More foreign students, scholarships in pursuit of hub status

Sri Lanka’s Higher Education Ministry has increased the quota of international students admitted to universities and is offering additional scholarships to foreign students in its aim of becoming a higher education hub in Asia. But the moves have met with resistance amid fears that the number of places for local students will be reduced.

The foreign student quota was recently increased from just 0.5% to 5% of the student intake at local universities.

The ministry said it hoped that around 1,000-4,000 fee-paying foreign students would be admitted in the course of the next three years – many of them from China, although the majority would be from other South Asian countries.

“We're doing our best to promote our country and bring in foreign income. We hope about 1,000 Chinese undergraduates will arrive here to pursue higher studies later this year,” Deputy Higher Education Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake said during a media briefing.

The minister said 1,292 new slots were available for foreign students in local universities this year.

“Our aim is to increase the 3,000-strong foreign student base in Sri Lanka to 10,000 by 2015, and here again we would offer them incentives, which includes free online visas,” said Dr Sunil Jayantha Navaratne, secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education, at a press conference earlier this month.

Sri Lanka is also expanding its scholarship programme for foreign students; it currently awards around 100-150 scholarships a year to foreign students. It will include 10 more countries, including another five in Africa that were not previously eligible.

But student unions, university staff and several political parties have opposed the decision to expand foreign student numbers, saying it will limit the local intake. Just 25,000 local students are enrolled in universities each academic year, with over 55,000 applying.

Sanjeewa Bandara, convener of the Inter University Students Federation, or IUSF, told University World News: “This move will block the higher education opportunities of local students."

Medical school protests

Sri Lankan lecturers have also been concerned about lower entry requirements for fee-paying students, including some foreign students, at some medical schools, and have urged the ministry to stop the controversial practice.

They claim it is an attempt to open the gates to privatising state education.

Under the scheme, the University Grants Commission approved plans to admit 42 students with insufficient qualifications to medical faculties, charging annual tuition fees of US$12,000.

Ten such students were admitted to the medical faculty at Peradeniya University, but due to heavy protests by medical students this month, the faculty board refused to admit them.

Last week Rajarata University Faculty board refused to admit nine fee-paying foreign students to the university.

The convener of the Medical Faculty Students’ Action Committee, Najith Indika, said students would continue the protest until the government stopped admitting outside students to state universities. "If the government does not stop this after our protest, we will launch class boycotting as the next phase of the protest," he said.

The IUSF also launched several protests in front of universities this month, urging the government to “stop selling degrees” at private universities.

Overseas scholarship scheme

Despite the protests, the Sri Lankan cabinet recently approved a memorandum submitted by the higher education minister to expand the scholarship scheme for foreign students, which was introduced in 2011 as part of its plan to turn the country into a higher education hub.

Earlier, the ministry limited its scholarship programme to students from 48 countries. With the expansion it will include 58 countries, with Burkina Faso, Estonia, Ethiopia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Oman, Seychelles, Swaziland and Uganda added to the list.

Foreign students receive a full scholarship to study medical, management, law, engineering or arts degrees. Under the scheme, students will also be assisted with living expenses, and the government will pay airfares and visa fees.

Foreign branch campuses

Meanwhile, in the face of resistance to allowing foreign universities into Sri Lanka, the government has decided to set up foreign universities through Board of Investment (BoI) projects. The newly established Ministry of Investment Promotion has developed plans to attract foreign investment in the educational sector by offering tax breaks.

Under the scheme, Raffles Education Corporation of Singapore and the UK’s University of Central Lancashire have signed investment agreements with the BoI to establish branch campuses in Sri Lanka.

Another private institution, Victoria Higher Education Campus, owned by EDNET – part of the Dubai-based Edulink group – was inaugurated in Colombo last month and will deliver degrees from the UK’s University of Greenwich.

With some 12,000 Sri Lankan students going to foreign countries annually seeking higher education opportunities, establishing branches of foreign universities in the country could help stem the drain of more than US$400 million in foreign exchange out of the country.


Sorry, but with the poor level of scholarship coming out of there, they have a looooong way to go to be a hub of anything.

Eva Bernat on the University World News Facebook page