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Sri Lanka

Higher Education


General Survey: Sri Lanka's university system is financed by the central government. Its Board of Governors includes the Vice-Chancellor; the Ministers of Education, Planning, and Finance; and the presidents of all the university campuses. The Board reviews the internal administration of the university system. University senates govern academic affairs, and a university president and board supervise each campus.

At the time of independence, the Ceylon Medical College, the Ceylon University College, and the science section of the Ceylon Technical College were merged to form the University of Ceylon (later the University of Sri Lanka). To accommodate the national requirements for increased education after the primary and secondary levels, however, new universities became necessary. A rapidly expanding population demanding higher educational opportunities led to the additional construction of university campuses at Peradeniya, Vidalankara, and Vidyodaya. These schools offer majors in languages, art, and Buddhist studies. A building campaign in the 1970s added new universities at Colombo, Katubedde, and Jaffna. The latter university was the first one in a Tamil region of Sri Lanka. In 1980, the Open University was added, along with two new universities at Ruhnne and Batticaloa. Curriculum emphasis is undergraduate education. Technical and teacher-training institutes were built to foster specialized training. In 1999, Sri Lanka added a university at Wayamba, which enrolls 11,324 students, or about 15 percent of the students who meet the minimum requirements for university entrance and 8 percent of the number of students who passed the GCE (A/L) examinations.

Tamils' complaints of preferential treatment in university placement to lower-scoring Sinahalese ended in the 1980s, when more places became available in an expanding higher education program. Tamils received increased opportunities to enter degree programs in general teacher training colleges for primary teacher training and specialist teacher training colleges for secondary teacher training, in addition to university programs leading education degrees, university programs culminating in the Ph.D., and degree programs at a polytechnic or technical institute. Among university admissions into degree programs in the arts, commerce and management, law, physical science, mathematics and statistics, bioscience, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, agriculture, engineering, architecture, and quantity surveying, 40 percent of acceptances are based exclusively on merit. District quotas select 55 percent of university applicants, and the remaining 5 percent of university entrants are admitted on the basis of educational disadvantages by district.

Competition for graduate degree programs in one of Sri Lanka's six post-graduate institutes has intensified. Five higher education institutes, the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Institute of Computer Technology, Institute of Indigenous Medicine, Campaha Wickramarachchi Aayurveda Institute, and the Institute of Workers' Education, provide additional higher education options. The Open University of Sri Lanka enrolled an additional 18,495 students in 1999, offering 10 degree programs and 31 diplomas. Private institutes in cooperation with foreign universities offer higher education programs in the fields of information technology, commerce, and business administration. The University Grants Commission and Sri Lanka universities offered scholarships to 5,700 students in 1999. Students not eligible for scholarships received limited funding from government bursaries.


Enrollment: During the 1990s, the number of universities in Sri Lanka increased from 9 universities enrolling 29,471 students with a teaching faculty of 2,040 in 1990 to 13 universities in 1999 matriculating 40,174 students with a teaching staff of 3,200. These data do not include higher education enrollments for the Open University. The number of university graduates increased from 4,522 students in 1990 to 6,758 students in 1998. For the year 1998, the 6,758 university graduates included 2,518 in arts and oriental studies, 1,180 in commerce and management, 171 in law, 1,110 in science, 551 in engineering, 812 in medicine, 42 in dental surgery, 250 in agriculture, 50 in veterinary science, 25 in architecture, and 49 in quantity surveying. All degree majors witnessed steady increases in graduates since 1990, except architecture, which demonstrated a steady decline during the 1990s.


Educational Reform: Government-directed university reforms focus on the expansion of the university system, curriculum reform, quality assurance, staff development, career guidance, counseling, and finance. All Sri Lankan universities have initiated action to reform existing curricula to accommodate a modular course unit system, which provides students with greater flexibility in selecting degree programs and individual courses. Continuous assessment will replace the final examination system traditionally used to evaluate academic progress. New academic faculty at the university level will be required to attend an induction course at staff development centers established at the Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Jaffna, Sabaragamuwa, and Sri Jayawardanapura. Six universities have already set up Career Guidance Units to link potential graduates with private-sector careers. The Sri Lankan government plans to increase the number of dormitories on university campuses to accommodate up to 75 percent of the student population.

Even though the central government is responsible for review of the university system, the adoption of reforms and the pace of reform are left to the individual school. Students are required to accept the reforms. The government is intent on improving the overall quality of the higher education system. In particular, the government plans to increase the number of university-industry links, with the hope of intensifying the study of advanced applied research with foreign universities, in order to challenge both the teaching staff and the students. An increased number of student exchange programs are being offered to expose students to university programs in other countries.


Technical Education & Vocational Training: Technical and vocational education includes the fields of engineering, commerce, business studies, and agriculture. Prevocational programs at the secondary level of education are designed to train students for acceptance into higher education in the above-identified fields. The number of technical institutes has increased to 20. Minimum age for admission is 17 years. Diploma and certificate courses from one to four years qualify graduates to certificates from craftsman to technician. Admission to these advanced programs requires the completion of the Higher National Certificate of Education or the GCE (A/L). Engineering, commerce, and business degree programs are offered at Sri Lanka's polytechnic institutes.

Recognizing the increased demand for graduates in technical and vocational fields, the government of Sri Lanka approved the creation of the Tertiary and Vocation Education Commission to prepare and publish plans for five priority industry sectors: gems and jewelry, construction, printing, textiles and garments, and hotel and tourism. Government funds were allocated to promote skill training at private sector industrial establishments at 33 locations. The Department of Technical Education and Training, a major provider of technical education and vocational training, increased its services to 36 technical colleges enrolling 16,170 students in 1999. The Sri Lankan Institute of Advanced Technical Education conducted higher-level courses in engineering, accounting, commerce, and agriculture for an additional 2,839 students. In rural areas the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) enrolled 21,092 students in different curricula programs.

It is expected that the VTA will expand its training facilities to 36 new sites and establish 6 new special vocational training centers. An additional 20,118 students were enrolled in the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority, studying over 180 courses. The National Institute of Technical Education was re-established in 1999 as an autonomous institute to effect teacher training and curriculum development in the technical and vocational fields. Over the next five years development funds from foreign governments will increase technical and vocational skill-development programs of study among the nation's population. The government of Sri Lanka intends to encourage the private sector to do more in the education and training of students in vocational fields.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSri Lanka - History Background, Constitution Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education