A sneak preview into the history of tertiary education providers in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has inherited two major traditions of higher education, one going back to the institutions developed by the Buddhist Sangha, both in India and Sri Lanka, and the other derived from the British traditions of the religious and secular universities.

The British tradition was introduced towards the end of the nineteenth century (1870), first with a Medical School, and later a Law College (1874), both in Colombo. The setting up of the University College in Colombo in 1921, with affiliation to the London University heralded the next step in the development of higher education to be later followed by the setting up of the University of Ceylon in Colombo in 1942.

The dawn of Tertiary Education in Sri Lanka commenced in the early 1990s. Tertiary education was set to bloom by mainly three Institutes which dared to set the stage for tertiary education in the country.
Few of the pioneering Institutes that come to mind including IICS, currently known as IIT offered programmes in partnership with Manchester University, UK; ITS, offering programmes in association with Houston University, USA and IIHE in conjunction with University of Wales, UK. Since their inception the three institutes formed with the overarching aim of filling the gap between the need for industry professionals and University educated graduates who lacked the knack for the real corporate world scenarios, over time have evolved rapidly.

Two of the three Institutes over time changed Foreign University affiliations due to invariable reasons and have hence changed their partnering Universities over the years. Yet one still stands tall head held high as the true pioneer of establishing Tertiary Education in our motherland. Imperial Institute of Higher Education (IIHE), completing 14 successful years of continued growth and academic excellence offering programmes from the University of Wales, UK, to-date shines as the leader in offering quality British education and creating many professionals to the industry in Sri Lanka.

The success of a long standing conjunction with a reputed University, represented in Sri Lanka is not far stretched. Yet tertiary education providers must comprehend the requisites put forward by the Universities and must ensure that these standards and quality maintenance can be executed by them locally.

It is only a responsible higher education provider initiated with the vision of churning Industry professionals, who are adequately resourceful and genuine, who will be able to adhere to these demands.

According to the report on the contribution of tertiary education for the upliftment of the country conducted by SAINE of Nepal the upper end of the workforce comprising the three top layers - Senior Officials and Managers, Professionals, Technical and Associate professionals - have been taken as the employment market for tertiary outputs.

These three layers constitute the fastest growing segment in the workforce having doubled over the 15 year period and grown at a rate of 4.8% annually. The share of the workforce with educational qualifications at the GCE A'L and above has increased from 7.5 % in 1991 to about 12.2 % in 2006. Both indicators show that there has been a substantial increase in the employment opportunities for entrants with higher educational qualifications.

Thus realizing the potential and opportunity to make easy money by only affiliating with one or perhaps many number of Universities in order to increase their chances of making more profit, many more 'Higher Education' institutes were incepted after the late 1990s toward the early dawn of the millennium.
These institutes incorporated as initially providing IT specialists, business graduates and professionals hence went forth to proclaim themselves as the leader/pioneer in the industry.

The list goes on. Some of these so-called 'pioneering' institutions, who do not even seem to have a sense of creativity, stoop so low to the extent of duplicating the advertisements published by the real pioneers.

Yet where does the buck stop? The answer, it doesn't. Not until Institutes formed without a noble cause of service to the country are identified and sealed; mushrooming higher education providers are clearly brought to the limelight along with all those claiming to offer accredited quality international undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes are brought to justice.

The government must take initiatives to end the exploitation done in the name of providing tertiary education and take measures to incorporate quality assuring methods to contain higher education providers to exploit the public.

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