Students object to No Objection rule

When she heard in March that she was accepted for a master’s degree in urban management in The Netherlands, Surena Shrestha was ecstatic. Then Covid-19 happened.

Her classes at Erasmus University are scheduled to start in September, there are uncertainties about visa and flights. But the biggest barrier for her and thousands of other Nepali students is the bureaucratic barrier of obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Ministry of Education.

"Without the NOC I cannot get the bank to transfer my fees, apply for a visa and buy an air ticket. Which means that my acceptance into the university could lapse,” says Shrestha.

The Ministry of Education requires every student going abroad for studies to obtain an NOC – a document that gives the government an inordinate amount of power to monitor and regulate overseas studies for Nepalis. Using Covid-19 as an excuse it stopped issuing NOCs since March.

Migration certificate, Prakriti Kandel

Last year alone, the ministry issued 63,000 NOCs to students, and nearly as many students this year have been deprived of that essential piece of document that they need before they can arrange for travel and admission.

Frustrated by the delays, many students have deferred their admissions and are taking a gap year. Some students have chosen to get their fees paid by friends and relatives abroad.

Ankit Dahal was accepted by the University of West London for a master's program in Cyber Security. Classes started in July, and Dahal is attending them online but adds: "I am paying a lot of money for the experience of studying abroad. If I wanted to get that degree here, I would get it for a fraction of the amount."

For other students, even online classes are not a viable option. "I am an engineering student and need to be in a lab, so getting started on online classes here does not work for me," says Biraj Khanal, who is supposed to be studying at TU Kaiserslautern in Germany for a master's in commercial vehicle technology.

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Some universities have agreed to defer admissions until the next semester. However, this does not always guarantee a seat, which leaves students like Surena Shrestha worried.

She says: "Many of us are in competitive fields and are applying to highly sought after  universities. I may not be able to attend if the admission is deferred."

The situation is even more dire for undergraduate students, who have already lost a year because of Nepal's delayed academic calendar that is some months behind international schedules. Many students had put together the necessary money for their fees, which they had hoped to pay through part-time work in the destination country.  

Now that they are unable to go abroad, they are paying loan interest ranging from Rs30-100,000 on the money they borrowed. Besides, if they are unable to go this semester, they may have to apply again the next time around, and give tests like IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, or GRE, which are valid for 2-5 years and cost $75-200 each.

Nepali students abroad in pandemic limbo, Sanghamitra Subba

The Ministry of Education says it has no plans to start issuing NOCs in the near future. Now, with the lockdown extended, the possibility looks even more remote.

"This is for the students' own safety. They should not be travelling abroad at such a critical time, they might contract Covid-19 if they travel to infected countries," says Ram Sharan Sapkota of the Ministry of Education. "Students may complain today, but tomorrow if they get infected, they will blame the government for not taking care of them."

Students say such remarks are proof that the government does not care about their future, and add that they do not need the government to tell them about risks. The NOC is the document that is required before they can get all the other travel papers and tickets, and they blame bureaucrats who wield too much arbitrary power.

Sapkota says a proposal to restart issuing NOCs has been tabled at the Cabinet, but there has been no approval yet and he has no idea when that might be. Students say there is no perceptible reason for not issuing NOCs, and the argument that it is ‘not safe’ is an absurd excuse.

Ram Prasad Pokhrel has been accepted into the University of Central Lancashire for an MSc in Mechatronics and Intelligent Machines, but he is stuck in Kathmandu because of the NOC. He says, "We are ready to do everything we need to do, why is the government  denying us the opportunity to education? They are denying us our right to education.”

UPDATE 27 August: The government has decided to issue NOC for students following a ministerial-level meeting on Tuesday.

Read also: Rs40 billion outflow by Nepali students, Nepali Times

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