“KUSOM will soon be equipped to offer a specialisation on trade in Nepal”

A researcher and an academician on business, Prof Roshee Lamichhane offers us insight into Nepal's university-led research landscape, KUSOM's industry-university linkage and addressing skill gap and an overview of implication of Nepal's retention problem

By Pallavi Maheshwari |

Roshee Lamichhane is the Assistant Professor of Marketing and the Placement Coordinator at Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM). 

Having started her professional journey as a business development manager for Chaudhary Group and then joining its education vertical, Roshee later joined KUSOM in 2015 as a lecturer. Four years later, she was promoted to the role of assistant professor, and presently, teaches consumer behaviour as a part of the Marketing and Entrepreneurship department. Roshee also looks after placement for BBA and MBA students and is engaged in several research works.

Earlier, Roshee graduated with an MBA from Osmania University, Hyderabad and completed her MPhil at KUSOM. 

Currently she is a PhD student at Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand where her thesis is based in the area of consumer behaviour that explores why consumers discontinue the use of digital products such as apps after having used it once.

Roshee holds interest in writing and contributes a monthly opinion piece for The Kathmandu Post and hopes more females will take up writing in their professional journey in the coming days. 

How is research important for the private and public sector? As a centre of knowledge, how is KUSOM catering to the industry needs for research?

As a researcher, academics explore different questions in a specific sector/industry and expand their industry’s body of knowledge, which the private and public sector could use to make better decisions and enhance their efficiency.

For example, ‘Why is employee’s productivity lower in public organisations?’ What is the relationship between training and development opportunities with employee productivity?” The overarching objective would be to explore ‘relationship between training and development with employees’ performance?’ which would provide evidence to the public or private sector to make informed and better decisions.

Recently, we studied the advertising effectiveness among the 500 youths of Kathmandu for Nepal Telecom that would be helpful in making their next campaign decisions.

Roshee at a session on market research

Another research KUSOM has undertaken is 'Digital Literacy for Women'. We've made gender dimension an integral component of our projects because it is important for the socio-economic development of the country including private sector growth.

We are now part of the WTO Chairs Prorgram (WCP) with focus on Nepal’s trade policy making which will be immensely beneficial for Nepal's private sector.

It's a broader understanding that more women are using digital devices but are they making productive use? Using a digital device is not equivalent to digital literacy. It's tricky. It can be misleading.

Can you shed more light on the program?

The WCP is a four-year long project that aims to enhance the expertise of academic institutions on WTO related overall themes and issues through extensive research, capacity development initiatives and also by carrying out outreach activities that are aligned to Nepal’s trade policy making.

KUSOM, along with other 17 universities across the globe, will be implementing phase three of WTO Chairs Program (WCP) for the next four years (2022-2026). There are three pillars of interventions — curriculum development and teaching, research, capacity building and outreach.

Roshee at the launching of WCP Chair Programme in Nepal

Firstly, WCP is mainly focused on trade and sustainability and with its assistance, KUSOM will soon be equipped to offer a specialisation on trade in Nepal. 

Secondly, we are calling papers and organising international conferences. The first international conference is on ‘Trade Openness, Economic Development and Economic Sustainability’ scheduled for March 7-8 2023.

Thirdly, research areas would be largely related to domestic and international trade ranging from digital trade to barriers to women in trade and more. 

On capacity building and outreach activities, we have started with a bootcamp for scaling up women-owned enterprises in collaboration with Lalitpur Metropolitan City.

How can universities encourage good research in collaboration with the government and private sector? What are the challenges?

One of the sets of interactions between the industry (private sector), academia (universities) and government is by coming together for and through research. The government plays the role of facilitation, universities carry out research, and private sectors are the users. Sometimes, industry and government can have a reverse role too.

Across the world, universities are authentic bodies of knowledge. They then disseminate the knowledge in the form of a lecture, research publication, or journals. The ultimate beneficiaries are the government and industry as well as students who are the future leaders across disciplines.

Yet the value of data and research remains low across Nepal's private sector and government, who usually view research as a cost rather than an investment. Research institutions on the other hand face funding deficits. In lack of funding, it eats away institutions. 

