By Professor Samson Ekanayake
A critical look at the role of private sector higher education institutions, commonly called ‘Campuses’ or ‘Private Universities’ is warranted, as such institutions are proliferating in the market and Sri Lanka is slowly emerging as an educational ‘hub’ in South Asia.
It is a well-known fact that only the students who score highest marks in the GCE (A/L) examination enjoy the privilege of entering a government university. The remaining large numbers of students who pass the GCE (A/L) examination are unable to secure places in government universities, have three options: (1) get admission to a foreign university at an enormous cost, (2) get admission to a Sri Lankan private university at a moderate cost, or (3) join the unskilled workforce.
Upon graduation, graduates from government universities, graduates returning with foreign degrees and those graduating from Sri Lankan private universities all compete for jobs in the same job market. There seem to be anecdotal evidence indicating that in the majority of cases, private sector employers prefer foreign and private university graduates to government university graduates. There is a perception that foreign university graduates and Sri Lankan private university graduates have more of the skills demanded by the private sector.
As a consequence, graduates from government universities are at a disadvantage when competing with these other graduates and end up being recruited mainly by government departments and institutions. This may be an indication that government universities need to change their curricula and teaching methodologies to suit the needs of the modern market place and be relevant in the current global environment.
Private universities on the other hand have been instituted as a response to the demand for places in higher education. Whilst some of them confer their own diplomas, and others prepare students for degrees of some unknown foreign universities with their main objective being to make money in a market where there is a huge demand for education, there are a few institutions, which are affiliated to reputable and recognised overseas universities of high ranking .These institutions can be classified as the emerging ‘elite group’ of private universities in Sri Lanka. They provide a cheaper alternative for students who would have otherwise gone to overseas universities and to those that were unable to or did not want to get a place in a government university.
Education is today a global multi-billion dollar industry and if Sri Lanka can get a little slice of this market, it would be of great benefit to the country, as well as these institutions.
The Government needs to have a monitoring authority in place with a suitable mechanism, which should be under the tight surveillance of the University Grant Commission (UGC) or a similar body, to ensure we offer education only from world-class institutions that provide quality academic degrees, contribute to research excellence, deliver quality programs and best learning environments and produce professionals with skills demanded by the global market.
This will showcase to the world the quality standard of our higher education in the country and the opportunities that we grant for our younger generation. It will highlight the aim of the country to produce graduates who are in demand not only in Sri Lanka but also overseas. If the Sri Lankan group of emerging elite private universities can achieve these objectives, it will clearly make a case for making Sri Lanka a future education hub for South Asia.
(The writer is Deputy Chairman and CEO of Saegis Campus).