It is an obvious fact that the education system plays a significant role in any of the countries. And yes, it is the same with Sri Lanka as well. In fact, the contribution of Sri Lanka’s education system, in forming characters, strengthening minds, and developing independent citizens is indeed impressive. Thus, the government focuses special attention on the development of the country’s education system. However, when discussing with regard, it is important that we get to know about the different levels of the Sri Lankan education system. So, in this journey of getting to know them, we thought of focusing this article on the Higher Education System in Sri Lanka. For a better understanding, let us start with a quick glance over the structure of the education system in Sri Lanka, and then move ahead with the informative facts about the higher education system.
How is the Education System of Sri Lanka?
Evolving over decades, the Sri Lankan education system as a whole is at a satisfactory level at present, having free education as its signature feature. Accordingly, the government provides children with free meals, textbooks, and clothes for uniforms. Besides, education up to the secondary education level is compulsory in Sri Lanka. The guardians of the children are bound by the laws of Sri Lanka to provide education for that child by protecting the children’s rights. However, those who are unable to do so will be punished according to the law.
However, with time, the concept of private education emerged within the country. And yes, it too plays a considerable contribution to cater for the rising demand for education in Sri Lanka. However, despite the fact whether an individual benefits from free education or private education, he or she should pass certain levels to arrive at the stage of higher education. So, before diving into the aspects of higher education in the education system of Sri Lanka, let us first get to know briefly, the structure of the Sri Lankan education system.
Structure of the Education System in Sri Lanka
The education system of Sri Lanka consists of several hierarchical layers as follows.
- Primary Education
- Secondary Education
- Higher Education
- Tertiary Education
Children between 5 years to 10 years (from grade 1 to grade 5) receive primary education. However, primary education concludes with the grade five scholarship examination. With the marks obtained in that examination, students get the chance to transfer to another school which is probably with more opportunities and facilities for their secondary education. In addition, the state grants scholarships to the students who passed the examination with low family income to support them in secondary education.
What Comes Before Higher Education?
As per the structure mentioned above, secondary education comes before higher education. It is very important to complete this stage of the education system as it helps to build the personality of the children in many different ways.
However, secondary education again divides into two as Junior and Senior. Students between the ages of 11 years and 16 years (from grade 6 to grade 11) receive junior secondary education. This stage comes to an end with the GCE (O/L) which is also known as the General Certificate Examination in Ordinary Level. The results of this examination again give children the opportunity to transfer to a better school to proceed with their senior secondary education.
Students from age 17 years to 19 years (from grade 12 to grade 13) take senior secondary education. Furthermore, senior secondary education contains several subject streams where students get the freedom to select a stream as they wish. This wraps up with the General Certificate in Advanced Level, GCE (A/L) examination. The Z-score obtained in this examination will determine the students’ higher education entrance, the institute, and the course they get to do.
However, the mandatory prerequisite of higher education is the successful completion of studies up to the secondary education stage. The junior secondary education syllabus contains twelve subjects and concludes with the GCE (O/L) examination. Simply, a student should pass the GCE (O/L) examination in order to proceed with higher education. Further, it is the prerequisite to the second key stage. The second key stage basically consists of 5 subject streams, and the closure of key stage two is marked with the GCE (A/L) examination.
So, now having a rough idea about the education structure of Sri Lanka, let us now move towards a detailed study about the Higher Education System of Sri Lanka.
What is Meant by Higher Education?
Higher education in Sri Lanka is not compulsory. However, by now, you clearly know that it is followed by secondary education which is the final mandatory formal educational phase of Sri Lankan students. Since higher education in Sri Lanka is optional, students can choose either private, semi-government, or state higher educational institutes to carry on their studies. The main difference between state and non-state higher educational institutes is the fee for the studies. State institutions are providing education free of charge while non-state institutes are providing education for only those who can pay the tuition fees. To select the students for them, the government holds the GCE (A/L) national examination in August every year. The competency is very high since there are limited intakes from this examination and students can attempt only three times.
