ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka is committed to protecting the freedom of parents and children in gaining a higher education with their own efforts, at a time when China and Vietnam are expanding private education rapidly, Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne said.
He said not everyone had an opportunity to enter a taxpayer-funded university. "Others also have the freedom to get a higher education," Wickramaratne told reporters. "Nobody has a right to restrict their freedom. We are committed to protecting their freedom to gain higher learning."
Wickramaratne's statement came as Sri Lanka's Government Medical Officers Association threatened strikes over the creation of SAITM, a medical college that charges fees.
In Sri Lanka, degree awarding was made into a state monopoly, severely restricting the citizen's freedom to higher learning. But, in areas like accounting and law, the community was educating themselves without taking taxpayer money.
But, the government was now expanding education freedom.
"Anyone who cannot get a higher education from the government should have the freedom to get it through another way," Wickramarane said. "We should protect their freedom."
Many parents were sending their children abroad, spending vast sums of money. Russia, a former communist country, had been taking Sri Lankan students by charging fees for many years. China and Vietnam, which are communist countries, are expanding their private education sectors rapidly, he said.
From 2005 to 2012, 124 private education institutions have been set up in Vietnam, he said. Australia Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was among foreign universities that have set up campuses in Vietnam.
In China, which had 20 private higher education institutes in 1997, had seen them expand to 630 by 2010 with active state support.
Before private education, 10 percent of students between 18 and 20 years were in universities, but it had expanded to 27 percent in 13 years.
"Since reforms and opening-up, private education has gained great momentum and become a vital part of socialist education thanks to its crucial contribution to the promotion of education modernization and social development," the State Council of China said in a decree issued in January 2017. "Private schools should be managed under the categories of profit-oriented and nonprofit."
Wickramaratne said regional administrations in China had also been ordered to support private education institutes. "Governments at all levels are required to enhance their financial support for private education in accordance with related laws and regulations," the state council said. "The funds used in this regard should be included in the government budget and made open to the society, with an aim to improve the efficiency in fund usage."
Wikramaratne said the world's top universities were not run by governments.
"There are private for-profit universities and self-funded non-profit universities," he said. "We have to create the space for both."
Wickramaratne said if there were shortcomings at SAITM or any other place, they had to be fixed.
Countries like Vietnam, which saw fast expansion of private education, also had problems in the economic downturn that came after 2009 as student enrolments fell. Then, the sector went through a period of consolidation with firms that ran larger colleges with deeper pockets buying up others.