Private Universities: An Idea that’s Long Overdue

By Ven. Udagama Sumangala

(May 13, Los Angeles, California, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am writing to commend the new Minister of Higher Education’s recent brave decision to allow the establishment of private universities in Sri Lanka. In the past there were many roadblocks to this idea, including the JVP, the University Grants Commission, some senior academics, and others. I’m pleased to see that these obstacles have finally been surmounted, and we can proceed with an idea that is long overdue.

Mr. S. B. Dissanayake has given a “green light” to this concept at a time when it is most needed – for many reasons.

First of all, the existing Government universities have very limited enrollment capacity. This fact alone eliminates many of the brightest, best qualified, students in Sri Lanka from taking advantage of their constitutional right of higher education. Many of these students may pass their entrance exams and be qualified, but because of the lack of space they have no chance for admittance. Private universities will automatically increase capacity in Government universities, which will provide opportunities to poor rural students who otherwise would have been shut out of the system. Please also keep in mind the fact that the students that come from poor families have no influence with the higher-ups to get their applications accepted. This eliminates the practice of cronyism in higher education, which itself is long overdue.

For many years Sri Lanka’s students from the wealthier families have gone abroad for their university education – usually to the U.K., Australia, or America. This has created a tremendous cash drain on our country – not to mention the brain drain that takes place when many of these students get their higher degrees and decide to stay and work in their host countries. These students rarely come back home. This creates the additional problem of lack of qualified specialized workers, to such an extent that we have to import them from abroad.

With the advent of private universities, most of them will be branches of private universities in other countries, our wealthier students will be able to stay home to complete their studies, and not drain the country of both its cash and its brains. I’m sure that Minister Dissanayake will make sure that the new private universities meet the quality of standards required by the Government, which will insure the overall image of our institutions of higher learning.

Nearly all countries have private universities – including even Bangladesh. This has been the case for decades. Sri Lanka can compete effectively in the overseas foreign students market. The new private universities will be able to attract students from many foreign countries who will bring with them their funds, adding to the overall local economy.

I urge all of the people in Sri Lanka to support Minister Dissanayake’s efforts to make the establishment of these private institutions of higher learning a top priority, and get them up and running as soon as possible.