The Z-score obtained during the examination by the students will be considered when selecting them for state universities. Moreover, the government provides these selected students who have a low-income family background with scholarships such as bursary and Mahapola in order to support them financially. In addition, the Ministry of Higher Education donates foreign scholarships for students for higher education purposes. However, the government selects students for higher education after holding several tests and interviews. Under the direct administration of UGC, there are fifteen state universities at present. Furthermore, apart from the universities, there are professional institutions that provide vocational training for students studying higher education in Sri Lanka.
Regulation of Higher Education Institutes in Sri Lanka
Any of the different post-secondary institutes that have the necessary resources and facilities can afford to provide higher education. Besides, the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education regulate these institutions in the country. Higher educational institutes can be universities, teacher training schools, nursing training schools, institutes of technologies, technical training institutes, etc.
The Institute of Higher National Diplomas (HND) also contributes to providing higher education diplomas to the students who passed the GCE (A/L) examination. It contains different fields such as engineering, management, information technology, English language, etc. Accordingly, students receive a valid named degree, diploma, or certificate of higher education after successfully completing one of these course studies.
However, a student’s future career is usually based on the higher education qualifications that person has obtained. Therefore, when choosing the courses and the institutes to continue with the higher studies students should be very careful. The capability of delivering the same course in different institutes varies according to the resources and facilities they have. Besides, there are establishments specified in certain fields. Some of them direct the students to the intern programs at the end of the course. Moreover, reputation and affordability are also important factors when looking into an institute for higher educational purposes. These institutes that are run by the central government have the curriculums recommended by the government itself.
What are the Functions of Higher Education?
The functions of higher education are to improve the practical benefits of the students that are relevant to the 21st century. Some of these functions of higher education are as follows.
- People with some sort of higher education have a higher income relative to the others who do not. Moreover, the probability of being unemployed is also low.
- When people have a profitable job along with a positive cash flow leads to dissolving the stressful factors. Therefore, it is likely to live a healthier life by the people having higher education.
- People with a gainful job and fine cash flow tend to give back to society. However, it may be in the form of charity or volunteering.
- Usually, the higher educated employees have a good sense of responsibility and a more structured lifestyle than the others.
- Jobs consist mainly of verbal or written communication. However, these employees tend to have better communication skills due to the experience they gain throughout the higher education process.
- The more a person explores a certain field in an educational aspect, the person can find the passion of life with the least confusion.
- Higher education gives people the ability to behave with discipline in their profession by practising them to meet deadlines on time, follow complex instructions, self-learning, etc.
- A sense of accomplishment through completing the assignments, projects, and other tasks during the period of higher education teaches people to feel satisfied during the process of a great job with many steps.
Types of Higher Education in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has many different types of higher education under its education system. They are as follows.
- State University Education
- Private University Education
- Vocational Training Authority Education (VTA)
- Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE)
- Teachers Training Colleges
- Nurses Training Schools
The University Grants Commission (UGC), Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technical Education (SLIATE), and the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways administer these higher educational institutes. Moreover, they handle admissions, management, syllabuses and resources regarding these higher educational institutes. Let us go through each type of higher education in Sri Lanka briefly.
State University Education
In Sri Lanka, there are 15 state universities registered under the University Grants Commission. They are as follows.
- University of Colombo
- University of Peradeniya
- The Open University of Sri Lanka
- University of Sri Jayewardenepura
- University of Kelaniya
- Rajarata University of Sri Lanka
- Eastern University of Sri Lanka
- University of Moratuwa
- University of Jaffna
- Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka
- University of Ruhuna
- Wayamba University of Sri Lanka
- South Eastern University of Sri Lanka
- Uva Wellassa University
- University of the Visual & Performing Arts
These universities grant general degrees, special degrees, four-year degrees, and honours degrees in bachelors. Usually, general degrees are 3-year degrees, and special and four-year degrees are 4-year degrees. However, to complete a special degree, a student must complete individual research. Sri Lankan students have the ability to launch their higher studies at state universities in the following popular fields.
