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Sri Lanka opens university system to foreign investors

The Sri Lankan government has outlined plans to open up its higher education system to private overseas investors. It aims to attract 50,000 international students and 10 foreign university campuses by 2020, starting with a UCLAN campus opening in September 2015.

Entrance to South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, one of the 15 public universities in the country

Currently Sri Lanka has around 3,000 international students hailing mostly from Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Thailand

“Sri Lanka’s strategic location, national ambition and culture make it an ideal location as an international hub for higher education and we are hopeful of helping to unlock the intellectual and academic abilities in the area,” a UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire) representative told The PIE News.

“The President has a long-term vision to be ‘the miracle of South Asia’ by 2020. We want to be an international hub of excellence in education”

Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne, Secretary for Sri Lanka’s Higher Education Ministry, told The PIE News: “The President has a long-term vision to be ‘the miracle of South Asia’ or ‘the wonder of South Asia’ by 2020. We want to be an international hub of excellence in education.”

Currently Sri Lanka has around 3,000 international students hailing mostly from Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Thailand and each year around 11,000 Sri Lankan students study overseas.

Among confirmed universities that will set up campuses in Sri Lanka are Singapore’s Raffles College, India’s Manipal University. A new Japanese university is also in the pipeline, based on the Japan Sri Lanka Friendship Association, to be funded by the Japanese government.

Navaratne explained that the Sri Lankan government is struggling to expand its own university system further without seeking overseas investment, due to the fact it has 15 publicly funded universities, and it feels privatising the university system will benefit the country.

Sri Lanka hopes to make higher education one of its six biggest exports in future alongside tourism, aviation, naval bases, energy and research hubs.

“We are opening up our market for the good quality higher education institutes,” Navartne said. “At the same time we have to regulate for quality, therefore we’re going to introduce a qualification framework, policy and accreditation system for our country and we are in the process of developing the legal framework for those institutes.”

Navartne believes a competitive advantage Sri Lanka has is its “cost effective” quality for students, regarding cost of living and tuition fees.

“We can offer very cost-effective packages. For example, if a foreign student comes to Sri Lanka we charge only $12,000 a year compared to $40,000 in other countries,” he told The PIE News.

The plans to attract overseas private universities have also attracted some criticism. The Business Standard has reported that critics fear the Sri Lankan government should be primarily investing in its public university system before investing in overseas privatisation of its higher education framework.

Navartne responded to the criticism by saying that Sri Lanka has seen much improvement since it privatised its hospitals, schools and banks.

“The benefits of overseas investors will advance Sri Lanka as a nation and increase our global ties. There is much to learn from overseas educational institutions and it is important for universities to be competitive in order to be world leaders in education and research,” he said.

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