A plan to modernise Sri Lanka’s entire public university system has been presented to a parliamentary committee. This comes after parliament formally requested the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to draft a National Strategic Plan for the system.
The initiative’s stated objectives are to transform state universities into financially self-sustaining institutions with a strong focus on research and innovation, to improve their performance in global university rankings and produce graduates who are internationally competitive.
Internationalisation and the attraction of a greater number of international students was one of the key proposals in the draft report presented on 24 August.
This initiative arises at a critical juncture, given that the country’s education sector is severely impacted by an economic crisis and the political turmoil following the ousting last year of then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The state university system is facing collapse due to a significant brain drain among university teachers and limited state funding for development projects. Presently about 50% of university lecturer positions remain vacant, according to the Sri Lanka University Grants Commission, but the economic crisis has delayed recruitment efforts.
In a meeting held in March this year, the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), set up to ensure financial discipline in public corporations and other semi-governmental bodies including state universities, directed the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in the capital Colombo to devise a national strategy.
COPE praised the university for its “remarkable progress” and for being financially self-sustaining. Sri Jayewardenepura is Sri Lanka’s largest university by student enrolment, with approximately 13,000 students, and the country’s second oldest university. It is widely regarded as the best in Sri Lanka for management education.
National Task Force
A team of 50 experts from the university presented the plan to COPE on 24 August. Presenter Dissa Bandara, a senior professor in the university’s department of finance, requested that a National Task Force be set up, including foreign experts, to plan and implement the strategy.
“The initial draft report includes a comprehensive roadmap featuring broad policies and recommendations. However, the final report will be developed through consultations with all universities in Sri Lanka,” said Bandara.
He added: “To ensure its effectiveness, a national team with international input will be appointed to contribute to the final report’s preparation, and they will be provided with the necessary authority and resources.”
In drafting the report the university committee extensively examined both local and global university plans, referred to country-specific reports and analysed economic policy documents. They conducted numerous brainstorming sessions and engaged in internal consultations. The committee also conducted an in-depth study on the future of higher education over the next two decades.