About 100,600 students were enrolled in all higher-level institutions in the mid 2000s, about five percent of the university-age population. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

In 1989 higher secondary schools were introduced for higher education preparation, and by 2003 there were 789 such schools. Institutions of higher education included eight public and 114 private technical schools, one polytechnic school, and six universities in 2001. The overall number of education facilities has grown, but most are in urban areas. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Prior to the ten-plus-two (or the higher secondary education) system, students would continue their studies at the Proficiency Certificate Level (PCL) at the Tribhuvan University in Nepal and its affiliated colleges after passing the School Leaving Certificate (SLC or grade 10) examination. The PCL program was still being run in 2001, but was slated to be phased out because all students were going through the ten-plus-two system of post secondary education. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

School enrollment, tertiary, female (percent of gross; 14 percent (compared to 68 percent in Germany, 102 percent in the United States and 7 percent in Uzbelistan) [Source: World Bank worldbank.org]

“The universities are managed by Senate Council consisting of the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Rector, Registrar, and senate members representing various academic, economic, political, private, social, and student groups. The university senate is the apex body and is responsible for making policy decisions. The University Grants Commission (UGC) assists the government in managing the fiscal aspects and funding policies. The UGC also coordinates and disburses financial grants to the universities.

After getting a degree at a Nepalese university many students study abroad, and many of the ones that go to America don't come back, creating a brain-drain situation.

History of Higher Education

The Rana rulers, who placed Nepal under their feudal yoke for about 100 years until the beginning of the 1950s, feared an educated public. This fear also was held by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who established Tri-Chandra College in 1918 and named it after himself. During the inauguration of the college, Chandra Shamsher lamented that its opening was the ultimate death knell to Rana rule. He personally felt responsible for the downfall of Rana rule, and his words became prophetic for the crumbling of Rana political power in 1950-51. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Before World War II Some members of the high-caste, elite families sent their children to Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, or other universities in India for higher academic or technical training. It was in fact, some of these students, having realized how oppressive the policies of Rana rule were, who initiated antiRana movements, provided revolutionary cadres, and finally began the revolution that ultimately led to the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951. *

Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had two colleges, one normal school, and one special technical school. As of the 1980s, there was only one doctoral degree-granting institution in Nepal, Tribhuvan University. It was named after King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, the grandfather of King Birendra, and was chartered in 1959. All public colleges fell under Tribhuvan University. Private colleges were operated independently, although they also were required to meet the requirements and standards set by Tribhuvan University. The total number of colleges increased significantly, from 8 in 1958 to 132 in 1988 (69 under Tribhuvan University and 63 private colleges). In terms of subjects, these colleges covered a wide range of disciplines, such as social sciences; humanities; commerce (business); physical sciences, including some medical sciences; engineering; education; forestry; law; and Sanskrit. The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions totaled almost 83,000 in 1987; the largest percentage was in humanities and social sciences (40 percent), followed by commerce (31 percent), science and technology (11 percent), and education (6 percent). Approximately 20 percent of the students enrolled in Tribhuvan University were females.*

Universities in Nepal

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “The first institution of higher education to be established in Nepal was the Tribhuvan Chandra Intermediate College (later renamed Tri-Chandra College) in 1918. The Rana Prime Minister, Chandra Shamsher, was opposed to higher education and saw it as a threat to monarchy. Nonetheless, he yielded to the growing pressure from Nepalese people in the formation of this college and remarked at its inauguration, "With the opening of this college, I have hacked my own leg." The establishment of Tri-Chandra College paved way for higher education in Nepal. Gradually more colleges were built. Two of the reputable colleges were Nepal National College, also known as Shanker Dev Campus, in Kathmandu and Thakur Ram College in Birgunj. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Tribhuvan University was Nepal's first university and was established in 1959. The Queen mother, Kanti Rajyalaxmi Devi Shah, was the first Chancellor of the university. The Academic Council is the supreme academic body of the university and the Board of Studies designs the curricula. Initially, postgraduate courses were offered in some humanities and social sciences and were based on the curricula of Patna University in India that also conducted examinations until 1962. In 1991, only 1.73 percent of the population had acquired a bachelor's degree of which only 0.44 percent were women and 1.29 percent were men.

