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“Free trade zone” of international universities on the cards for foreign students

The cabinet has green-lit a proposal to establish a Board of Investment (BOI)-approved “free trade zone” of international universities to attract foreign and non-resident students to the country.

Co-cabinet spokesman and Higher Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena told reporters today that the objective of the so called ‘free trade zone’ (in the Minister’s words) is to make Sri Lanka an international education hub home to branches of world-renowned universities.

Institutes of higher education, depending on their global ranking, will be welcome to set up shop in Sri Lanka, and will enjoy tax concessions and state-funded infrastructure facilities, the Minister said.

He said the plan took root after analysing the Putrajaya Educational City in Malaysia spearheaded by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad as a means of bringing foreign exchange to Malaysia.

About 21,000 students leave the country for higher education resulting in a loss of Rs 50 billion in foreign exchange annually, the Minister noted.

If this is to continue it will cause the rupee to depreciate resulting in a higher cost of living, he added.

The government hopes that through the proposed project, Sri Lanka will see a spike in the number of foreign students entering the country, accompanied by an increase in foreign exchange revenue as fees for the international universities may only be paid in foreign currencies and not in Sri Lankan rupees.

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