This week I’ve been in Kathmandu presenting my work on socio-technical systems at the IEEE’s ICSET conference. The focus of the conference is on power electronics for sustainable energy technologies, however there is also a wide variety of other sustainable energy related research being presented, such as a life cycle analysis of a solar charging kiosk in Rwanda and the mechanical design of a pico-hydro turbine for Nepal.
There delegates are mainly international as the £500 registration fee has unfortunately put off most Nepalis from attending. However there are some excellent contributions from Nepali researchers, some of whom are studying abroad but have come home to present their work. One of the first presenters is a Nepali girl studying in South Dakota and at the end of the talk a professor from Kathmandu Univeristy asks whether she will bring her new skills to Nepal, but she replies that she is hoping to work in the US.
The brain drain happens in many countries, such as Nepal, where the brightest young people cannot find the opportunities they want at home and head overseas. It is particularly a problem for KAPEG (the Kathmandu Alternative Power and Energy Group), who I will be visiting next week, as most of their staff have now left to study for Masters degrees or PhDs overseas, leaving only the newest members in Nepal (who also are hoping to soon be able to study overseas!). Some of them hope to return back to KAPEG and if they do then their new skills will really help the organisation, however the possibility of much better paid work overseas with a wider variety of opportunities may mean that they may never come back.
As part of the conference we get to visit Kathmandu University, which is not actually in Kathmandu, but instead is around an hour and a half to the east surrounded by rice paddies and forested mountains. It really is quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city and is quite a beautiful spot. I’m surprised to see quite a few scandanavians here, as there is some kind of exchange programme going. In fact the scandanavians seem to have quite close links with Nepal in general as most of the country’s hydro generators are Norwegian and a lot of the funds for KAPEG’s work comes from either Denmark or Norway. The conference is brought to a close with an outstanding performance of traditional Nepali music in the university’s department of music, located in a beautiful historical building on the way back to Kathmandu. I’m left feeling very jealous as this is probably the most spectacular university building I have ever seen – even better than ETH in Zurich!