[KATHMANDU] With few students enrolling for science and technology (S&T) courses at the higher education level, Nepal faces a serious shortage of scientists in the near future, experts say.
S&T is not attractive enough for students, delegates at the sixth National Conference on Science and Technology, organised by the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology in September (25–27 September) in Kathmandu, said.
Hridaya Bajracharya, technical advisor to Nepal's University Grants Commission (UGC), noted that a key challenge is "to motivate today's young people to study science, at a time when science and innovation lie at the heart of economic growth."
According to the latest (2009–2010) report of the Education Management Information System (EMIS), higher education enrolment in technical faculties is "very low" with only 3.9 per cent of students enrolling for S&T against 40.5 per cent enrolled in education, 28.8 per cent in management and 18.8 per cent in the humanities.
Less than five per cent of all campus faculties in the country offer S&T courses.
An uninspiring learning environment in primary and secondary schools, lack of funds to procure and maintain research equipment in tertiary institutes and limited job opportunities after graduation, all work to make S&T less appealing, said Bajracharya.
Of the total education budget, the percentage allotted to higher education declined from 11.9 in 2001–2002 to 10.7 in 2009–2010, according to the EMIS report.
Within this crunch, "S&T is especially suffering with the government not accounting for the added costs of scientific equipment and materials," said Kamal Krishna Joshi, former chairman of the UGC.
"Without research and laboratory work, science cannot be science."
Investment in industries that can absorb S&T graduates is limited and public sector jobs are not well-paid, Devendra Gauchan, senior scientist and chief of the Socioeconomics and Agri-Research Policy Division at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), told SciDev.Net.
Without congenial settings for young scientists to work in or a policy environment that favours investment in S&T Nepal will face "a severe shortage of qualified, well-trained scientists in the next decade," said Gauchan.
NARC already has difficulty hiring young scientists to work in such fields as entomology, pathology and soil science. A 2010 study of researchers’ age distribution showed that 17 per cent were between the ages of 31–40, while 44 per cent were close to retirement in the 51–60 age bracket.