Following a recent trip to Sri Lanka where we attended EDEX 2019 in Colombo, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the issues both supporting and restricting the international mobility of Sri Lankan students. A wonderful country, offering a tremendously warm-hearted welcome to the visitor, Sri Lankan’s have a keen appetite for education as was witnessed at the EDEX event.
Of course, international study is seen as a chance to boost employment prospects back home, but the students we spoke to were equally interested in expanding their cultural and social horizons. But in reality, the drive to study overseas is underscored by the lack of provision in the country itself, with only a little over 10% of applicants finding places at local universities. The rest must travel overseas: to India, the UK, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand typically, with Malaysia making some real in-roads.
With the average salary in Sri Lanka less than LKR 2m (GBP 8400; USD 11000) it is both appropriate and understandable that non-traditional (and more affordable) host destinations are proving to be popular. And this is made all the more appealing by the steady march up the global rankings of many Asian universities. This intra-regional mobility is a growing trend and one that INTCAS aims to support every bit as much as the conventional markets and pathways. To this end our first Sri Lankan Community Service Centre is scheduled to open in Colombo this summer.
The government values the growing trend to study abroad and offers a number of scholarships for Sri Lankans and supports a – admittedly limited – number of students in their endeavours to secure places at international universities. As the pressure on these finite sources of funding increase over time (nearly 40% of Sri Lankans are under 24 years of age), hopeful applicants will need to become increasingly well prepared to take advantage of both this source of funds and others in order to help them achieve their dream of living and studying abroad.
It’s not all one-way traffic though. There are moves afoot to attract students from overseas to study in Sri Lanka. At the moment, in-bound students make up very small numbers – around 1000 p.a. But the government has aspirations for the country to become something of a knowledge hub and attract many tens of thousands of international students over the next few years. This they can achieve by facilitating strategic partnerships for TNE delivery and by providing a welcoming atmosphere for international branch campuses.
To meet the demand for both home-grown and in-bound students, the Sri Lankan government agreed to allow the establishment of approved, private universities with degree awarding powers in 2017. This will undoubtedly radically change the dynamics of the market and go some way to reducing the chronic undersupply of HEIs in the country. And foreign universities have also made significant inroads there in the shape of UCLAN and Northumbria for example from the UK and Monash from Australia; all having a strong market presence with local partners. In some instances, students can complete their entire degree in country without the need to ‘top up’ their course with a further year or two at the institution’s home campus. Furthermore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education from India is opening a campus there in the next 18 months.
We look forward to our next visit and to working with our Sri Lankan colleagues. Ayubowan!