Regulation of tertiary education

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Do the private tertiary education institutes know the difference between a B.Sc. (Hons.) and the B.Sc. degree or the different levels of credits, pedagogical depths and the rigour required for such degrees? Hence this is one area where attention should be paid for the hierarchal structure of the degrees offered by state universities as well as foreign universities in Sri Lanka – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara 

The unregulated tertiary education industry in Sri Lanka clearly affects the forward march of the country. When the industry continues without proper regulations and qualification assessment criteria, there would be an inadequate level of educated people to enable the country to progress. From a different perspective, the competition and the challenges faced by the corporate sector and the public sector in this VUCA world becoming unreasonable and bestial day by day. 

In order to meet such challenges, universities and the institutes should impart the required knowledge, the skills such as conceptual, analytical, problem solving and communication not only to meet the global challenges, but also to overcome them and to take their organisations to greater heights. When such required competitive competences encapsulating the knowledge, skills and the abilities are not imparted and inculcated to the under-graduates and the post-graduates, especially the postgraduates, how can they be expected to take the leadership roles to take their companies to greater heights? They possess the certificate but not the competences.

Hence the exigency to regulate, assess and rank the mushrooming institutes offering various degrees and postgraduate degrees in Sri Lanka has become of paramount importance. The present status of the tertiary education industry in Sri Lanka is such that most of the MBAs offered by mushrooming and ‘fly by night’ institutes are not MBAs but they are ‘mbas’ (mutually beneficial agreements). As the tertiary education industry is unregulated and in the absence of proper quality assurance and assessment mechanisms, students simply ‘buy’ their qualifications instead of earning them. As a result, they have the MBA certificate, but lack the expected knowledge at Masters’ level. In other words, there is no difference in the level of knowledge, the skills and the abilities, before embarking on an MBA program and upon completion of an MBA program. 

Careful analysis of the industry reveals that there are about 130 institutes offering various types of degrees from diploma level to doctoral level in Sri Lanka and only very few institutes have not compromised the quality of their Degrees and MBAs. There is a marked difference between the MBAs produced by such reputed institutes and the institutes that produce mbas. Unfortunately, most of the Heads of Human Resources, CEOs and the CFOs in the corporate world also follow such mbas to earn the title and to camouflage the Annual Reports with many titles but not the knowledge, skills and the abilities. 

Hence some of the important points are very briefly highlighted below that should be enforced to regulate the industry.


Hierarchical structure for degrees

The Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF) clearly specifies the layers and the levels for each program from level 01 to level 12. Closer scrutiny of SLQF will reveal even the difference between B.Sc. (Hons.) degree and a B.Sc. degree. But do the private tertiary education institutes know the difference between a B.Sc. (Hons.) and the B.Sc. degree or the different levels of credits, pedagogical depths and the rigour required for such degrees? Hence this is one area where attention should be paid for the hierarchal structure of the degrees offered by state universities as well as foreign universities in Sri Lanka. 


Qualification Assessment Authority (QAA) 

Having closely worked with British, Australian, American and the Sri Lankan education systems, the author feels this needs to be established in Sri Lanka. For instance as a suggestion, a separate arm or a unit under the University Grants Commission (UGC) should be established to assess any qualification or to “map” any (mapping system) degree or professional qualification, based on the SLQF. Whether foreign or local degrees, this unit, should assess each degree program and issue a certificate assigning a weightage to that degree similar to Qualification Assessment Authority (QAA) of Great Britain. 

This unit should also carry out Quinquennial Reviews of such institutes. Few areas to be considered for the quinquennial reviews are, maintenance of accepted academic standards, program goals and objectives, knowledge transfer, skill development, plagiarism, admission criteria, facilities, infrastructure, course structure, assessment structure, credit allocations, application of knowledge, failure rate, lecturer’s qualifications, industry affiliations, research and the intellectual contributions of the lecturers. Deviating from the given standards will lead to the temporary or permanent suspension of the institute. 

Such measures will undoubtedly improve the standards of our state sector and private sector universities to be on par with globally top ranked universities. These systems are available not only in Australia, New Zealand and UK but also in countries such as Maldives. Encouraging and recognising the universities to offer degrees in Sri Lanka falling under the “Commonwealth” category without any assessments and subsequent quinquennial reviews are grossly inadequate. 

Another area to be concerned with is the “ranking” of the overseas universities. The author is of the view that if a top ranked overseas university is offering their programs in Sri Lanka, the course fee alone would be very high and only about 50% of the students will get through the programs due to their high standards, stringent academic measures and the final dissertation. Hence it is advisable to decide few criteria and sources of accepting the “rank” of an overseas university in congruence with the Sri Lankan education system and the future intent of the government. 



All institutes offering degrees from overseas universities in Sri Lanka should have one direct link with the parent university in that country. Having several intermediary links between the local institute and the parent university is not acceptable, as this not only dilutes the value of the degree but also compromises the quality and standards. 


