Business Times

Higher education for the 21st Century Project

An ambitious US$40 million project to revamp Sri Lanka’s higher education system is seeking World Bank (WB) support as part of its country assistance strategy (CAS) for Sri Lanka.

A team of experts led by Lead Education Specialist Harsha Aturupane is proposing the Higher Education for the 21st Century Project which seeks to assist Sri Lanka in development its higher education to meet the needs of the modern global knowledge economy.

The project, consisting of four components, will support the establishment of a National Qualification Framework (NQF) for the higher education sector and support the installation of a Quality Assurance Mechanism (QAM) for higher education institutions. The project will also support initiatives in universities to improve the quality and employability of graduates which includes strengthening English language, IT and soft skills and introduce measures to promote ethnic harmony and national unity.

At a press briefing this week, the WB’s Country Director for Sri Lanka Naoko Ishii one of the objectives of the CAS is to ensure that the country grows into a full-fledged middle income country in lasting peace from a low income country in conflict. Ms. Ishii said higher education lies between this dual transition.
Dr. Aturupane said the project has been prepared by the stakeholders including the University Grants Commission (UGC), the staff at various universities across the country and the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) while the WB team has provided its expertise and advice. He said the discussion and dissemination process has been extensive with seminars, workshops and consultations already held in Colombo, Batticaloa and Jaffna.

Among the key areas identified in the project is the creation of standards and expectations for external degree students of which there are approximately 260,000. John Feilden, the Lead Higher Education Quality Development Specialist said the quality of the teaching staff is essential. Currently, around 40% of the academics in Sri Lanka have Phd’s whereas 75% of academics have Phd’s in countries such as Malaysia. The project is expected to have long-term training for staff Phd’s.

Dr. Aturupane said the project will take between five to six years to implement. Currently, it is at the pre-appraisal stage and has to eventually be approved by the WB board of directors.

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