Binod Ghimire, KATHMANDU: With a significant rise in the number of Nepali students studying abroad, particularly in Australia, the United States and Japan, more of them have been caught up in scams, pressured by unscrupulous education abroad consultancies, or facing problems because of a failure to properly review the credentials of the academic institutions they apply to overseas.
The latest major debacle involves hundreds of Nepali students who are enrolled at the Australia Institute of Business and Technology (AIBT) in Sydney but are unable to complete their course after the regulatory body, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), revoked the institution’s vocational education and training accreditation on 19 February. The cancellation comes into effect by 26 March unless it is reversed on appeal.
Lied to students
According to the authorities, the institute failed to demonstrate that its marketing practices were fair and factual, and had lied to students. It also could not demonstrate it had qualified staff.
The institute, which predominantly enrolled Nepali students – who make up some 90% of its nursing students – acquired vocational education and training accreditation and the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students registration.
However, it was not accredited by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council, which is necessary for the students’ placements and internships at health institutes, which are a part of the course.
A preliminary investigation by Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology showed some 743 students were taking nursing courses in the unaccredited institute. Around 150 education consultancies which are AIBT agents in Nepal were involved in sending students to the institute.
“We were told the accreditation process was at the final stage, which was not true. The institute and the consultancy cheated us,” said Namrata Shrestha (not her real name), 19, who has been studying since June 2018 for a diploma in nursing.
Speaking by phone she said there wasn’t adequate time to prepare in order to score level seven in IELTS, an English proficiency test, which is required for entry to nursing at another college in Australia. AIBT took students with level six on the test. “It’s been a total waste of our time and money,” she added.
Though the institute has appealed against the decision, even if it later comes down in AIBT’s favour, the additional lack of approval from the nursing and midwifery council leaves students with two options – either to get credit transfer to another college or change their course.
Slim chances of transfer
According to education experts, the chances for transfer are slim, particularly for those who scored below seven on IELTS. And changing to another course means a loss of time and money spent on the nursing course so far.
Following the recommendation of the college and the Australian government, the students are continuing their classes until the appeal decision is announced, fearing their absence from classes could lead to a cancellation of their Confirmation of Enrolment which could even result in the termination of their visas.
It has also emerged that at least 300 Nepali students have been enrolled in nursing courses in three other unaccredited institutions in Australia – the Sydney-based Australian Health and Management Institute (AMHI), Nurse Training Australia and Melbourne-based Education Training and Employment Australia. All three enrolled students without approval from the nursing and midwifery council.
Following ASQA’s action on AIBT, the nursing diploma students at these institutions have been forced to change their course to community service. “The college is now compelling us to change the course,” Aastha Acharaya, a 20-year-old AHMI student from Nepal, said.
Huge rise in Nepalis studying abroad
The number of Nepali students going abroad for higher education has increased unprecedentedly in recent years, with a huge influx in Australia and Japan.
In Australia, the number of Nepali students grew by just over 50% last year compared to the previous year.
Surprisingly, students from Nepal, which has a total population of just 30 million, are now the third largest group of foreign students after the students from India and China, which have huge populations of 1 billion plus. The number of students from Nepal has overtaken the number from Brazil, which was previously the third-largest source for Australia.
Indian applicants increased 32% in the same period and Chinese by 13%. In 2017 more than 23,000 Nepali students were studying in Australian institutions.
Nepali students in the United States also grew in number, by 20% in 2017 compared to the years before.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have also become popular destinations for Nepali students seeking vocational courses which allow them to work and earn at the same time, leading to anecdotes of students being caught up in scams by companies using institutions as a cheap way to hire labour.
There are also instances where Nepali students in Japan didn’t get their visa extensions allegedly for spending more time in work than they were entitled to as students. “Two of my friends had to return after their visa extension was rejected,” said Bipin Ghimire, 27, a bachelor degree student in Tokyo.
According to the Society of Nepalese Students in Korea, an umbrella of body of Nepalese students in that country, some students are living illegally, unable to pay tuition fees and many students change their college in order to find better part-time jobs.
“There was an instance when Cheju Halla University, a private university in Jeju City, took a student’s passport and alien card as he tried to change university,” said Dirgha Raj Joshi, secretary of the society in an email response. Currently, around 1,400 Nepali students are studying in South Korea.
Nepal’s education ministry data shows that barely 16,504 students had a ‘No Objection Certification’ letter or NOC, which is required to study abroad, in fiscal year 2013-14. This increased fivefold up to the past fiscal year, 2017-18, with 62,800 students acquiring the certificate to study in 72 different countries.
With a lack of specific government records on the number who actually leave the country to study abroad, the NOC is the main reference for statistics. Education consultancies that counsel the students say around 75% who get the NOC actually leave the country.
The prospect of a better education and prosperous future is the major reason to leave, the consultancy operators say. But Nepalis also see study abroad as a gateway to working overseas and the consultancies are facilitating this.
“The problem is seen in cases where getting an education becomes the secondary motive,” said Kumar Karki, managing director of Landmark Education Consultancy, who also is a chairman of the International Education Representative Initiative of Nepal, one of five umbrella bodies of education consultancies in Nepal.
Of the Nepali students receiving NOCs, more than two-thirds wished to study in Australia or Japan. Some 32,200 students got NOCs for Australia in the fiscal year 2017-18, while getting clearances for Japan stood at 15,500.
Rajendra Rijal, managing director of Kathmandu Infosys Educational Consultancy, a member of the Nepalese Association of Australian Education Representatives, said he is in regular touch with the troubled students in Australia who used these consultancies and is working for their transfer to other institutions.
“Our consultancy sent five students to AIBT clearly explaining it wasn’t accredited. But, as they now face a problem, we are doing our best to make sure they get to complete their studies,” he said.
Suprabhat Bhandari, former chairperson of Guardian Association Nepal, says while the government should take action against consultancies that indulge in malpractice, the parents and students should also undertake thorough research before leaving the country.
Drupada Sapkota, acting Nepali ambassador, said the Australian officials from the Department of Education and Training said the Australian government has taken action against the college and now Nepal’s government should take action against the consultancies who sent the students to an unaccredited college.
(Nepali students affected by the deregistration of a private RTO in a town hall meeting in Sydney on 21 February 2019, Thursday. Photo: Bijaya Sapkota)