Higher education in Sri Lanka

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Higher education in Sri Lanka is an optional final stage of formal learning following secondary education. Higher education, also referred to as tertiary education occurs most commonly universities or degree-granting institutions. These may be public universities, public and private degree-granting institutions which award their own degrees or degrees from foreign universities. [1] High visibility issues include limited capacity of public universities to cater for the demand and opposition to private universities from certain segments. [2]


Types of universities and institutions


There are only 15 universities in Sri Lanka under the direct administration of the University Grants Commission which controls funding and appointments. The prominent ones are University of Colombo, University of Peradeniya, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura, University of Moratuwa, University of Jaffna, University of Ruhuna. [1]

Other government universities

Apart from the national universities controlled by the University Grants Commission, there are several other universities administrated directly by several government ministries.

Degree awarding institutions

In recent years, with amendments to the University Act, a few institutes and private companies have been given permission to grant their own degrees: The most prominent is the government-owned Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology. [3]

Professional institutions

There are many local and foreign professional bodies active in Sri Lanka such as Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, British Computer Society, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, etc. There are institutions provide entrance to professions such as the Sri Lanka Law College.

Vocational training

Vocational education and training in Sri Lanka are managed by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission of the Ministry of Vocational & Technical Training. Training includes course based curriculum at vocational technical training centers and apprenticeship at private or public organizations. Higher education in vocational fields could be archived though several universities. The National Vocational Qualifications Systems in Sri Lanka (NVQSL) provides a structured seven levels of qualifications from Level 1 to Level 7. Vocational education and training is carried out for degree level at the Open University, Sri Lanka and the University of Vocational Technology, as well as at diploma level at 37 technical colleges, Institute of Engineering Technology, Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education [4] and the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture.


The beginnings of modern higher education in Ceylon commenced in 1870 with the establishment of the Ceylon Medical School, followed by Colombo Law College (1875), School of Agriculture (1884) and the Government Technical College (1893). [5]

The origins of the modern university system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when a University college, the Ceylon University College was established at the former premises of Royal College Colombo, and was affiliated with the University of London. The college provided courses of study in art and humanities, science and medicine prepared undergraduates for examination at the University of London.

In 1942 the first university was established in the country was the University of Ceylon which had several campuses island wide, Colombo (established 1942), Peradeniya (established 1949), Vidyodaya (established 1959), Vidyalankara (established 1959) and Katubedda (established 1972). Vidyodaya and Vidayalankara were established under the Vidyodaya and Vidayalankara University Act No 45 of 1958. The University of Ceylon was modelled on the Oxbridge formula, at its inception the university only accommodated 904 students, which later expanded to cover a number of universities and it remained as an elite-oriented university as stated by Sir Ivor Jennings, catering to a small number of students and exclusively residential. It was dissolved in 1972 to establish the University of Sri Lanka. In 1974 the Jaffna campus was added to the University of Sri Lanka. [6] [7] [8]

The change of the government in July 1977 led to dismantling of the single university apparatus with the plan of establishing independent universities. With the promulgation of the Universities Act. No 16 of 1978, state university status was restored to the six separate campuses. The University Grants Commission (UGC) was also created to plan and coordinate the state university education. After that, a number of state universities were created. All these state universities are registered under the University Grants Commission, but a few come under the auspices of ministries other than the Ministry of Higher Education, in which the UGC is a part of. Most of the state universities depend on funds given by the University Grants Commission, as it is their primary and sometimes only source of funding. Therefore, the UGC has a direct control over these universities and administer the undergraduate intake. The UGC is subordinate to the Ministry of Higher Education.


Universities in the Sri Lanka have generally been instituted by Special Presidential Decree, University Orders, Acts of Parliament and the Higher Education Act 1978. [9]


Acts of Parliament

Admission process

Undergraduate education in state universities is free but entrance is extremely competitive, limited and standardized. Fewer than 16% (less than 16,000 students) of those who qualify get admission to state universities [11] and of that only half graduate. [12] Admission to the university system is based on the highly competitive GCE Advanced Level examination. Selection of students is done on the basis of rank order on average Z Scores obtained by candidates at the GCE Advanced Level to replicate a district basis representation. Only the top students from each district get admissions, as appose to their overall island rank.


