This Bachelor’s degree programme at Lumbini Buddhist University takes a whole new dimension to utilise opportunities in Buddhist pilgrimage and travel.
--BY BIJAYA LAXMI DUWAL
The last few years have seen some major activities being undertaken to promote Nepal among the world’s Buddhists and people of other faiths as the birthplace of Gautam Buddha whose major teachings of truth, non-violence and tolerance have become even more important in this age of uncertainty and upheavals. Initiatives such as the planned Greater Lumbini Buddhist Circuit to connect all Buddhist heritage sites across the country and the ongoing construction of the Gautam Buddha International Airport have indicated that the country is gradually moving on the right track, albeit slowly, to realise the potential in Buddhist tourism.
However, there is a lack of academic programmes to produce the required human resources for this religious tourism. In a bid to fulfill this gap, Lumbini Buddhist University (LBU) has started to integrate management and tourism courses in Buddhist studies. LBU has been running a Bachelor in Buddhism, Travel and Tourism Management (BBTTM) degree since 2017 with an aim to produce skilled people equipped with the Buddhist spiritual philosophy. “Nepali students of travel, tourism and hospitality at least need to have plentiful knowledge about Gautam Buddha and his teachings and need to be capable of sharing those philosophies to foreigners with a view of promoting our tourism. BBTTM is aimed at developing such a capacity among students,” says Dilip Bhattarai, academic coordinator at LBU.
About the Programme
BBTTM is a four-year programme designed to instill knowledge of Buddhist management and develop tourism skills among the students who are required to complete 120 credits over eight semesters. They study six semesters on a regular basis and are engaged in research work and internships during the last two semesters. BBTTM students are required to study fundamental courses related to travel and tourism as well as Buddhist ethics in hospitality. This includes core Buddhism courses such as Buddhism and Nepalese Society, Cultural Tourism and Buddhism, and Tourism. Likewise, the management courses of the BBTTM include Tourism Geography, Economics of Tourism, Travel Trade Operation, Tourism Hospitality Accounting, Corporate Communication, Cargo Management, Heritage Tourism, Entrepreneurship in Travel and Tourism, Hotel Operation Management, Tourism Legislation, Air Ticketing, Human Resource Management in Tourism, Tourism Crisis and Disaster Management etc. Similarly, elective courses include Sustainable Tourism, Pilgrimage Tourism, Accommodation Management, Airline Operation Management and Tourism Planning Policy. According to Bhattarai, the core or compulsory courses of BBTTM help students develop the quantitative reasoning skills they will need for today’s travel and tourism.
LBU had held interaction programmes with experts from Tribhuvan University, Mid-Western University and Pokhara University and international universities to formulate the BBTTM programme. “We also studied the demand of human resources in Buddhist tourism in the domestic hospitality and tourism sector. We tried to find out what local tourism entities and travel agencies have been seeking,” mentions Bhattarai, adding, “To address the demands and expectations of entrepreneurs, we designed the BBTTM course in such a way that the programme can produce the required resources for the Nepali tourism market.”
BBTTM graduates have access to a wide range of opportunities from local to international levels enabling them to work as skilled professionals or start their own tourism ventures. They will be able to handle international tourist service operations including, managing and planning of tours, treks and rafting programmes, domestic and international air ticketing, among others. Moreover, LBU which has been in collaboration with different organisations assures BBTTM students of the opportunities in the sector. “We take admissions by guaranteeing jobs to each and every student,” claims Bhattarai. According to him, LBU has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Gautam Buddha International Airport for a one year internship. Likewise, it has also signed MoUs with several hotels as well for internships. Meanwhile, it has also collaborated with universities in Thailand and Australia for the purpose.
LBU offers both theoretical and practical classes to BBTTM students. They are required to attend 90 percent theoretical classes and 10 percent practical classes until the 6th semester. For site visits, the students are taken to different hotels, restaurants and tourism spots where they interact with entrepreneurs and locals. The teaching method at LBU includes specified lectures, case preparations/study, group discussions, problem solving exercises, audio-visual interpretations, seminars, classes by guest lecturers, practical work, book reviews, industrial attachment, field work/investigations and student exchange programmes, among others. According to Bhattarai, lecturers from Soai University of Japan, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka, Jinan University of China and universities from Thailand, United Kingdom and Australia are invited to LBU to conduct classes on different subjects for two months. The university also lets students from different districts of Province No. 5 to do internships in their respective districts. “Students of the first batch of BBTTM who are currently studying in the 6th semester will be going to Thailand this year,” says Bhattarai. According to him, the syllabus is also updated periodically to keep up with the changing demands in the tourism sector. “In just three years, we have been working to update the syllabus,” says Bhattarai. The students are evaluated through continuous internal assessments and formal examinations.
LBU announces admissions for BBTTM generally in August every year. Students who have passed +2 level or equivalent in any discipline with a minimum 45 percent or CGPA 2.0 are eligible for admission. In each intake, the university offers 40 seats whereby applicants should pass an entrance test and an interview in order to enroll in the programme.
Fee Structure and Scholarship
The total cost of the BBTTM is Rs 258,500. A 33 percent scholarship is provided to students from marginalised communities while the entrance topper gets a full scholarship. Since LBU is supported by the province government, one student from each of the 12 districts of Province No. 5 is provided a scholarship from the provincial government. “Of the total 40 students, more than 25 students usually get scholarships at LBU,” says Bhattarai.
Buddhist Tourism in Nepal
As the birthplace of three Buddhas-Shakyamuni Gautam Krakuchhanda and Konayamana-Nepal receives every year a significant number of foreigners from Asia, the western hemisphere and elsewhere who go to Lumbini and key Buddhist shrines scattered across the country. For ages, visitors from countries where Buddhism is regarded as a state religion or Buddhists are the largest populace, Nepal’s sacred sites, particularly Lumbini, have remained must-go places. In the first seven months of 2019, Nepal recorded 188,539 visitors from countries including, Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, a majority of whom came here for pilgrimage purposes. The number has been on a constant rise for the last few years; in 2018, a total of 245,338 visitors from the above mentioned countries visited Nepal, which was an increment of 25 percent from 2017. However, the people coming to Nepal for Buddhist pilgrimage and other visits are a small fraction of the world’s total Buddhist population of 244 million.