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Sri Lanka: The StudentRoads Report

The island nation of Sri Lanka is more than sun, sand, colorful culture, and spicy food as the StudentRoads team discovered during their visit in October 2012. After the cessation of decades of instability caused by civil war Sri Lanka’s economy is marching forward; in fact, it is beginning to run.

There are local languages in Sri Lanka but English has long been their common language and it is spoken widely.  Most private international schools in urban centers teach students in English in order to prepare them for entrance to foreign universities, mainly in Australia and the U.K. The British Council in Colombo is extremely active in this endeavor. They administer more than 35,000 exams each year for U.K. qualifications; including IELTS, Cambridge ESOL, and school-leaving qualifications from Edexcel International and the University of Cambridge. We spent an afternoon at the British Council and there was a constant stream of people of all ages coming to take English language courses.

Eranda Ginige, Head of Partnerships and Business Development at the British Council, embodies this new energy in Sri Lanka. For several years he has been running a reality TV show called “Ideators” for entrepreneurial students from both the U.K. and Sri Lanka. Eranda gave us an overview of the educational landscape in Sri Lanka; noting that, while thousands of Sri Lankans are studying abroad in the U.K. and Australia, the Sri Lankan government has the goal of making their country an educational hub for incoming international students. At present, Sri Lanka does not have a residential campus of a foreign university but that that is about to change with two U.K. universities close to breaking ground on new campuses. They hope to start to admitting students as early as 2014.

The majority of higher education institutions in Sri Lanka are public universities. However, there are some private universities which include the Sri Lankan Institute of Information Technology (or SLIIT). SLIIT was founded in 1999 and has its main campus in Malabe to the west of Colombo. Its three main faculties are IT, Engineering, and Business Administration and they offer undergraduate and masters degrees. One thing that was immediately noticeable during our visit to SLIIT was the proportion of male to female students. The gender ratio was roughly equivalent. This is typically not the case at technically-focused institutions in the US and UK where the current gender gap is heavily skewed towards male students. In addition to Sri Lankan students, SLIIT attracts scholars from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Many of the professors earned their PhDs in Japan. SLIIT has affiliations with universities in Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the US. Their major partnership is with Curtin University in Western Australia whereby SLIIT students can transfer after 2 years to complete their degrees in Australia.

While the IT industry in Sri Lanka is not yet as prominent as in India, its immediate neighbor to the north, the sector is burgeoning and the graduating students at SLIIT we spoke to were optimistic about their employment opportunities.  We also met with tech entrepreneurs, such as Chandika Jayasundara, the co-founder of Creately.com. Creately is an online diagramming and collaboration tool that helps companies manage their projects more efficiently. Chandika noted that the quality of software developers in Sri Lanka is top-notch and there is an emerging community of entrepreneurs in Colombo, the capital city. SLIIT runs a business incubator program called the “Concept Nursery” where students can test their technical and business skills in a company setting.   

Other areas of educational interest are also beginning to attract attention from foreign students. Sri Lanka has a millennia-old tradition of Ayurvedic medicine. Students of this indigenous form of medicine undertake a four year degree in Western medicine before completing a second four year degree in Ayurvedic studies. Some of these practitioners chose to move to a community where they offer consultations at visitor centers sanctioned by the Ministry of Indigenous Medicine and offer Ayurvedic products for purchase.

Our trip to Sri Lanka was inspiring and it appears that the education landscape will is advancing rapidly. Developments in the education sector indicate that it is core to the country’s economic development and future success. StudentRoads will keep its finger on the pulse of Sri Lanka and if you are a student or interested party please connect with us and also comment below!

© 2013 StudentRoads. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.

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