“On December 11, 1991, Kathmandu University was established as a private university. In 1993, the School of Management was established at its campus in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta (IIMC) and the first batch of Master of Business Administration (MBA) students were enrolled. The school of Engineering and School of Science opened in 1994 and offered several undergraduate programs. The School of Education and Arts was established in 1996. In 1997, the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) were launched.

“In the late 1980s and 1990s, Mahendra Sanskrit University, Purbanchal University, Siddhartha University, and Pokhra University were also established. Many of these are private ventures. In 1998, Tribhuvan University was the largest university with 150,000 students and 62 constituent and 132 affiliated campuses. The costs of tertiary education are very low at Tribhuvan University, while they are very high at the private Kathmandu University.

“The Bachelor's level of university education after grade 12 is a three-year duration with yearly examinations. The Bachelor's Degree courses in technical institutes like Engineering and Medicine take four years to complete. The Master's Degree follows the Bachelor's Degree and takes two years with yearly examinations. In the technical arena, only the Institute of Science and Technology and, in some selected fields, the Institute of Engineering offers Master's level programs. The university education also includes a Doctor of Philosophy degree in some disciplines and subject areas.

“At the tertiary level, in the 1960s, all programs of vocational education were brought under the umbrella of Tribhuvan University and five technical institutes were formed. They initially offered programs at the PCL level. These institutes were: the Institute of Engineering that focused on civil engineering related training such as road building, drafting, surveying, electrical engineering related training, and mechanical engineering related training; the Institute of Medicine that focused on Ayurvedic related training, nursing, and laboratory technician courses; the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science; the Institute of Forestry; and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology. The Institute of Applied Science and Technology has since been turned into a research center. The other four institutes that started their programs at certificate level now offer Diploma (Bachelor of Technology) and Degree (Master of Technology) and are gradually moving toward autonomous status.

Tribhuvan University

Tribhuvan University is Nepal’s top university. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “Tribhuvan University is composed of five institutes (medicine, engineering, science, agriculture and forestry), four research centers, and four faculties (humanities and social science, management, law, and education) at 61 constituent and 140 affiliated campuses. Other institutions of higher learning include the Mahendra Sanskrit University, Kathmandu University, Purbanchal University, and B. P. Korala Institute of Health Science. In 2003, about 5 percent of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 48.6 percent, with 62.7 percent for men and 34.9 percent for women. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Tribhuvan University embraces 10 institutes. It directly administers and supports 65 campuses, approximately half of which are outside the Kathmandu Valley. The total number of students of all university campuses is approximately 100,000. The University has four research centers: the Center for Nepal and Asian Studies; the Center for Economic Development and Administration; the Research Center for Applied Science and Technology; and the Center for Educational Reforms, Innovations, and Development.

Nepalese Students at U.S. Universities

The Institute of International Education calculated that Nepal sent 8,920 students to U.S. colleges and universities in the 2012-2013 school year, Nick Anderson wrote in in the Washington Post: That makes Nepal the 14th-ranked supplier of international students to U.S. campuses, just behind the United Kingdom (9,467) and ahead of Iran (8,744). China is the top supplier (235,597), followed by India (96,754). But Nepal leads all four of those countries in the number of students per capita sent to the United States. [Source: Washington Post. August 27, 2014]

“The number of Nepalis studying in the United States rose from 2,411 in 1999-2000 to a peak of 11,581 in 2008-2009. It has dipped each year since. What these figures show is a volatile international market in a world full of young academic strivers. The United States is a huge draw. But countries in Asia and elsewhere are building their own college capacity. The flow of foreigners to U.S. colleges ebbs and swells depending on economic and political circumstances.