All state universities are funded through the government and undergraduate education is free in these universities. All postgraduate education is fee-levied, unless sponsored by the government. Government also provides grants for students through the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund.


Z score

Due to the limited intake into state universities, admissions are based on the student's rank order on average Z Scores obtained by candidates at the GCE Advanced Level to replicate a district basis representation. The top students from urban and rural districts get the chances of having tertiary education. However, top students who got qualified under the minimum Z Scores requirements for admissions from remote districts may get in with relatively lower marks than those from urban districts. As a result, many students who are not granted admission find other means of higher education. [13]

Graduate unemployment

Sri Lanka has a large number of unemployed graduates numbering 43,000 in 2017. Low economic growth, limited vacancies in public sector as well as unemployable skill set of graduates who have studied aesthetics subjects, while there is a major shortage of technical knowledge. Calls for reform of the university system has been called for to address these issues and the successive attempt to grant government jobs to these graduates mainly in teaching. [14] [15]


ragging has been widespread in Sri Lankan universities. Certain student groups such as the IUSF uses ragging as a means of attracting a following among more backward students. [16] Student groups claim that ragging served as a social equalizer in the universities. But with the emergence of JVP-backed student unions such as IUSF, ragging has served primarily to ensure the continuing domination of JVP political power within the universities, academics suggest with several student death associated to it. [17]

Academic standards

The academic standards of Sri Lankan universities have been questioned as they fare extremely low in international rankings with the University of the Colombo ranked 801 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and 8 in South Asia. [18]

Related Research Articles

University of Colombo Public research university in Sri Lanka

The University of Colombo is a public research university located primarily in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is the oldest institution of modern higher education in Sri Lanka. Specialised in the fields of natural, social, and applied sciences as well as mathematics, computer sciences, and law. It is ranked among the top 10 universities in South Asia.

University of Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka

The University of Moratuwa is a technological university in Sri Lanka. It is located on the bank of the Bolgoda Lake in Katubedda, Moratuwa. Apart from academics including undergraduate and postgraduate studies, the University of Moratuwa presents social and cultural activities, student services, societies, and sports and recreational activities. The institution was known as Ceylon College of Technology, Katubedda before gaining university status. Its roots go back to the Institute of Practical Technology founded in 1960 to provide technical education.

Ragging is the term used for the so-called "initiation ritual" practiced in higher education institutions in South Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The practise is similar to hazing in North America, bizutage in France, praxe in Portugal, and other similar practices in educational institutions across the world. Ragging involves abuse, humiliation, or harassment of new entrants or junior students by the senior students. It often takes a malignant form wherein the newcomers may be subjected to psychological or physical torture. In 2009, the University Grants Commission of India imposed regulations upon Indian universities to help curb ragging and launched a toll-free 'anti-ragging helpline'.

Ceylon Medical College

Ceylon Medical College was a public medical school in Ceylon. The college was established in 1870 as the Colombo Medical School. The college was based in Colombo. The college was merged with Ceylon University College in 1942 to form the University of Ceylon. The medical college became the university's faculty of medicine. The college was also known as Colombo Medical College.

Eastern University, Sri Lanka

The Eastern University, Sri Lanka is a public university in Vantharumoolai, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka. It was established on 1 October 1986. The university was preceded by the Batticaloa University College established on 1 August 1981 which was started in the buildings of the Vantharumoolai Madya Maha Vidyalayam.

Education in Sri Lanka

Education in Sri Lanka has a long history that dates back two millennia. While the Constitution of Sri Lanka does not provide free education as a fundamental right, the constitution mentions that 'the complete eradication of illiteracy and the assurance to all persons of the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels" in its section on directive principles of state policy at (27. Sri Lanka's population had an adult literacy rate of 96.3% in 2015, which is above average by world and regional standards. Computer literacy in 2017 28.3% and phone users in 2017 105%, website users 32% in 2017. Education plays a major part in the life and culture of the country. which dates back to 543 BC. Sri Lanka's modern educational system modeled after Christian missionary system was brought about by its integration into the British Empire in the 19th century. Education currently falls under the control of both the Central Government and the Provincial Councils, with some responsibilities lying with the Central Government and the Provincial Council having autonomy for others. Education institutions with a tradition dating back to 5 BC are largely ignored by the state.