- Medicine (Western)
- Ayurvedic Medicine
- Physical Sciences
- Applied Sciences
- Biological Sciences
- Food Science
- Information Technology
- Sports Sciences
- Social Sciences and Humanitarians
- Medical Laboratory Sciences
- Aeronautical Engineering
Usually, state universities offer two types of courses for those who are studying as internal and external students. External students have to pay for the degree while internal students receive the degree programs free of charge. Moreover, internal students can enjoy the hostel facilities, scholarship programs, and extracurricular activities such as music, sports, photography, drama, etc. Similarly, this gives huge opportunities for them to improve their communication skills, organizing skills, and sense of responsibility. In addition, some of the above universities provide post-graduate degree programs and masters too. But, to study all these, the candidates should pay the class fees. However, for those who enjoy government education facilities, education is free up to an undergraduate degree.
Private University Education
There are many different private universities in Sri Lanka which grant various degrees from different countries. Some of them look for the GCE (A/L) results before registering for courses. The minimum results of three S passes are required to enter the university. They have syllabuses from their relevant mother universities overseas. Students select the courses and universities according to the affordability because they have to pay for every single facility and benefit they enjoy. For instance, accommodation, Wi-Fi facilities, library, etc. are charged separately unlike in state universities. However, the class fees for semesters should be paid either at once or in instalments.
Below are some popular private universities in Sri Lanka at present.
- British Institute of Engineering and Technology
- National Institute of Business Management
- Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology, Sri Lanka
- Informatics Institute of Technology, Sri Lanka
- Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya
- Colombo International Nautical and Engineering College
- Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education
- Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, Colombo
- Arthur C Clarke Institute of Modern Technologies
- Sri Lanka Institute of Architects
- University of Vocational Technology, Ratmalana
- Horizon Campus
Moreover, these private universities offer courses in the following fields.
- Information Technology
- Medical Laboratory Sciences
- Computer Science
- Human Resource Management
- Business Administration
Moreover, these private universities give the option of studying the final year of the course abroad for the students who are interested. However, they also have benefits like the availability of highly interactive modern classrooms, more weight on practical learning, flexible learning plans, extended connections in industrial learning, etc. Above all, the time spent to complete a degree in a private university is a lot less than in a state university.
Vocational training is another form of higher education in Sri Lanka. The central government introduced this with the intention of providing employment skills to the youngsters who give up their education due to poverty, failing the national examinations like GCE (O/L) and GCE (A/L), and several other reasons. However, the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) holds the administrative and management powers of these authorities along with the examination regulations. Indeed, these establishments are becoming more popular day by day, as they give out free higher education to the students in the remote and depressed areas of the country. Moreover, they open new paths to the students too.
Earlier, some amount of money was charged to enroll in the vocational training courses. Students have to complete several NVQ levels before obtaining the diploma in a relevant course. It contains 6 NVQ levels. After completing a certain NVQ level, students get the opportunity to work as an intern in the government institutes. As in any other institutes, Vocational Training Institutes conduct a number of different courses in many different fields. Students have the ability to select one according to their wishes. The below-mentioned list brings some of these courses.
- Agriculture Plantation and LiveStock
- Automobile Repair and Maintenance
- Building and Construction
- Electrical Electronics and Telecommunication
- Fisheries and Aquaculture
- Food Technology
- Gem and Jewelry
- Health and Social Work
- Hotel and Tourism
- Information Communication and Multimedia Technology
- Leather and Footwear
- Metal and Light Engineering
- Office Management
- Personal Community Development
- Printing and Packaging
- Refrigerator and Air Conditioning
- Textile and Garments
- Automation Technology
Diplomas granted by these institutes are valid in the country and taken as a qualification in job interviewing. Branches of these institutes are established in almost every province which gives easy access to everyone.
Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE)
SLIATE is another institution that gives higher educational opportunities for students in Sri Lanka. The Z-score obtained at the GCE Advanced Level Examination decides the entrance of the student to these institutions in the first step. Later, the students selected from it will have to go through the second step, an interviewing process. The students who get through both these steps get the chance to study in these institutions. Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education provides free education and accommodation (hostel facilities) for every student. In addition, they provide scholarship programs for students from low-income families, the same as in the state universities. However, the main difference between SLIATE and state universities is that state universities grant a degree while SLIATE grants a diploma.
Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education provides Higher National Diplomas in following different fields.
- Engineering (Mechanical)
- Engineering (Building Services)
- English Language
- Agricultural Sciences
- Business Finance
- Information and Communication Technology
- Business Administration
- Food Technology
- Quantity Surveying
- Tourism and Hospitality Management
However, the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education is registered under the Ministry of Higher Education. Moreover, it is operated and supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education furthermore. In addition, the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education provides the students with the following set of benefits after successful completion of a higher national diploma program.
- Since this focuses on vocational qualifications, it can lead the students to a clearer career path.
- Gives experience along with theory and this has become an advantage because today’s workforce has degrees and not experience.
- Before going in for a degree, students get the chance to get a taste of higher education through these diplomas.
Teacher Training Colleges
By entering a teacher training college, one can become a government school teacher. These are also called “Vidya Peeta” locally. At the end of completion of the course, a three-year pre-service professional course in teacher education will be granted. To enter a teacher training college, students should have three passes in the GCE Advanced Level examination at one sitting along with credit passes to certain subjects in GCE Ordinary Level examination.
However, some teacher training colleges are famous for different subjects and slightly different qualifications will need to enter into these colleges. Moreover, the National Institute of Education has the authority and the responsibility to guide and monitor all the educational activities of these teacher training colleges including syllabus preparation, learning, teaching, and evaluation.
Let us go through Sri Lanka’s list of teacher training colleges that provide talented teachers to the education system of the country.
- Addalachahenai National College of Education
- Batticaloa National College of Education
- Dharga Nagar National College of Education
- Hapitigama National College of Education
- Jaffna National College of Education
- Maharagama National College of Education
- Mahaweli National College of Education
- Nilwala National College of Education
- Pasdunrata National College of Education
- Peradeniya National College of Education
- Pulathisipura National College of Education
- Ruhuna National College of Education
- Ruwanpura National College of Education
- Sariputta National College of Education
- Siyane National College of Education
- Sri Pada National College of Education
- Uva National College of Education
- Vavuniya National College of Education
- Wayamba National College of Education
However, the courses are conducted in all three languages such as Sinhala, English, and Tamil.
Nurses Training Schools (NTS)
Nurses’ training schools, maintained by the central government, train nurses for the workforce at the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka. Moreover, during the training period, student nurses get a salary too. In order to apply to one of these colleges, a student should pass all the subjects at the GCE (A/L) examination. In addition, they must sit for the GCE (A/L) examination in either the physical sciences or biological sciences stream. The government provides education free of charge in these colleges. But, they have limited opportunities like in other free government higher education establishments. However, slight competition is there when entering these colleges as a result of this.
Moreover, nurses’ training schools grant a three-year diploma in nursing. In addition, more than ten nursing academies are established all over the island. Furthermore, some of them are attached to the government hospitals which are called teaching hospitals. Student nurses receive both theoretical and clinical knowledge during the three-year course period. Besides, students have the ability to study Ayurveda nursing if interested in these government nursing schools.
Let us go through the list of areas where the nurses’ training schools are established throughout the country.
- Colombo (School of Nursing, Colombo)
- Post Basic School of Nursing, Colombo
Does Higher Education in Sri Lanka Suit the Modern World?
Even though the higher education provided in Sri Lanka has certain standards and qualities, the content of most of these courses is a little bit out of date. In other words, the update process of these contents is a little bit late and it has a great effect when trying to suit them with the modern world. The reason is that the technology and the concepts in almost every field either change or improve rapidly. But, the syllabus reforms are not keeping up with that and it is a bit of a drawback.
