Human resources policy to create a ‘knowledge hub’

The Sri Lankan government launched a new National Human Resources and Employment Policy (NHREP) document on Tuesday, which aims to upgrade the country’s human capital and help turn Sri Lanka into a ‘knowledge hub’ in Asia.

The document, with funding and technical assistance from the International Labour Organization, addressed the key areas of school education, higher education, vocational training, employment, productivity and the public sector, with the aim of developing the country’s human resources.

The policy “would be a guide to the government in building [up] the country as a hub for human resources,” said Senior Minister for Human Resources DEW Gunasekera, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka.

He said the country had no alternative but to depend on human resources for sustained economic development as it had limited natural resources to exploit.

The policy envisages a globally competitive and multi-skilled workforce with full, productive employment. The government sees human resources as having the potential to be a large foreign exchange earner for the country.

However, Gunasekera noted a current mismatch between supply and demand for workers and described the workforce of almost eight million as “low productive and low competitive”.

“Currently in our country, various changes are taking place in the education sector, higher education and the university system. The proposed NHREP would ensure coherence among the above sectors and provide an umbrella framework policy,” he said at a ceremony launching the document.

Gunasekera pointed to China’s development success, which he said was primarily due to education reforms. He also referred to India’s education ministry, which is part of a bigger human resources development ministry, as well as its Planning Commission, which tackles issues of human resources, employment and education.

Just days before the NHREP launch he said the entire higher education structure would need to be overhauled, alongside the secondary education system to implement the proposed policy.

And last week he said there needed to be a greater emphasis on science, mathematics and information technology in schools.

“Some of the subjects in the secondary and higher education curriculum cannot cater to present day needs. New subjects and new methods have to be introduced to the secondary and higher education curriculum,” the minister said.

The Higher Education Ministry last year launched a special programme to upgrade six local universities, allocating some US$6 million towards improving teaching, research and infrastructure to international levels within a few years to become among the top 1,000 universities in the world, as part of Sri Lanka's aim of becoming a knowledge hub for Asia.

In 2013, the ministry will focus on several capital development projects, and transform existing degree programmes to produce more employable graduates, which includes developing trilingual skills – in English and the national languages of Singhala and Tamil – for undergraduates.

The NHREP backs these policies by recognising the importance of reforming secondary and university education, proposing that career guidance be made compulsory in schools and universities, emphasising the importance of strengthening English teaching and providing facilities for students to learn foreign languages in secondary schools.

It also recognises the need for a foundation programme for vocational and technical education targeting students who do not qualify for university, and reforming the curriculum of all higher education institutions to provide better preparation for the world of work.

Young people are 26% percent of the country’s total population. Although overall unemployment levels have improved in recent years, officially at around 5%, 62% of the workforce is in the informal sector, and Gunasekera said these were the people who needed upgrading in terms of quality of skills.

Gunasekera presented the policy document, formulated by a 25-member National Human Resources and Employment Policy Steering Committee, which he chaired, to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 30 October.

The drafting group included academics, economists, scientists, sociologists, trade union leaders and officials representing chambers of commerce and Sri Lankan ministries.