University of Peradeniya State university in Kandy, Sri Lanka

The University of Peradeniya is a state university in Sri Lanka, funded by the University Grants Commission. It is the largest university in Sri Lanka, which was originally established as the University of Ceylon in 1942. The university was officially opened on 20 April 1954 in the presence of H. M. Queen Elizabeth II by H. R. H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

University Grants Commission (Sri Lanka)

The University Grants Commission (UGC) is the body responsible for funding most of the State Universities in Sri Lanka, and operates within the frame work of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978, itself established by the Cabinet Minister of Education & Higher Education at the time Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne in 1979. A public organisation, established under the Parliament Act No 16 of 1978. Location is at No 20, Ward Place Colombo 07.

University of Ruhuna

The University of Ruhuna is a public university in Matara, Sri Lanka.

University of Sri Jayewardenepura University in Sri Lanka

The University of Sri Jayewardenepura is a university in Sri Lanka. It is in Gangodawila, Nugegoda, near Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, the capital city. It was formed in 1958 out of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, a Buddhist educational centre which was founded in 1873 by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera.

University of Ceylon

The University of Ceylon was the only university in Sri Lanka from 1942 until 1972. It had several constituent campuses at various locations around Sri Lanka. The University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1972, replaced it with the University of Sri Lanka which existed from 1973 to 1978. In 1978 it was separated into four independent universities. These are the University of Colombo, the University of Peradeniya, University of Kelaniya and the University of Sri Jayawardanapura.

University of the Visual and Performing Arts

University of the Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA) is a public university located primarily in Colombo, Sri Lanka, specialising in art, design, fashion and the performing arts. It was formerly known as the Government College of Fine Arts, Heywood Institute of Art and the Institute of Aesthetic Studies of the University of Ceylon. It has no known date of foundation, but there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1893. It is the only university in Sri Lanka to exclusively offer special degree programs in visual and performing arts.

The University of Sri Lanka was a public university in Sri Lanka. Established in 1972 by amalgamating the four existing universities, it was the only university in Sri Lanka from 1972 until 1978. The university was based at six campuses in Colombo, Peradeniya, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya, Moratuwa and Jaffna. The university was dissolved in 1978 and its six campuses became independent universities.

University of Jaffna

The University of Jaffna is a public university in the city of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. Established in 1974 as the sixth campus of the University of Sri Lanka, it became an independent, autonomous university in 1979. Like all public universities in Sri Lanka, UoJ receives the bulk of its funding from the University Grants Commission (UGC), part of the Ministry of Higher Education in Colombo. The UGC and the central government therefore exert a great deal of control over the university.

Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya

The Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya is one of the eight academic faculties at the university. It is the oldest engineering faculty in Sri Lanka. It offers full-time Undergraduate Courses leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.Sc.Eng.), and several postgraduate degrees.

Ceylon University College

Ceylon University College was a public university college in Ceylon. Established in 1921, it was Ceylon's first attempt at university education. The college didn't award degrees under its own name but prepared students to sit the University of London's external examination. The college was based in Colombo. The college was merged with Ceylon Medical College in 1942 to form the University of Ceylon. The college was also known as University College, Ceylon; University College, Colombo; and Colombo University College. Its buildings and grounds are now occupied by the University of Colombo which is considered its successor.

The University of Colombo currently has seven faculties with 41 academic departments and two interdependent schools with five academic departments. All faculties and schools carries out courses of study and research in both graduate and undergraduate studies. In addition, the university has several institutions that specialize in different areas of research.

Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education

The Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education is a statutory body in Sri Lanka coming under the purview of the Higher Education Ministry and offering Higher National Diploma courses. At present, it manages and supervises eighteen provincial Advanced Technological Institutes throughout the island. The Institute is traditionally known for its education in the accountancy and engineering. As per the recommendations of the Committee appointed by Prof. Wiswa Waranapala, Deputy Minister of Higher Education in 1994, the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technical Education (SLIATE) was formed in 1995, under the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technical Education Act No. 29 of 1995. In 2001 the name of the institution was amended as Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE).

Engineering is the most sought after subject areas among Sri Lankan students. The engineering degrees make up less than 2% of the bachelor's degrees in Sri Lanka.


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