From what I understand, prominent research institutions — Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA), Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), The Research Centre for Applied Science and Technology (RECAST), and Research Centre for Educational Innovation and Development (CERID) — all are facing funding gaps.

If institutions are not supported, academics will be drawn to individual consulting resulting in institutions becoming ineffective. 

So it's important government plays a larger role in strengthening universities’ research capabilities to enable them produce high-quality research. For this, generous public funding is absolutely necessary, but research grants are limited while there are only a few universities. 

As for academia, there is excess dependency on western philosophies and theories, which are preventing exploration of homegrown theories based on local consumer attitude, perceptions, behaviour and culture. Universities must also focus on strong research practices to enhance trust in research work and devise incentive mechanisms for faculty members to produce quality research output. 

In all, the ecosystem is not ready because it does not see value. Establishing a research culture is about creating an ecosystem where sponsors (or funding agency), researchers, and clients value the research output and use it for decision making.

Can you shed light on some of the research works you’ve undertaken vis-a-vis businesses in Nepal and their findings? What challenges did you face during the course of research?

One key challenge is scanty literature on many important issues, so it becomes challenging to begin a research work. Dearth of data is another key challenge. Whether business establishments or government data, they are either unavailable, inaccessible, untimely or unreliable. For any individual or researcher, there is a personal understanding about issues but without data, one can’t validate it.

In 2020, I researched about digitalisation in entrepreneurship — whether digitalisation is helping Nepal’s entrepreneurs. It was a mix method study based on in-person key informant interviews of 20 entrepreneurs and a survey of another 155 entrepreneurs spread across the seven provinces. My work found out that while digitalisation is an enabler for entrepreneurs, there are many challenges to fostering digitalisation — legal, operational, institutional and personal barriers. 

I further tried to research through gender perspective on challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, but got stuck there due to data constraints. I am still continuing the work though. 

When it comes to digitalisation, it is about ‘four As’ — accessibility, affordability, availability and acceptability. For women to get into the digital world, they face barriers in all the elements. 

Let's take women from a certain geographical region or a group or marginalised community who may not be able to access digital devices or mediums when compared to some other part. The assumption would be that women from Karnali province would fare badly when using digital devices or unable to own a device in the first place.

But again to argue on such assumptions, there has to be data.

I wish more graduates would take a shot at startups. It’s important. Young people can take the risk to experiment and fail, but I notice a sense of hesitation.

On the other hand, focusing and speaking to women entrepreneurs inside and outside the valley, think tanks, women centric federations, say FWEAN, one of the core focuses everywhere is to provide digital literacy.

So, it's a broader understanding that more women are using digital devices but are they making their productive use? Using a digital device is not equivalent to digital literacy. It's tricky. It can be misleading. There is no data or research to support how many women have access, how many are digitally literate, what are the barriers, and more. So, researchers are compelled to base their work on assumptions, talking to people, or using old sources like census.

But it also means there is a large scope for much research. 

Private sector has been complaining about skill gaps among graduates — having theoretical knowledge but lack of soft and other needed technical skills. Let’s talk about industry-university linkage and skill gaps.
At KUSOM, placements are handled in a different way unlike in many of the business schools who outsource it. Our annual job fairs for student-industry interaction are led by students, where we invite a large number of companies. 60 companies participated in our last event (August 2022). Firms provide insight and feedback based on students' employability when they don’t hire right away.

KUSOM annual job fair

When it comes to graduates’ qualities and skills relating to employability, of course there are gaps.

Companies are looking for a wide range of skills — from basic to advanced technical skills to necessary soft skills. Some companies expect the graduates to ‘excel in excel’, some look for basic software skills while some for skills and knowledge on research-oriented software, coding and programming, which are not part of our curriculum. At KUSOM, we provide courses on excel and other quantitative tools and techniques. For instance, we have started a course on R. While some skills are missing, some are there but they cannot acquire and hone all of that during their college days. Universities also have their own limitations. 

Meanwhile, some industries are moving ahead a bit rapidly, and looking for a certain skill set before hiring. It would be great if the industry could strongly emphasise industry-specific skill sets.

