By Uditha Jayasinghe
The long-delayed Higher Education Act has been presented for approval to the Cabinet and could be considered during the meeting to be held today.
The new Higher Education Act that will give access for private universities to operate in Sri Lanka was tabled before the Cabinet two weeks ago, but has not received the nod yet to be presented before Parliament. Higher Education Ministry Secretary Dr. Sunil Nawaratne told Daily FT that he was unaware of when it would be presented to the Cabinet.
The Act was initially intended to be presented before the Cabinet in November but was postponed due to technical snags in the document. Delayed over the last month of 2010, it was next expected to reach the Cabinet in January but eventually found its way there at the beginning of March.
It was earlier reported that the Government would not abolish free education in Sri Lanka and was committed to creating a knowledge hub in the country. The concept is to maintain free education while opening up universities to private investment.
Under the new act, the Higher Education Ministry will be broken into three categories, namely State, Professional and Non-State. The State section will overlook the current public universities and non-State will include the private institutions that will offer both standard and technical education while the Professional component will grade chartered accountants, CIM, CIMA and other profession-related qualifications.
There will also be two boards under the Ministry but of independent function that will provide quality assurance and accreditation to organisations listed under the Ministry. A common ranking system including private and public universities will be adopted, the Secretary had told media previously. “We have had several rounds of discussions with private universities but nothing has been finalised until we have presented the Act to Parliament,” Nawaratne remarked, adding that the final call in this regard would be with the Minister.
“At the moment we are not regulating fees,” he explained, adding that the Ministry would work together with the Board of Investment (BOI) to evaluate the proposals beforehand. The plan is to initially allow 5% of foreign students into public universities with hopes to double that within a couple of years. Six universities have been earmarked to be developed as international institutions, including Colombo, Jayewardenepura, Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Ruhuna and Moratuwa. Jaffna, Rajarata and Eastern Universities will be upgraded in the second phase of the programme.
“We have already had very successful discussions with 24 foreign universities, which are extremely keen on entering Sri Lanka. However, we are not throwing open higher education completely. At the start we are allowing only 10-15 universities to enter and they will be monitored by the Higher Education Ministry.”