Higher education reforms before Budget

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 01:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

1)New Bill likely to be tabled in Parliament before Budget , 2)Secretary says powers to open private universities, 3)Ministry and BOI to create a one-stop-shop, no price controls, 4)Six local universities to be upgraded to international, 5)Universal ranking system including professional qualifications

By Uditha Jayasinghe

The Act to open up higher education is being fast tracked to reach Parliament as early as next month, with sweeping changes planned to convert the Higher Education Ministry as a one-stop-shop for international universities, wider regularisation and no price controls.

Higher Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Navaratne responding to queries raised at the Sri Lanka-Australia-New Zealand Business Council lunch held yesterday remarking on the proposed Act that is currently being drafted insisted that the Government would not abolish free education in Sri Lanka and was committed to creating a knowledge hub in the country.

He admitted that the concept of maintaining a free education system while opening up universities to private investment was a novel concept and would require home grown processes for implementation.

“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 final call is with the Minister,” Navaratne said, referring to extensive comments made by Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake as the Chief Guest of the event.

The Minister outlined plans 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.”

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,” he stressed, for the convenience of local and international students.

With the new power, the Higher Education Ministry will also have the authority to regulate private degree and course providers already operating in the country. “It is my belief that these establishments need to be monitored to assure good quality education and our Ministry is currently evolving mechanisms to do so.”

Meanwhile, Australian High Commissioner Kathy Klugman pledged to continue engaging with the Sri Lankan Government to promote stronger cooperation for education transference and establish more linkages with reputed universities.