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'Traditional approaches entrenched in rules and regulations pose a significant challenge'

B360
B360 January 31, 2024, 1:02 pm
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Asish Thakur 

Chairman and Executive Director, Glocal

Asish Thakur is a dynamic young individual driven by the vision to bridge the gap between education and employability. He founded Glocal, a pioneering organisation that offers a comprehensive array of trainings, engagement and empowerment programmes including the transformative initiative, Glocal Teen Hero, a platform dedicated to appreciating and recognising the commendable achievements of teenagers. Notably, this initiative expanded beyond Nepal, marking the first franchise programme of its kind in the region. 

Thakur has also served as the immediate past advisor to the Chief Minister of Bagmati Province, played a pivotal role as the National Convener of the Nepal Britain Chamber of Commerce and Industry - Youth Chapter, and is a Forbes Fellow recognised by Forbes Media in 2018. He has participated in prestigious programmes such as the Study of the US Institutes (SUSI) and the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School in Munich, where he was invited by the State Department of the United States and the Strascheg Centre of Entrepreneurship, respectively. His commitment to youth development is further exemplified through his involvement in the Next Gen Democracy Leaders Network programme, where he was invited by the Government of India.

A fervent believer in the power of collaboration, Thakur continues to be a driving force in the realm of education, entrepreneurship and youth empowerment. In this edition of Business 360, we speak to him about the education system and the progress and pitfalls of investing in the education business. Excerpts: 

What, in your view, are the most pressing challenges facing the current education system in Nepal, and how do these challenges impact the overall development of the nation?

The current education system in Nepal is confronted with a myriad of challenges that significantly impact the overall development of our nation. One of the most prominent issues is the lack of globalisation in the education context. This deficiency hampers our ability to integrate with the global education landscape, hindering the exposure and adaptability of Nepali students to international standards and advancements. 

A critical concern is the mismatch between the skills imparted through our education system and the actual requirements of the job market. This discrepancy renders many graduates unproductive for employment, contributing to a cycle of unemployment and underemployment. The disconnect between educational curricula and the dynamic demands of industries underscores the urgency for a comprehensive revamp of our educational framework.

Traditional approaches entrenched in rules and regulations also pose a significant challenge. The rigidity of these approaches inhibits innovation and adaptability, essential elements for staying relevant in the rapidly evolving global landscape. There is a pressing need for a more flexible and dynamic educational system that can respond effectively to the evolving needs of students and industries. Furthermore, the absence of a proper mapping and needs assessment for human resources in Nepal exacerbates the challenges. Without a clear understanding of the skills required by the job market, educational institutions struggle to tailor their programmes to meet the demands of the workforce. This misalignment perpetuates the gap between education and employment, leaving many graduates ill-equipped for the professional world.

Distrust among stakeholders, including educational institutions and the government, adds another layer of complexity. A lack of collaboration and communication among these entities impedes progress and reform in the education sector. Bridging this trust deficit is crucial for fostering a cooperative environment that can effectively address the pressing issues faced by the education system. A glaring consequence of these challenges is the diminishing faith among students in the opportunities available within the country. Many students opt to leave Nepal in pursuit of better educational and employment prospects abroad, leading to brain drain that deprives the nation of its talented individuals. The lack of connectivity between education and job opportunities within the country further exacerbates this issue, resulting in a slow hiring process for industries, decreased productivity, and, in the long run, economic imbalances due to talent disparities.

The multifaceted challenges facing the education system in Nepal demand a comprehensive and collaborative approach for reform. Addressing issues such as globalisation, skills mismatch, adherence to traditional approaches, needs assessment, and stakeholder distrust is imperative for creating an education system that not only meets the aspirations of students but also contributes to the overall development and prosperity of the nation.

Do you think Nepal truly has the potential to become an education hub for the region considering young Nepalis are constantly going abroad for quality education? Is this a dream being sold by politicians or a truth that has been shackled by lack of commitment and initiative by the government? 

It is certainly possible, and there seems to be lack of commitment, rather efforts towards it. We have a good climate, better security, good lifestyle for young people in Nepal and we could surely utilize it by adding more value toward quality of education and quality of living standards for the students from the region to Nepal. 

People from every country travel to other countries in quest of job, education, life and so on, it’s normal. As increasing number of students of Nepal are going out, we should focus more on how to retain them here with better quality of education and life. This will also surely help in getting students from abroad. But the main thing is that all the stakeholders need to work effortfully and tirelessly towards building the education ecosystem in Nepal.

What are the pros and cons of being in the education business?

Everyone is kept in the same basket, there are good doers and bad doers in every industry and we all should learn that education is an industry too, until and unless we don’t practice education as a sector of business or industry, it will not flourish well. Earning profits while providing quality education should not be viewed badly. 

We have been running one of the first Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) College in Nepal and we are not allowed to charge anything more than a fixed amount, an amount that was fixed nine years ago, however, the operating cost including salaries in this time have increased manifolds but as per the rule, we cannot charge anything more than what was decided nine years ago. 

Like any other business, education also has operating costs and other expenses, moreover, the income tax is the same as other businesses. So, it needs to be consciously looked into. Educational institutions can only become more competitive and provide better quality and innovative education when they operate in a system that is fair and free. 

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How easy or difficult is it to attract FDI in education? 

It’s not impossible but it lacks vision from the regulators and the effort. Nepal officially offers 100% FDI in education, but when it comes to implementation, the process from FDI approval to licences are all so difficult that most investors lose interest. 

