In this Inbound Insight series article, we look at the rising number of students from Nepal choosing to study abroad, and explore what this cohort looks for in student accommodation based on data gathered through the Global Student Living Index.

Outbound numbers

UNESCO figures show that the number of students from Nepal travelling abroad to study has more than doubled from 44,255 in 2017 to 95,268 in 2022.

Outbound destinations

Of the 95,268 outbound students from Nepal studying abroad in 2022, 40,752 (42.77%) students studied in Australia, 18,436 (19.35%) students studied in Japan, 13,574 (14.24%) in India and 12,660 (13.28%) in the USA. Other popular destinations for students from Nepal include Cyprus, Korea, Germany and the United Kingdom, although these cohorts are much smaller with numbers ranging between 1200-2,400. Nepal is the third-largest sender of students to Australia and Japan.

What’s contributing to this growth?

Demand for universities in Nepal far outstrips supply – Nepal did not open its first university until 1986. While today there are twelve universities in Nepal, many of these are small and in poor condition, and lack the capacity to service the number of students demanding higher education. As a result, Nepal’s outbound mobility ratio – the number of students from a given country studying abroad, expressed as a percentage of total tertiary enrolment – is a massive 21.6%. This is 10 times more than the ratio for China (2.2%) and 15 times more than the ratio for India (1.4%)

Nepalese students view international universities as more likely to prepare them for the workplace than Nepalese universities. Nepal’s youth unemployment rate is high, sitting around 19%, with an estimated 400,000 young people entering the labour force each year.

Australian visa refusal rates continue to be high

The proportion of offshore student visa applicants from Nepal who are refused an Australian student visa remains high. Department of Home Affairs data shows that of the 12,957 Nepalese student visa applications received from outside Australia in the six-month period between 1 July – 31 December 2022, just over half (50.3%) were granted, a significant decline from a grant rate of 75.8% in the same period in 2021.

Although vocational education and training (VET) student visa applications have traditionally experienced lower grant rates than higher education visa applications, these rates have experienced a particularly sharp decline for applicants from Nepal. Nepalese offshore VET visa applications had a grant rate of just 16.4% in the six-month period between 1 July-31 December 2022, compared with 74.3% in the same period in 2021. Higher education visa approvals have fared better, with 66.3% of higher education visa offshore applicants granted between 1 July-31 December 2022, ten percentage points lower than the approval rate in 2021.

Although visa refusal rates are higher, the total number of Nepalese students applying for an Australian student visa means the actual number has grown, a trend that some suggest is linked to Australia’s more relaxed work rights for students. It appears that at least for now, higher visa refusal rates are not impacting the growth of the Nepalese market in Australia. Australian Department of Education data shows that in 2022, 57,182 Nepalese students studied in Australia. This figure represents a 26% growth on the previous year, and a higher number than the 53,526 Nepalese students who studied in Australia in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Priorities for students from Nepal

Students from Nepal are likely to prioritise taking courses in areas of skills shortages given the challenges graduates face in obtaining employment, and the well-documented interest of Nepalese young people in emigration. 

The right to work while studying is a critical factor for Nepalese students, who generally need to do so in order to manage their finances. Post-study work visa options are also likely to be a key influence for Nepalese students when deciding where to study abroad.

Data from the latest Global Student Living Index (2022 Q4) shows that compared to most international students, Nepalese students will decide where to study with less of a focus on location and extra-curricular offer, and more of a focus on the academic reputation of the university (85% ‘Very important’ vs 75%) and the course (81% ‘Very important’ vs 76%).

Nepalese students are highly price sensitive and generally select accommodation amongst the lowest price points in the market. Unlike for most international students, budget / price is the single biggest decision-making factor for Nepalese students (87% vs 61%) with kitchen size and facilities being much more important to these students than most internationals (71% vs 57%).

Further evidence of financial pressure is revealed in the issues students say they struggle with to the extent that it has an impact on their studies. For Nepalese students, managing their budget is the top struggle, impacting 47% of them.

The decision about where to live is more frequently made independently (without help from a family member) than is the case with most international students (42% vs 33%), and Nepalese students rely even more on university websites than most (66% vs 56%). They are much less likely to rely on general web searches (24% vs 39%) or online reviews and feedback (10% vs 21%) than most international students.

Targeting the lowest-cost accommodation means Nepalese students generally show lower satisfaction scores across the board, scoring their accommodation at an NPS of +3 vs the typical international student score of +18. One positive exception to this is in the social experience, where Nepalese students appear to thrive. More than 9 in 10 (92%) say they get on ‘really well’ with others in their accommodation, and 82% say they have formed close friendships within just a few weeks of arrival, compared to 66% of international students as a whole.