2] offers research-based consulting solutions on student mobility, international enrollment, and transnational education.

See more at wes.org/RAS [15]

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1 [21] Data from U.S. Department of State

2 [22] Nikku, Bala Raju. “Nepal: Public vs. Private?“ INTERNATIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION. Number 70:.Winter 2013 (2013): 16-18. Print