SRI LANKA: Moves to step up foreign student intake

Sri Lanka's Higher Education Ministry has taken steps to award 150 scholarships to foreign students to study in local universities, as part of its plan to turn the country into a higher education hub and attract up to 50,000 international students in the next decade.

Students from 60 countries will be admitted for the coming academic year scheduled to start in October, Higher Education Minister SB Dissanayake (pictured) said last week in parliament after the cabinet approved the scholarships plan, which is now being put before the assembly.

Students from China, Japan and Southern Asia including India and Pakistan, are the most likely to benefit from the scholarship scheme.

"Under this programme, foreign students get full scholarships and have a chance to study medical, management, law, engineering and arts degrees. Students will also be assisted with living expenses. This is the first time that Sri Lankan universities [will] get the opportunity to have foreign students," he said, adding that it would also help universities to achieve international standards.

"The aim is to make Sri Lanka the hub of knowledge in Asia," Dissanayake said.

The government is hoping to attract around 10,000 foreign students to local universities and another 50,000 by 2020, according to projections by the Department of National Planning, in its development policy framework for Sri Lanka.

It is hoped this will be achieved by allowing private universities to be set up under a new bill that has been approved by the cabinet and is expected to be presented to parliament soon.

At the same time Sri Lanka's University Grants Commission has decided to increase the admission of fee-paying foreign students at local universities from just 0.5% of the overall intake to 5% from the next academic year. The ministry said it hoped that around 1,000 fee-paying foreign students would be admitted.

The annual course fees for a medical degree would be some US$12,000 while a degree in management would be around US$4,000. The closing date for applications for the next academic year has been extended to 15 August, to encourage foreign students to apply.

Sanjeewa Bandara, Convener of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), told University World News that the Federation opposed the government's decision to increase the foreign student quota.

"Earlier, only 0.5 % of the quota was for foreign students but now they have increased it. This move will block the higher education opportunities of local students."

Bandara said many local students lose out on a university place because of the competitive entrance examination, and that many university places are not filled because disadvantaged students cannot afford to study.

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