In a move that is likely to enhance the country’s knowledge capital the Act to open up higher education to private universities will be presented to Parliament in January.
Higher Education Ministry Secretary Dr. Sunil Nawaratne told the Daily FT that the document was still with the legal draftsman following delay caused by the Budget that was given prominence ahead of the new Act. “We hope to present it to Parliament in January.
Given the fact that there might be re-writes or other delays we have not decided on a date yet, but we are very keen on having it presented at the beginning of the New Year,” he said adding that Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake’s attempts to present it in Parliament before the Budget proved to be too ambitious.
Officials continue to insist that the government would not abolish free education in Sri Lanka and is committed to creating a knowledge hub in the country. The concept is to maintain free education while opening up universities to private investment. “We have had several rounds of discussions with private universities but nothing will be 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 final call is with the Minister,” Navaratne said.
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, Jayawardenepura, 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 for 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 sections, 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 Charted 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 that will include private and public universities will be adopted.