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Time to tap the youth power

Time to tap the youth power
“What’s your plan after completing high school education?” Recently, I asked this question to a group of 12th graders sitting for national examinations. Unsurprisingly, a majority of them said they were planning for higher education abroad. In the last fiscal alone, 112,000 students took No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government for pursuing higher education abroad. During the reporting period, around 13,000 students went to India (Nepali students do not need NOC for pursuing education in the neighboring country). With more and more youths leaving the country for higher education abroad, Nepali universities are witnessing a drastic decline in student enrollment, forcing them to mull over suspension of existing programs or merger of campuses. Unemployment, underemployment and the lack of quality education are three key reasons pushing Nepali youths abroad for better education and economic opportunities. According to Katel and Sapkota (2018), outflow of Nepali students to the USA for higher education increased by 14.3 percent in 2018. Most of them didn’t return home after graduation, causing a significant brain drain.

A sizable workforce required for national development has gone abroad in search of better opportunities, causing a shortfall of both skilled and semi-skilled people across all industries. Sadly, a growing number of research scholars at universities are also preparing to embark on their academic journeys abroad and settle where they get the most lucrative incentives.

According to the World Bank’s World Development Report of 1998-1999, “sustained economic growth and improvements in human well-being is determined by knowledge, and not capital.” Hence, in today’s knowledge-based economy, outflow of educated, skilled workforces is but natural. If the government does not develop policies and programs to stem this outflow, the country is sure to face a disaster. Brain drain has taken a huge toll on Nepal, though there are bright sides to it as well. Citizens leaving their country for work contribute to the national economy and development by sending in remittances. National development can get a boost if those endowed with knowledge and expertise choose to return home. However, remittance inflows are no match for the loss of human capital. Also, there is no hard evidence suggesting that educated diasporas do send money home. It’s also possible that remittances might not be channeled toward the areas needing them the most. Despite several downsides of outbound mobility of young educated people, it’s in the best interest of the nation to utilize their knowledge and skills as much as possible for the economic growth and enhancement of the national education system. For this, the government must formulate policies to retain highly skilled workforces or to attract the diasporic workforce or intellectuals based abroad through various incentive schemes. The government has to devise strategies to counter this drain. This may include restrictive policies designed to make migration more difficult, compulsory national services and incentives meant to encourage skilled human resources to remain in the country by making migration less attractive. Also, compensatory policies can be used by taking the individual migrant or the receiving country to compensate for the loss of human capital in the country. In a digitally connected world, underemployed and unemployed educated youths can easily explore alternative career options around the globe. This does not mean imposing a ban on outbound mobility as the move will not be pragmatic. Moreover, the government may also not be in a position to offer their highly skilled expatriates the same incentives they have access to in developed countries. In such a scenario, the government can encourage the diasporic intellectuals to transfer their skills and knowledge to their home country. For this, the government should map the diasporic demography and tap into skilled human capitals. Their professional, educational, social and cultural experiences can be used for the benefit of the country. Their inputs can have a positive impact on policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In countries like Egypt, Ghana, the Philippines, Australia and India, governments have facilitated dual citizenship and voting rights to encourage or engage their expatriates in policy formulation and development process. Analogously, national development strategies include expatriate networks as formal partners. This strategy can be adopted in Nepal as well. Voting rights guarantee diasporas access to the home country’s political decisions and in several cases have their specific interests represented. For example, the Italians living abroad have the right to elect by mail 12 representatives in the Parliament and six senators to represent the interest of the Italian community abroad. As the outbound mobility of Nepali students is rapidly growing, the government ought to embark on an exercise to bring back these students after completion of their higher education by offering incentives.  In the mid-90s, the Chinese government introduced such a policy to attract students based abroad, leading to a 13 percent increment in the number of returnees annually between 1995 and 1998. In a globalized world connected by the internet, diasporic professors based in industrialized countries can be encouraged to take university classes in their homeland through virtual platforms. Instead of not letting the citizens seek opportunities and settlement beyond the native country, the government should seek to improve policies and work for mutual benefit through partnership with diasporas. Also, we need to change our mindset of viewing diasporas as ‘lost’. Instead, they should be re-engaged through strategic diasporic initiatives such as formal mentoring programs, investment, trade programs, and cultural initiatives. Also, the government must help create an enabling environment for the investors and encourage them to invest in industries. Otherwise, failure to absorb a growing number of graduates in the market will exacerbate brain drain. When skilled workforces are underemployed or unemployed, emigration is bound to follow. With an increasing number of skilled and highly educated youths emigrating to developed countries, Nepal is experiencing a knowledge, creativity and innovation deficit adversely impacting national development. Given this context, the government should shift its focus on retaining skilled and educated youths in the country, attracting those based abroad back home or utilizing their expertise and skills in the interest of the country through digital platforms.  For this, the government must counteract emigration-friendly policies of developed countries or develop incentive schemes to attract the skilled individuals based abroad by offering competitive pay or through their engagement in different development initiatives. As many diasporic intellectuals are more likely to engage in quality research, they can be re-engaged into research activities in the country. This will not only strengthen Nepal’s higher education system, but also help reformulate policies and create more jobs, thereby contributing directly to national development. With the use of diasporic skills, experiences, and knowledge, Nepal’s goal to position itself as a middle-income country by 2030 doesn’t seem an unachievable dream. The author is a lecturer in the English department at Vinayak Siddha College, Kathmandu