Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sri Lanka plans to liberalize higher education

Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa has backed a plan to liberalize university education and set up a mechanism to monitor and evaluate the quality of foreign and local higher education, an official said.

A proposal for a 'National policy framework on higher education and technical and vocational education' to revamp higher education, has been drawn up by Sri Lanka's policy-making National Education Commission (NEC).

"The commission wants to establish non-state degree awarding institutions," Dayantha Wijeyesekera, chairman of Sri Lanka Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission and member of the apex National Education Commission told reporters.

"The President has also given his consent, the President was happy with our proposals"

Since 1978, Sri Lanka's president has sweeping powers, which are controversial and there have been calls to trim them. The president won a second term in a landslide victory in January and the ruling coalition was returned to power in parliamentary polls in April.

Sri Lanka has had a state monopoly in degree awarding and attempts to break it grip have been resisted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Marxist-National party which has a strong grip in the state university system.

At present Sri Lanka's higher education system is limited to 15 state controlled universities and a handful of cross-border institutes which award foreign degrees and national vocational qualification institutions, Wijeyesekera said.

"I don't think that it (opening high education to private universities) can be limited to one discipline," Wijeyesekera said. "It will be open to all disciplines."

Liberalizing higher education would allow more opportunities for Sri Lankan students to gain a university degree.

At present Sri Lankan universities can only accommodate less than 10 percent of students who sit for advance level high school exams.

The crisis in the universities which are 'free' and funded by people's money reached a peak in 2004 when tens of thousands of graduates had to be given state jobs with lifetime pensions at tax payer expense.

He said the NEC has proposed to the government to set up a new body which will monitor and evaluate the quality of academia and syllabi in state and private higher education institutions.

"We have proposed to establish a national quality assurance centre (NQAC) to cover all areas of higher education and technical and vocational education in Sri Lanka," Wijeyesekera said.

"The president has agreed to this proposal as well."

Education in Sri Lanka now comes under three separate ministries, who will have to take the proposals forward.

"We don't have any authority to implement this, it's up to the respective ministries to do that," Wijeyesekera said.

"We want to implement this as soon as possible."

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