“Most foreign undergraduates in the United States come from enough affluence to pay their own way, which makes them attractive to colleges seeking to raise revenue. Those from families with modest means are drawn to schools that offer scholarships and financial aid, or relatively moderate tuition. Among the top magnets for Nepali students, according to the institute, are Louisiana Tech University, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of North Texas and St. Cloud State University in Minnesota — all public schools.”

Nepalese at Historically-Black Howard University in Washington D.C.

A quarter of the incoming freshmen from overseas in 2014 at Howard University, a history-black institution in Northwest Washington D.C. were from Nepal. Nick Anderson wrote in in the Washington Post: Their delegation — 26 as of last count — outnumbers Jamaicans (22), Nigerians (22) and every other international group in the Class of 2018. In the previous class, there were 10 Nepalis. Before that the total was in single digits — or none. [Source: Washington Post. August 27, 2014]

So why is a landlocked and impoverished Asian country that draws visitors to the world’s highest peak suddenly sending all these students to Howard? The answer lies partly in the rapid globalization of higher education, partly in the school’s academic programs and merit scholarships, and partly in the experience of a 20-year-old mathematics student named Roshil Paudyal. A fellow Nepali calls him “one of the pioneers.”

“A couple years ago, Paudyal was wrapping up studies at a prestigious secondary school in Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, and wondering where he would go to college. Many top students from Nepal look abroad. “Mostly they want to come to America because the higher education is so good here,” Paudyal said in an interview along with several Nepalis at the campus student center. There was no Howard recruiter in Nepal.. The university was not well-known there at the time, Paudyal recalled. But it popped up as he was talking to a friend and scoping out the market through a Web site called College Confidential. The site is a clearinghouse for information and gossip related to admissions and financial aid.

“Of special appeal to Paudyal — who is the son of a math teacher — Howard offered merit scholarships to students with strong grades and SAT scores. Its science, engineering and math programs were well-regarded. Its location in a world capital, he said, “was a big plus.” So he applied, got in and won a large scholarship. He plunged into the distinctive culture of a 10,000-student school that is an educational icon of black America. “You get to interact with so many people from around the world,” Paudyal said. “You get to take classes that I didn’t expect to take.” He studied piano. He studied German. Sometimes he plays cricket with Jamaicans on the Yard, Howard’s central green. He researches machine learning, a field related to artificial intelligence. “It is great,” he said.

“Paudyal’s positive impressions, relayed to friends back home, fed a boomlet of interest in Howard among his peers in Nepal. Many of the Nepali students, the institute says, are focused on engineering, science and business. Those fields dovetail with offerings at Howard. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard, was an international student himself, said word of mouth is critical in international recruiting. Paudyal told a friend back home, Prajjwal Dangal, about Howard. “He said it’s good,” said Dangal, 20, a sophomore studying computer science. “That pretty much convinced me to come here.”

“Dangal, in turn, told Utsab Khakurel, 20, an incoming freshman. “These guys were here,” Khakurel said. “I knew a lot about Howard. I’ve been talking to them.” The Nepalis say they have immersed themselves in campus life. Several lived in Carver Hall as freshmen. Some play soccer for fun, some swim. One scored a summer internship at Google through a Howard connection. They have formed a student association with a Facebook page. “I like this place,” said Ashim Neupane, 20, a sophomore. “I’ve made so many friends.” Some are from Africa, he said, others from the Caribbean and the United States. “I love that there’s lots of cultures.”

“With their homeland nearly halfway around the world, Nepalis can fly east or west to get to Washington. Khakurel took the Pacific route, flying from Kathmandu to Seoul and then Dulles International Airport. Like many Nepalis, Khakurel had little idea before he arrived of the role historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, play in American education. Dangal said he has developed a deep appreciation for HBCUs, citing a first-year English class he took that featured selections from Desmond Tutu and other writers from Africa and the African diaspora. “It gives you a different experience of America,” he said, “a good and unique perspective.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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