Infrastructure and investment

Minimum criteria should be established for the capital investment to commence an educational institute or a private university. The minimum space required and the basic facilities such as library, IT labs, adequate parking, access to resources (for instance global online libraries such as Emerald Insight, JSTOR, etc. and access to databases and software) are essential. Commencing an institute within 500 sq. ft. and fixing a board with “ABC Campus” should be completely done away with.


Admission criteria

UGC clearly states the admission criteria for postgraduate programs at state universities and institutes. In certain cases, based on the criteria and flexibility of same, a second lower or general degree, with the minimum number of executive experience can be allowed to participate in postgraduate programs. However, exemptions cannot be granted at Master’s level for professional qualifications. Unfortunately, due to the shortcomings in the industry, it is pathetic to see that some institutes offer exemptions for professional qualifications as an alluring tactic to strengthen their student intakes. 

Although some of these qualifications are graded at Level Seven as per the National Qualification Framework (NQF) of Great Britain, indicating that they are on par with a postgraduate academic qualification, one should understand the marked difference between a professional and an academic qualification. 

Another trend that is observed in the industry is that due to the time spent for Advanced Level and the undue delays in the university admission process, etc., most of the institutes pursue students to do away with the Advanced Level exams and offer another “bridging” program (usually termed as a Foundation Course) of six months prior to commencing the undergraduate degree. 

Strict rules should be introduced with the specific durations, examinations, skills and the syllabi of the certificate awarding institute to avoid such substandard programs. Assignment based programs should be stopped as one cannot test the knowledge only through written assignments. Knowledge should be tested by way of an examination, along with the application of knowledge to the given scenario. The individuals who “outsource” the assignments should be severely dealt with. 


Unethical marketing

Some of the institutes offer only the final year from the parent university and the first two years are covered with their own programs. However, these programs are marketed as if the entire degree is offered by the overseas parent university. Although the certificate is from the parent university, there are two transcripts covering the first two years from the local institute and the second transcript covering the final year from the parent university. Newspapers are also thriving on educational advertising as there is no authority to ascertain the veracity of such degrees. In the absence of a proper “authority” in Sri Lanka to approve advertisements and marketing communications, misleading and unethical advertisements are rampant. 


Program duration

The program duration is a salient aspect; when there are, a fixed number of credits, the required knowledge should be gained based on a reasonable time duration, which must include in-class learning, guided learning, and the notional hours. For instance, minimum period for a term should be 3-4 months. This includes 30-36 hours of in-class lectures, 20-25 hours of guided learning and another 50-60 hours of notional learning per subject. Generally, for an under graduate degree, the duration should be a minimum of three years and at Masters’ level, a minimum of 18 months. MBA programs with six months or eight months or PhDs within two years raise lots of unanswered questions. Another emerging arena due to COVID-19 is the growing demand for online programs. Hence it’s advisable to streamline policies and standards now itself for such online programs. 

Today, so many individuals are called “Doctors”. A person can be called a “Doctor”, if he/she has earned a Doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy) only. Doctorates have to be generally earned after so much of effort, going through intellectual rigour and also by contributing something unique to the society or the academia. Doctorates are also conferred for an individual under exceptional circumstances duly approved by a Senate with adequate rationalisation with proof. However, “buying” a Doctorate is unheard of. Hence this bad practice should be done away with. 


The panel of lecturers 

It is highly advisable to scrutinise the quality and the calibre of the MBA lecturers who are involved in imparting their theoretical knowledge to students while sharing their experience from the relevant industry. The lecturers should be not only qualified academically, but should also possess the much needed industry exposure in order to lecture for MBAs. Masters level lecturers should possess a recognised Master’s degree with relevant industry exposure; this should be mandatory. Hence, the calibre of lecturers should be an important criterion during recruitment. 

Based on the author’s experience, top ranked universities even conduct “auditions” to assess the resource person’s competences and communication skills and the parameters for the intended subject before they are recruited as lecturers. 


Conducting research

One of the significant features of a quality MBA program is guiding the student in pursuing and carrying out a research and completing the dissertation/research, based on scientific research methodology. There should be a clear distinction between this research/dissertation and the semester assignments completed by students. Most of the local programs do not require dissertations or at least a Final Project to complete their program. 

Hence such MBAs, do not possess the required knowledge on conducting a research, identifying a problem, assessing the performance gap, data gathering, data analysis and solving a real life problem through research. Alternatively, they can be given an industry based real life problem to solve with more credit weightage which should reflect their knowledge, application of knowledge, problem identification, performance gap, analytical skills, problem solving skills and so on.

Hence we earnestly urge the authorities to regulate the tertiary education industry in Sri Lanka, introduce a proper quality assessment and assurance criteria and to rank the B.Sc. and MBA programs immediately, not only to take the country forward but also to meet the global challenges and to have a competitive, competent and knowledgeable workforce in time to come.

(The writer is the Head of Academic Affairs of PIM. He is a strategist, consultant, banker and an academic with wealth of hands-on corporate exposure locally and globally). 


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