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State universities lack data science units: IPS

ECONOMYNEXT – Only two state-owned Sri Lankan universities have set up units to train data scientists who are in high demand, the Institute of Policy Studies, a Colombo-based think tank, said.

“As it stands now, Sri Lanka fails to meet the expected demand for data scientists due to a lack of skilled graduates from a data science background,” Malitha Gooneratne, a former project intern at IPS said in the think tank’s blog.

“This has hindered the country’s ability to reap the benefits offered by the industry,” he said.

The National Export Strategy Advisory Committee on ICT/BPM had estimated Sri Lanka would need 5,000 data scientists over the next five years to remain competitive in the industry.

“However, while there are currently 14 local universities established under the University Grants Commission (excluding the University of Visual and Performing Arts), only two (the University of Colombo and the University of Peradeniya) have an established data science unit,” Gooneratne said.

“The lack of departments is partially responsible for the low number of data science graduates in Sri Lanka.”

Data scientists combine statistical modelling and analysis with data visualisation, data wrangling, machine learning, computer programming and storytelling, he said.

Data scientists can be employed in a wide array of industries, ranging from healthcare and pharmaceuticals, the energy industry, to the airline industry, Gooneratne said.

“Data science, when coupled with economics, is able to shape regulatory and policy frameworks through the process of ‘datafication’.”

Sri Lanka’s ICT sector has so far focused on software engineering and business process management, but data science, artificial intelligence and big data solutions are required in an increasingly digitized world, Gooneratne said.

While the Sri Lanka Association for Software and Service Companies is aiming to train 50,000 students on data science and AI, the efforts to train and raise awareness about opportunities should also take place at secondary school level, he said.

Public and private schools should include data science in their curricula, Gooneratne said.

The ICT sector has generated 1.2 billion US dollars in external revenue in 2018 after growing 300 per cent over the past decade and data science will help to continue the growth momentum going forward, he said.

Domestic opportunities are also opening, with John Keels Holdings opening Octave, a centre for data science and analytics, and hiring data scientists.

“This represents opportunities for data scientists not only in terms of export-led growth, but also in terms of domestic growth,” Gooneratne said. (Colombo/Dec16/2019)

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