For instance, IIT Madras came to Nepal and wanted to open their international campus and it hasn’t worked out yet. They came to Nepal as their first choice two years back, they have in this time already opened their campus in Zanzibar which is now operational.

So, investors are there but the process is far from smooth. 

There are many controversies and challenges that often make headlines such as nursing colleges offering fake degrees, a cap being set on fees to be charged by schools, and so on.  What is this owed to? 

Lack of credibility and transparency. We must also note here that as a society we tend to report and talk about controversies without in-depth investigation. For instance, in any village, a community medical assistant popularly known as CMA and Auxiliary Nursing Midwives popularly known as ANM used be trained for these roles within 18 months at a cost of approximately Rs two lakhs. They would easily get employed. However, with the rise in controversies, this has come to a full stop. And now, there is already a shortage of nurses in the country. It has also been made mandatory that all the nursing colleges operating in the country must have their own 100-bed hospital. This is a huge cost where the return on investment isn’t there. However, if nursing colleges could tie up with existing hospitals, it could still create the human resources required. We need rationale thinking, we need policy makers who understand the needs and can assess the economic impact of their decisions.

What specific initiatives or policies do you believe are essential for improvement in the education system?

The role of the government is pivotal when it comes to shaping and developing the education sector. It serves as the lynchpin for implementing policies that not only keep us abreast of global educational standards but also address the diverse needs of our society. One of the key responsibilities of the government is to ensure that our education system remains on par with or, ideally, ahead of the globalised educational landscape. A critical aspect of government involvement is the formulation of policies that seamlessly integrate technical education, academic education, skills development and human resources planning in Nepal. These policies should be cohesive, addressing the multifaceted requirements of our society and economy. A holistic approach that encompasses diverse educational streams is essential to produce a workforce that is not only academically proficient but also equipped with the practical skills demanded by industries.

To foster a more dynamic and globally competitive education system, the government should actively encourage the participation of expertise from varied sectors and the global community. Providing space for experts to contribute to educational development ensures a well-rounded and contemporary approach that reflects the evolving needs of the job market and society at large. Being open to change and increasing adaptability is paramount for the government’s role in shaping the education sector. The rapidly evolving global landscape demands flexibility in our educational frameworks. This adaptability is crucial to incorporate innovations, technological advancements, and best practices from around the world, keeping our education system relevant and effective.

While the government should focus on policy-making and the development of education frameworks, it is equally important to strike a balance with implementation. A robust monitoring system can ensure that policies are effectively executed, but there should also be a recognition of the value that the private sector brings to the table. Allowing the private sector to play a significant role in the development of educational infrastructure and its operationalisation can inject innovation, efficiency, and a diversity of perspectives into the education system.
The government’s role in shaping and developing the education sector in Nepal is multifaceted. It involves proactive policy-making, a focus on global competitiveness, integration of diverse educational streams, openness to expertise, adaptability to change, and a balanced approach to implementation through collaboration with the private sector. Embracing these principles can pave the way for a more dynamic, inclusive and effective education system that caters to the needs of the nation’s present and future.

How do you define success in the education sector, and what key performance indicators (KPIs) will you be tracking to evaluate the impact of your initiatives on both students and the community?

In my perspective, defining success in the education sector goes beyond traditional measures and encompasses a multifaceted approach that reflects the broader impact on individuals and the community. Success, to me, in education involves more than just academic achievements; it extends to the tangible and positive outcomes that education can bring to individuals and society at large. One key indicator of success in education is employability. The ultimate goal of education is to prepare students for the workforce and success is reflected in their ability to secure meaningful employment that aligns with their skills and aspirations. Employability is a direct measure of how well education equips individuals for the challenges and opportunities of the professional world.

Another significant indicator is the development of new businesses. Education should not only produce job seekers but also foster an entrepreneurial spirit that contributes to economic growth. The establishment of new businesses by individuals who have benefited from education indicates a successful alignment between educational initiatives and economic development. Furthermore, the expansion of existing business communities is an important metric. A successful education sector should contribute to the growth and sustainability of businesses, creating a thriving economic ecosystem. This expansion reflects the positive impact of education on local industries and the broader community.

Success in education also manifests in the cultivation of a better-cultured society marked by peace. Education plays a pivotal role in shaping individuals’ values, fostering cultural awareness, and promoting social harmony. A society that values and celebrates diversity, respects cultural differences and embraces peace can be considered a testament to the success of educational initiatives. Reducing the need for individuals to seek education and job opportunities abroad is another indicator of success. If individuals find quality education and fulfilling employment within their own communities, it not only contributes to local development but also prevents brain drain. Success, in this context, is keeping talent within the country, creating a positive cycle of growth and development.

Finally, I view education as a significant contributor to the Happiness Development Index for a better society. Beyond economic indicators, success in education should contribute to the overall well-being and happiness of individuals and the community. A fulfilled and content society, where individuals find purpose and satisfaction through education, signifies a successful education sector. In evaluating the impact of initiatives on students and the community, I would track these key performance indicators rigorously. Employability rates, the establishment of new businesses, the expansion of existing business communities, societal harmony and cultural development, decreased reliance on seeking education and employment opportunities abroad, and the overall happiness and well-being of the community would be crucial benchmarks. By regularly assessing these KPIs, we can gain insights into the effectiveness of educational initiatives and ensure that they are aligned with the broader goals of individual and societal advancement. 

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