Indeed, one can consider higher education of a country as the magnet in building the nation. Higher education institutes and universities play the vital role of producing valued human resources to fulfill the above-mentioned purpose. Sri Lankans have become lucky enough to be blessed with free education privilege which includes higher education and later free health care since 1947. However, with the help of these visionary reforms, many first places in South Asia were written under the name of Sri Lanka. Excellent literacy rates of both males and females, rate of life expectancy, and indices of health care are a few of those first places we achieved.
While many countries in the region evolve parallel with the global trend of higher education, Sri Lanka stagnates without rolling with the flow. Thus, necessary reforms that need to be done in the sector of higher education are lagged. However, the higher education sector is responsible for creating human resources to accelerate the country’s knowledge economy. Besides, as the annual budget allocates a considerable amount of money to the higher education sector, it is compulsory to do the necessary reforms in this sector with the help of experts in order to yield the maximum harvest.
What are the Challenges that Sri Lanka is Facing Today in Higher Education?
In the context of higher education, Sri Lanka faces many challenges.
Because of the very fact that higher education is free in Sri Lanka, the opportunities opened are not enough to cater to the demand. Hence, only a chosen handful of students get the privilege of receiving free higher education. Besides, the limited resources in the state universities have become a huge challenge at present.
Additionally, another major challenge is the lack of English skills among students. The majority of the courses introduced to the students are taught in English medium. Therefore, the language has become a barrier to them to proceed with their studies. Moreover, the learning materials such as books, articles, research papers, etc. have also been written in the English language and self-learning has become a difficult task for the students as a result.
Indeed, the unequal distribution of resources has made a huge gap regarding the quality and reputation of higher educational institutes in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the lack of reforms in the syllabuses of higher educational institutes has become another key challenge. As a result, the students do not get enough exposure to adapt to the rapidly changing modern world.
Besides, the lethal attack in the higher education sector is the strikes and demonstrations in state universities. Late admission and late passing out of students cause a hectic situation as it takes a longer time to complete a course in the university. Consequently, the government should make plans to extend the spending on higher education and overcome these challenges to maintain a well-standard higher education system in Sri Lanka.
The Future of Higher Education in Sri Lanka
The future of higher education in Sri Lanka will be built on the foundation laid today. Hence, we should take the necessary steps to brighten the future of Sri Lanka’s higher education system. Let us go through some of the ideas and opinions.
- The ranking of the Sri Lankan higher educational institutes in Sri Lanka should be regulated and standardized.
- Indeed, improving the practical knowledge of the students will be helpful in producing people with experience and common sense in the field they are going to work in.
- Encouraging a student-centered learning system results in increasing the thinking power of the students along with the decision-making skills.
- Supplying necessary funding to the research and innovations can increase the possibility of inventing new concepts, theories, etc. further.
- Exposure of students to the modern world will help to have an idea about the trending technologies, notions, and theories.
- The reformation of syllabuses and curriculums in higher education institutes is also vital because it can do a positive change in the future of higher education in Sri Lanka.
- Guiding the students to think out of the box and letting them see the world in their own eyes without spoiling their minds with rubbish is necessary.
- At present, the use of data and information has become a key source of earning money. Hence, teaching them the pros and cons of this concept is essential.
- Literacy in Information Technology will be a further advantage for the students to roll with the modern world.
Besides, teaching the students about the importance of being sensitive to nature and behaving like a human being is not any less important because humanity has faced the threat of extinction at present. Thus, there will be neither future nor existence to humans without humanity.
The Bottom Line
Conclusively, let us highlight that the higher education system in Sri Lanka still stands strong serving generations of Sri Lanka in the best way possible. And yes, it keeps evolving, adapting every change possible, in order to compete with the standards of international higher education. Thus, it is quite obvious that the higher education system in Sri Lanka today will be even a step ahead on the days to dawn. So, why not? Let’s hope for the best!