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Saturday October 1st, 2022

Pioneering higher education reforms

Ranjith Rubasinghe Founder President and Chief Executive of SLTC Research University

Ranjith Rubasinghe, Founder President and Chief Executive of SLTC Research University (SLTC), the only corporate-backed university in the country, shares insights on the challenges confronting higher education and how nonstate universities like SLTC are setting benchmarks and improving access to affordable, quality higher education in Sri Lanka.

In your view, what challenges confront university education in Sri Lanka in the context of the unfolding economic crisis?

The unfolding economic crisis is also an educational crisis, threatening to deny the futures our children aspire for themselves. There are several reasons for this. The currency crisis has reduced the number of students leaving the country for higher education overseas by 90%, and runaway inflation is pushing the dreams of children and their parents for quality higher education out of reach. Schools and state universities are not functioning because the constricting fuel shortage has disrupted the electricity supply and derailed transportation. Another critical factor is that we need to have industry-relevant programmes at our state and non-state high educational establishments. The tech industry claims a shortfall of 25,000 to 30,000 professionals to meet their needs. In this context, not only do we need to see if more universities are needed, but we also need to have the tech industry on board to ensure that their programmes are relevant. In that context, SLTC is on a mission to address these issues around affordability, quality, and industry relevance, in an environment that fosters diversity and excellence, nurturing well-rounded future-ready individuals.

How does SLTC contribute to improving access to affordable higher education?

Most non-state universities take a foreign university curriculum and deliver it here. SLTC, however, adopted a contrarian approach that gives matchless benefits to our students. We have agreements with leading foreign universities to accept the first two years of SLTC degrees equivalent to their first two years.

So now, a student aspiring to study at the Auckland University in New Zealand can do the first two years at SLTC. They will be paying less than half the cost of a foreign degree by enrolling at SLTC and availing themselves of the first two years’ advantage. At the end of the second year, students can decide whether they wish to go to one of our academic partners to complete the balance of two years or complete it here at SLTC.

Staying true to our vision and considering the economic challenges burdening Sri Lankans today, we have reduced our fees significantly, offering discounts ranging from 5-20%, depending on the course. We also have a unique merit-based programme offering scholarships of up to 60% based on a student’s A/L results.

How did SLTC evolve to offer a holistic international higher education to Sri Lankan students within such a short period?

Within a few years since our first intake in 2016, SLTC has evolved into a university with 3,000 students and an illustrious faculty of over 200 across several degree programmes from Engineering & IT to Business Studies and Arts & Music. We have UGC approval for 25 degree-awarding programmes, giving us the highest portfolio among non-state universities in the country.

SLTC also has the highest per faculty application rate among state and non-state universities and is recognised as the fastest-growing university in the country and the most innovative university in South Asia. We have secured excellent academic partnerships with the likes of Lancaster University, United Kingdom; James Cook, Deakin and RMIT, Australia; and Auckland University and Lincoln University, New Zealand. SLTC is focused on research, garnering recognition for our work over the years and some of our researchers winning Presidential Awards.

When we began work on the SLTC in 2014, our idea was to create a holistic person, not just a graduate with a certificate. So, our acquisition of a spacious 36-acre property with many trees in Padukka for the university was a deliberate decision. In that context, we are the most spacious non-state university in the country because we believe students should have the space and freedom to think, behave, hang out, enjoy life, excel in their academic work, and explore and develop other skills.

SLTC is a 900-bed residential university, with female and male students living in the same building, again, a first in the country, and we are the only university open 24/7. Those are some of the things we did differently to achieve the objectives we had in mind to create well-rounded individuals in an environment of diversity and inclusion – hence the sciences and music finding a home at SLTC. We have a campus at Trace Expert City, Colombo, which is also home to leading software and other innovative tech companies that provide opportunities to observe and learn what they do in an environment of academic-industry collaboration we have fostered.

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