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[KATHMANDU] Nepal has announced a scheme to stem the brain drain of its best science students, thousands of whom flock to training centres that help them find university places overseas.

Nepal's public-funded Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) will launch in July a scholarship programme that will target bright school students in the 9th grade.

NAST vice-chancellor Surendra Raj Kafle, the architect of the programme, told SciDev.Net that the programme will initially target 750 students — 10 from each of Nepal's 75 administrative districts.

Top-ranking science students from government schools will be invited to take a NAST-administered test and those with the highest scores will be selected for stipends that will last 10 years and see the students through a Master's degree.

A fresh batch of 750 candidates will be chosen every year over the next decade. Students who are unable to maintain their grades or veer away from the sciences will be replaced. NAST will provide 1,000 Nepali rupees (US$14) each month to the students, until they complete grade 12.

But NAST has yet to address some administrative issues such as contacting the district education officers, or receiving confirmation for the scheme from Nepal's ministry of education. 

There is also no system in place to ensure that the scholarship money is spent only on education-related costs.

Kafle said he would like to see instituted a stipends scheme in science departments, similar to an existing one which fully bears costs for 20 per cent of all medical students.

Similar scholarships, though on a much smaller scale, are available to selected students in the engineering colleges.

The science scholarship programme is expected to cost NAST US$ 126,000 for the first batch. It is estimated that NAST will need to set aside US$ 502,000 for the first four years. 

"We have the talent. We just need the money," Kafle said.

With the post-conflict political configuration focused on the new Constituent Assembly, many are concerned that there is scant attention paid to the science sector.

The science minister's portfolio has remained vacant for several months and there little coordination among concerned departments and agencies that are involved in science education, say critics.