Demographic shift at Sherubtse hampers businesses in Trashigang

Demographic shift at Sherubtse hampers businesses in Trashigang

The decrease in student enrollment at Sherubtse College for the 2024 academic year has had a pronounced effect on the local businesses of Kanglung, a community that has thrived as an educational hub. This downturn is attributed to a significant reduction in the student body, with around 300 fewer students than in previous years. The ripple effect of this decline has been felt most acutely by the local businesses that have historically depended on the patronage of students and college staff.

The impact on businesses has been stark. One restaurant and grocery store operator reported a significant downturn in business, directly correlating this decline with the reduced number of students. This sentiment is mirrored by Tashi Phuntsho, another shopkeeper, who pointed out the direct dependency of their business on the college’s student population. The consensus among local business owners is clear: the drop in student numbers has directly led to a decrease in their revenues.

The underlying cause of this decline in student numbers can be traced back to the college’s strategic decision to discontinue certain academic programs. In an effort to streamline its offerings and align with national development priorities, Sherubtse College has phased out several courses in both the Arts and Humanities and Science fields, including BA programs in Dzongkha and English, Media Studies, History, Population and Development Studies, and BSc programs in Geography, Environmental Science, Computer Science, and Statistics.

Students who were already enrolled in these programs were faced with a choice: transition to a different program offered by the college or complete their current program before it was completely phased out. This decision reflects a broader strategic realignment within the college, focusing on areas of high demand and national importance. However, the immediate consequence of this shift has been a decrease in student enrollment, which has, in turn, adversely affected the local businesses reliant on the college community.

Kinley Dorji, serving as the Trashigang Dzongkhag Economic Development Officer, highlighted the administrative challenges in mitigating the impact of this declining population. With the local economy intertwined with the fortunes of the college, Kinley suggests that businesses may need to rethink their operational strategies to withstand these demographic shifts. This trend of declining populations is not isolated to the college but is indicative of a broader demographic shift affecting the Trashigang Dzongkhag at large.

Kanglung Gup Kinzang Dorji acknowledges the severity of the situation, with some shop owners reaching a point of desperation. However, he maintains a hopeful outlook for the future, believing in the community’s resilience and the eventual identification of strategies to rejuvenate the local market.

The long-term impact of these changes remains to be seen, both for the college and the Kanglung community, and Trashigang town at large.

By Sangay Rabten, Thimphu