The first steps to establish foreign university branches and private universities in Sri Lanka will be taken in 2023, bringing a glimmer of hope to the Sri Lankan education sector, which was hard hit by last year’s political upheavals – which saw the detention of hundreds of students – and the country’s debilitating economic crisis reports University World News.
Foreign university branches
The proposed reintroduction of foreign university branches, which is expected to earn foreign currency through international student fees, represents a ray of hope for the higher education sector.
During the interim budget speech in parliament, Wickremesinghe proposed to facilitate the establishment of branch campuses in Sri Lanka, including those geared towards the study of medicine. The Sri Lanka government is planning to provide all facilities through the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, the country’s investment promotion agency.
“Sri Lanka needs to encourage private investment to provide educational opportunities to foreign students. Many countries in the world have opened educational opportunities to foreign students in a manner to build their foreign reserves. In the South Asian region, Bangladesh, India and Nepal have already opened up their countries to foreign students to build up their foreign reserves,” the president said.
He went on to say that by setting up foreign university branches in Sri Lanka, the country could earn US$10 billion in foreign exchange annually through international student fees.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Higher Education Dr Suren Raghavan said the government was planning to set up branches of five internationally recognised universities in Sri Lanka in the next three years. Among these are two universities from the United States, two from the United Kingdom and one from Australia.
According to leading student migration consultancy agencies in Sri Lanka, increasing numbers of Sri Lankan students have been going abroad for higher education since early last year, taking valuable financial resources with them. Sri Lanka has only 17 state universities admitting only 42,000 students annually out of the 350,000 who sit A-level examinations every year. Limited university capacity means many young people miss out on the opportunity for higher education.
Several attempts by previous governments to introduce private universities and branches failed due to student resistance. A proposed private university bill put forward by the Rajapaksa government was withdrawn in 2012 because of student opposition.
Similarly, the Free Investment Zones proposal, a project for higher education privatisation, also failed due to student resistance.