Restore to life
- Scientific education demands serious investment, not empty promises
Mar 3, 2015-Nepalis in general tend to demonstrate an unmistakable love for the sciences. In school, guardians dread their children’s flunking science and maths the most, and the best performers in the School Leaving Certificate examinations are expected to pursue a 10+2 in science by default. Going by the sheer number of +2 students attending medical and engineering entrance tuition centres, it almost seems as though a career in sciences implies that children will either become a doctor or an engineer in Nepal. Even so, each year, thousands of students enrol in other scientific disciplines.
According to the University Grants Commission’s Report on Higher Education 2012/13, there are 21,433 (3.76 percent) students studying science and technology subjects in the country—excluding Ayurveda, agriculture and forestry—which is more than the 15,404 (2.70 percent) enrolled in engineering and 18,847 (3.31) in medicine. When it comes to investment, however, medicine, forestry, engineering and agriculture continue to be prioritised over other scientific fields. Between 1990 and 2004, 40 percent of Rs 5.7 billion invested by the government in science and technology went to the Institute of Medicine alone for building infrastructure. The TU’s Institute of Science and Technology received only 26 percent. As a result, defunct laboratories devoid of any equipment essential for research are characteristic of scientific education in Nepal.
The website of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment is even more telling. Under the Scientific Research and Development Section, the yearly budget allocated for the establishment of a National Nuclear Technology Centre and for increasing the capacity of a National Space Research Centre is a meagre sum of Rs 450,000. Therefore, the little-heard-of National Science Day, which was celebrated with the slogan ‘Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development’ on September 13 last year, did nothing more than pay lip service to the sector. Scientific research in Nepal needs sincere investment, not the yearly repetition of the established fact that it matters.
Towards that end, Nepal could learn from its neighbours. China and India are among the 10 countries in the world, which contribute 78 percent to the global expenditure on research and development. In the immediate future, Nepal must increase its investment in scientific education to make it more relevant. It should further promote university-industry collaboration for research in pharmacy and food technology, among others, which will benefit both the students and the companies. In the long run, the government should produce a white paper on the number of scientists—biotechnologists, geneticists, microbiologists, geographers, physicists, chemists, etc—Nepal needs and invest in them accordingly. It should further restructure the National Academy of Sciences, as its accomplishments have been minimal despite being established in 1982. That science students currently have no option but to be lecturers or migrate to countries where their skills can be put to use must prompt the government to action.
Published: 04-03-2015 08:59