Nepal has been a leader in mountaineering activities for decades. It is home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Mountaineering and high-altitude trekking bring in a significant amount of foreign currency to this impoverished country of 30 million people. Jungle safaris, paragliding, community tourism, rafting, and bungee jumping are just a few of the other activities that attract tourists to Nepal. Everything you do in Nepal is unique, from visiting high-altitude cheese factories and coffee shops to mountain biking in the Himalayas.
Nepal’s natural beauty is unmatched, its hospitality is legendary, and its possibilities are endless. It is a land of contrasts, with billions of people living in the north and south, the geographic population mean of the world and it is one of the most liberal and youngest democracies in the world. Nepal is also the land of the Gurkhas, brave warriors who have fought all over the world with distinction.
A centre of excellence
Nepal is a socially diverse country with a rich history and culture. Every step is a temple and every day is a festival. With people speaking many dialects, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians continue to find new and exciting things about this nation that has always remained independent. The history of food and culture in the country is something that the late Anthony Bourdain missed in his culinary show on CNN, but the world is starting to learn about it. Nepal is also a centre of excellence in community forestry. Its success in this area is touted and taught in academic institutions around the world, including the United States.
Nepal's tourism industry has been growing rapidly, with over half a million visitors annually. Within this industry, a new niche is emerging: academic tourism. Kathmandu University pioneered academic tourism over two decades ago, and it is now a growing trend around the world. Every year, one million students from around the globe enroll in higher education in the United States, and about 150,000 American students participate in study abroad programmes. With proper policy implementation, Nepal can tap into this growing market and develop a thriving academic tourism industry.
There are a few key policy pointers that Nepal should follow in order to lead in this new frontier. First, Nepal should invest in building world-class academic institutions that can attract top students and researchers from around the world. Second, the country should develop a comprehensive marketing and promotional campaign to raise awareness of its academic offerings. Third, the nation should make it easier for foreign students to obtain visas and other necessary documentation. Finally, the country should create a welcoming and supportive environment for international students and scholars.
Building a centre of excellence in social science, arts, medical science and physical science is long overhaul. However, Nepal is already the centre of excellence for community forestry, high altitude climbing, mountaineering, culture and Buddhism. University research labs and professional organisations can build centre of excellence by creating international collaboration with scholars and providing research platforms to international scholars and students. Nepal’s academic community and the university have potential to collaborate with foreign researchers ever than before. With the advent of technologies and high tech collaboration, remote research is an exciting opportunity in Nepal.
Diaspora plays a critical role in making Nepal a hub for academic tourism. With more than 12,000 international students alone in the United States and more than 20,000 students in Australia, diaspora should help in building academic tourism. Many of the diaspora are in the academic environment and can take sabbatical leave to go to Nepal for research and study. Also international Nepali community can educate and motivate their children to go to Nepal for international study. International study is a big economic opportunity. The study abroad industry is expected to reach $433 billion globally by 2030. In 2019, over 5 million students travelled abroad to study, representing $196 billion in annual expenditure.
Academic tourism has a unique socio-economic opportunity. Academic tourism could bring in much-needed foreign currency and help to promote Nepal as a global center of education and research. Firstly, academic tourist transfers knowledge and skills besides contributing to the economy. Secondly, academic tourists stay longer than regular tourist generating more revenues, researchers and students will stay at least for one semester or couple of months. In 2023, the average cost for a semester abroad is $16,368 for American students. Thirdly, the collaboration and research opportunity brings the researchers for lifelong friendship and partnership.
Finally, academic tourist will be the lifelong ambassador to Nepal from academic as well as social perspective. The cost of living and doing research in Nepal is very cheap compared to most of the world. The cost of research in social science frontiers, engineering, medical science and arts is very low in Nepal. In many cases, international researchers can save lots of money while working and doing research in Nepal.
The Ministries of Education, Science and Technology, and Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation are responsible for developing a policy that encourages international students, scholars, and researchers to come to Nepal for research and education. The ministries should create a new department to study academic tourism. The Nepal Tourism Board and the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology, and Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation should work together to develop a pilot programme to fund these types of academic tourism research programmes. They should develop a broader plan and policies to capture this new type of tourism for the country. The government will also need to create a more welcoming environment for foreign students and researchers. This will take the country to the next step in its academic tourism.
(The author is a senior biomedical cybersecurity engineer and a former major of Nepali Army, living in San Diego, California.)