At the university level, we try our best to minimise and mitigate those gaps. As a part of the placement cell, we organise regular industry discussion series to gain insights on industry practices and development, inform students of existing opportunities and help them choose appropriate specialisation. 

Faculties must consider students’ behavioural and foundational dimension — their socio-economic and cultural background and attitude and motivation — while designing and teaching their course.

Kathmandu University also adds value to its curriculum by taking expert industry advice and students’ feedback. Being an autonomous and self-funding university, making curriculum changes is much easier for us when compared to public universities. That allows us room to develop and design curriculum, incorporating relevant theories and practical applications, suitable for a range of students.

Beyond that, it has become really crucial faculties consider students’ behavioural and foundational dimension — their socio-economic and cultural background and attitude and motivation — while designing and teaching their course.

Are graduates venturing into entrepreneurship or joining industry? What's your observation?

Being a business school, KUSOM has its own business incubation centre. ‘Sajilo Sewa’ which recently secured Rs 100 million investment from True North Associates, a PEVC firm, started under our incubation. 

What I want to point out is that the startup culture has potential. A lot of businesses are getting into the digital space. Mobile, internet and social media penetration is growing strong. However, the track record of graduates opting for startups isn’t impressive. We do not have data as to how many students are engaged in their own ventures or startups, but considering that large number of students opt for placements suggests that the number is small. Similarly, only two ventures started at our incubator.

While only few startups succeed globally, the slow growth and development of and inclination towards Nepal’s startup culture has mainly to do with inadequate industry support, political hurdles, absence of required laws and policies and unfriendly startup ecosystem for young graduates. For instance, the draft E-commerce Bill has been languishing at the parliament for the last two years. Starting a business is still difficult given the procedural hassles while managing funding is equally challenging.

As an academician and analysing from socio-economic perspective, the young generation is one of the best resources a country can have. Missing out on them will hit the nation hard in the future. It already is.

Students are instead either opting for abroad opportunities or high paying or stable jobs in the country which is a natural inclination. Many find charm in public sector employment because they are stable. Students prepare for Loksewa wanting to land a job with the Central Bank (Nepal Rastra Bank) or other government jobs.

Private sector is more about IT companies, outsourcing, offshoring and international placements. Our graduates are in Unilever, Cloudfactory, Home Loan Experts Nepal, Daraz and Deerwalk because the pay and work culture is comparatively better.

I wish more graduates would take a shot at startups. It’s important. Young people can take the risk to experiment and fail, but I notice a sense of hesitation. 

Although several events are happening across Nepal for pitching ideas but what after that. Graduates need strong mentorship and handholding in early days to scale up their ideas but that's missing. Although KUSOM offers courses on entrepreneurship and innovation and has its own incubation centre, the results aren’t impressive when it comes to building that entrepreneurial spirit and intention and producing more startup founders. For this, university, government and private sector must converge to improve the ecosystem. 

There are many family-owned businesses here. Are students who come from business backgrounds joining family business?

You reminded me of our research work ‘family-owned businesses’ (FAB). We found out that the second and third generation are disenchanted from their family businesses for a number of reasons, mainly stemming from younger generations’ disinterest in staying in the country or due to family's inclination towards traditional way of doing businesses, lack of succession planning among the older generation and their hesitation to provide leeway to the newer generation.

You mentioned students are ‘either opting for abroad opportunities’. How do you evaluate this rising trend?

Considering the present rate of outbound migration for study and employment opportunities, I find a near-future possibility of a large pool of a young generation across all the income strata ‘missing’.

I can say this based on national data and my professional experience. As a professor, I’d love to see my students get the best universities and opportunities, and I am happy to write them recommendation letters but one student would seek over four letters to apply to as many as countries. But when I inquire with them if they’d return, the usual response is ‘No’.

Multiple domestic factors have contributed to this tendency — limited opportunities on knowledge and skill development and employment, lower earnings, poor market, rising prices, continuous political turmoil and poor governance and resulting lack of sense of future security.

As an academician and analysing from socio-economic perspective, the young generation is one of the best resources a country can have and missing out on them will hit the nation hard in the future. It already is.

Pallavi Maheshwari is a lawyer by profession. She is currently a researcher/writer at the_farsight.

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