Sri Lanka to control foreign university placement offices after student deaths

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will introduce a regulatory framework for agencies that place students in foreign universities after three undergraduates who were studying in a foreign university died in Azerbaijan, higher education minister Bandula Gunewardene said.

Many students are forced to go abroad for higher studies because strict government regulations have prevented the expansion of domestic private degree awarding institutes and there are only a limited number of seats if fully tax-payer financed colleges.

The quality of many state degrees are also so weak that graduates cannot find a job in productive sectors, triggering a crisis in the education system and the country.

“I have instructed the secretary to my ministry University Grants Commission (the agency that regulates universities), to discuss with these parties and start a regulatory framework.”

He said the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has started a program so that all those eligible for higher education can get a place in a domestic university over the longer term.

However analysts say excessive government regulations may have contributed to the higher education crisis in the first place.

Gunewardene said there was opposition to setting up domestic private educational institutions.

“There is a view promoted that under no circumstances would domestic private degree awarding institutions be allowed,” Gunewardene said.

“Also students are told that they would not have to face ragging if they go to foreign universities.”

He said over 2,000 students had dropped out of universities over the last 10 years due to ragging, some had committed suicide and others were maimed for life.

“Many parents are borrowing and mortgaging their lands to send children abroad,” he said.

Each year 20,000 students were going abroad and about 50 billion rupees were spent, he said.

Minister Gunewardene said he had visited the houses of the students who had died. They were not some rich people and had got into debt to send the kids abroad.

“This country had a policy of going with free (tax payer funded) education for all. But in recent years many agencies and representative offices have come up,” he said.

“There are exhibitions and workshops to attract students using marketing strategies to even attract rural students to foreign universities.” (Colombo/Jan15/2020)