In recent years, there has been sudden euphoria for higher education pursuits by Bhutanese beyond Bhutan to select dreamlands. Is this exodus inspired by the demand for graduates in public service or are there no carrying capacity and required study courses at the tertiary education facilities in Bhutan? Whosoever is still exploring external opportunities, I hope our adage “do not follow the herd like a blind horse crossing the river” will remind to do thorough research before embarking on the journey of unexplored ones.

At the height of Bhutanese migration for higher education, we have now our energetic and dynamic government that has just assumed the reign and is getting warmed up to curtail exodus by creating an enabling working environment. My own perspective is that outmigration will continue since we have perfect enabling push and pull factors although the volume may not be of similar rate. Some of the specific push and pull factors that need closer review to curtail but not put to an end are briefly highlighted as follows.


Overseas Universities Sustainability Strategies

To begin with, I feel that the major pull factor for our Bhutanese is the overseas universities’ enticement for international students for their survivability and sustainability. Circumstantial evidence indicates that when an applicant fulfills the minimum admission criterion, an admission offer letter is issued. It then invigorates to push further in achieving the next offer letter of confirmation of enrollment.

This is where the International Relations Office plays a crucial proactive role with their Schools/ Faculties / Departments in liaising since the tuition fee of a minimum of USD 15000 per semester along with the required overseas health insurance scheme are deposited with ease. Yet on the contrary, a mere USD 600 tuition fees per semester in our own universities in Bhutan have often raised eyebrows for the unaffordability.

However, what we need to rethink is to explore an admission offer from more reputed and established universities since we pay thousands of dollars per semester. For instance, admission to G8 Universities in Australia would be a choice although I do not demean the rest universities that equally offer quality university programmes.

If Bhutanese are migrating for higher education, can Bhutan too strategies a pull factor for international students through national planning? Experiences of hosting international students in Bhutan already indicate that Bhutan is a preferred destination for education with political stability and an ideal learning environment.  But then do we need it to entice to attract international students for our university sustainability? Perhaps an independent Foreign Direct Investment University in Bhutan could be one alternative strategy in addition to the existing higher education providers.


Availability of Financial Support within Bhutan

The next equally important push factor is the availability of educational loans from the Banks in Bhutan to support study abroad. That is why my colleague who was contesting for his second term as a Member of Parliament was right in saying in his recent election debate that Bhutanese should go out, earn, return, and invest in Bhutan. In the past, Bhutanese have travelled to dreamland universities mainly through scholarships. There was also non-availability of university education in the past two decades in Bhutan. Therefore, there would be a limited number of Bhutanese who have availed education loans to pursue higher education in the third country. The dearth of graduate human resource requirements was not prominent four decades ago since we needed more doers than thinkers. That is why the push factor to pursue a university education was not so significant despite opening doors for education to dreamland nations like Australia after becoming a member of the Colombo Plan in 1962.

Had the Banks in Bhutan not come forward to facilitate in disbursing the educational loan, the push factor to migrate for higher education would simply be near impossible for many deserving Bhutanese. The Banks in Bhutan have therefore found a safe investment in educational loans since non-performing loans would be negligible. Interestingly, the Banks also facilitate the Special Loan required for visa application and overseas health cover at exorbitant short-term interest. This enabling push factor has not deterred Bhutanese aspirants even when the loan amounts are significant for repayment. Should the government still want the Banks to support the educational loan, perhaps the area of intervention required is the substantial interest rate charged. It appears to me unrealistic the interest rate charged for the Special Loan support. As a corporate social responsibility of the Banks, the interest rate of the Special Lon support may be lowered.


Bhutanese Resilience and Adeptness

Furthermore, there is something to admire about the sturdiness of Bhutanese in adapting to plus 40 degrees Celsius in Australia to minus 40 degrees Celsius in Canada and the United Kingdom. If we look at the proficiency of Bhutanese in excelling in the highest university awards like PhD degrees from Asia, America, Australia, and Europe, it already indicates that we have a solid and credible education foundation in Bhutan. This gives the push factor to explore for university education in these dreamlands.

However, increasingly instead of choosing trustworthy and reliable universities, chances are there to overlook due to the resilient nature of Bhutanese to any university’s programmes. For instance, university pedagogies are now increasingly tailored to the students’ needs and welfare. Yet if the government still wants to facilitate Bhutanese outmigration for higher education, perhaps the choice of dreamland universities may be one area to look at. In the past, many Bhutanese have availed PhD degrees from the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, and Sydney University in Australia which is a testimony of adeptness to these elite universities. Of course, these universities’ global rank does not carry any significance to public servants in Bhutan at present.

Since many Bhutanese still avail postgraduate degrees in Australia, Canada, and the UK, these dreamlands also offer part-time work opportunities for earning while learning. Consequently, many of their friends and family have either moved away earlier or are in the process of doing so, which has an impact on decisions through the advice they offer and serves as a deterrent as well as an incentive.

The mushrooming of educational placement firms is also equally playing a significant role in out-migrating Bhutanese to the destined dreamland. We also have better advantages of proficient English language when compared to the region that motivates us to apply for and secure university admission.


Economic Opportunities in the Dreamland

The primary reason for outmigration is an opportunity to earn while learning too. Much has been discussed on this topic and I prefer to refrain from further opinion. If paid working opportunities for university students are available in dreamland nations, perhaps similar opportunities for hourly paid jobs could be explored and experimented with even in Bhutan with an adequate and reasonable hourly payment system. That would mean both the quality and quantity of work need to align with the hourly wage rate instead of the daily wage rate. Perhaps our energy-drenched professional nurses and teachers could be restored when such drastic economic opportunities are created within too.


Enabling Immigration Policies of Dreamland

Many advanced nations base their immigration policies based on their carrying capacity and labour shortages for their economic growth. That is why certain professions are more preferred than others in the dreamland. Yet, a ceiling of immigrants is fixed to accommodate within projected housing facilities. The postgraduate student visa is normally a multiple-entry category and a working visa for prescribed hours for students and spouses. Such enabling opportunities are the push factor to migrate for economic opportunities. There are further enabling immigration opportunities to stay longer and work that pushes further to migrate even after completion of the university education.

While work opportunities for international students in Bhutan are not foreseen, facilitating enabling visa and route permits through the country during their study period in Bhutan would be appropriate. Bhutan offers an ideal educational hub for any foreign direct investment for the university establishment. But can we align international students’ visas and route permit facilities for academic research to the field sites as and when required to travel without reapplying from the registered study campus?


Contributed by Phanchung

(PhD UniMelb)

Bhutan Himalayan Research Initiatives (BHRI)

+975 17350184

Disclaimer: The views expressed are of the author and are not associated with any institution.