ECONOMYNNEXT - Sri Lanka's National Human Resources Development Council is proposing a single-window or one stop shop to attract foreign direct investments to set up private universities and training institutions, but not private medical schools, officials said.
"Sri Lanka needs foreign investments coming into the country's higher education system in order to broaden accessibility and also turnout graduates who have relevant skills needed to lift the economy to the next level," Chandra Embuldeniya, a member of the council and former Vice Chancellor at the Uva Wellassa University said.
"But there are many thorny points in the various approvals and regulatory processes that hurt investors trying to invest in education,
"There is something not right in the way we attract investments into this country. If we can fix this, we will get all the investments we need,
"This will also help us attract investments from reputed foreign universities to set up campuses here," he said.
According to a survey of 30 private higher education institutions carried out by Embuldeniya, many of them complain about the difficulties in dealing with multiple government agencies for various approvals.
"There are many roadblocks that make it difficult to invest here," Embuldeniya said.
Private education and training institutions have to deal with several government agencies for approvals and other regulatory matters such as the Registrar of Companies, Higher Education Ministry, the Tertiary, Vocational Education and Board of Investment.
Private investors will also have to register with the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council of Sri Lanka in the future, whereas earlier they needed to be registered with the University Grants Commission, he said.
"We are proposing that the government set up a single-window to save investors the hassle. We need to invest in technology so that these government agencies can also share relevant information amongst themselves to avoid duplication," he said.
"All investors need to do is submit an application, and the single window should take care of the all the approvals and guide investors about the necessary regulatory requirements that they will have to fulfil."
The proposal is one of 12 proposals submitted by the National Human Resources Development Council to the government to be incorporated in the 2019 Budget.
The Council is proposing a 43 percent increase in central government spending on education to 405 billion rupees by 2020, including doubling allocations for higher education to 133.5 billion rupees.
The council's proposed budget estimates includes provisions for a voucher programme for students who don't make it to state universities to enrol at private higher education institutes in the country.
It's also proposing private-public partnerships to develop universities and vocational training colleges.
The council's proposal to facilitate private investments into higher education does not include medical schools.
"We're not suggesting there should be private medical schools, we're only looking at expanding capacity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and even finance and management," Embuldeniya said.
"We don't need private medical schools," he said.
The 3 billion rupee private medical school, SAITM, was appropriated by the state after the Sri Lanka Medical Council refused to recognise its medical degrees on the grounds of several short comings in clinical training. SAITM had begun enrolling med students after obtaining approvals from the Board of Investment and the Ministry of Higher Education.
(COLOMBO, 31 July 2018)