Present-day, there is a crisis in Sri Lankan education scenario. The swift enlargement of private higher education sector across the globe has turn out to be a happening in Sri Lanka as well. However, utmost of Sri Lankan public appear to give thumbs down to the idea of private universities. As a consequence, most public university students and related parties have commenced petitions to bring private higher education institutes to an end. This article will provide a theoretical and practical overview in response to the argument of indeed need of private universities in Sri Lanka which is an opposition towards Sri Lankan public deliberation. The results of the article support the observation of why private higher education has higher quality and standards than public higher education.
Monopolistic Play by local government as main cause
For decades, Sri Lankan public universities have been dominating the education industry; 15 in total which are being controlled, funded and running by local government where students pay either no tuition pay or pay a very little comparing to private institute tuition fee (Ugc.ac.lk, 2017). Apart from those universities, higher education institutes such as Acquinas, NIBM, NSBM and ICBT etc function as higher education institutes (Student Sri Lanka Education, 2013). Most of these institutes also drive under government or the private sector. However, up till now not even one distinguished measurement has done any quality or standard research on these higher education institutes to evaluate the quality of service they provide. Thus, it’s pretentiousness to guarantee the quality of Sri Lankan higher education institutes. This is where the matter arises and I would like to point quality of the Sri Lankan universities as a key issue to address regarding the dilemma. Monopoly system of public universities can present as the ground at the back of this issue. In my opinion, by establishing more private universities could resolve the matter.
Monopoly means in a market structure, a one sole organisation who is the solitary producer of a particular product or a service which faces no competition, thus leads the market. For Sri Lankan public universities there aren’t any rational competitors in the industry since they are the only sole producer in Sri Lankan higher education sector. Even though, private higher education institutes function, still insurmountable to compete with state universities. As Hindriks and Myles (2013) illustrates, the economic concept of monopoly focuses on the number and size of particular firm in an industry which clarions those Sri Lankan public state universities have a monopoly.
Here is how they have created the monopoly market: first of all, Sri Lankan education industry is an industry which is getting affected extremely by country’s political factors. Second, general public believe that government universities are the best of all since over the decades government universities have succeed to position in local citizens’ minds that state universities as places where offer highest quality and standard. Thus citizens do their best to getting to a government university and now it is rigid to make them believe in reality. Third is the influence from student unions, parent unions of government universities to prevent establishment of any private universities. Lastly, Sri Lankans value free education system. They deem private universities could be a threat to government controlled public universities. In this case, government in fact enjoy this monopoly situation while citizens who play the role of consumer are actually sightless at the front of responsible forces’ white lies. Attempt of this article is also to elucidate the falsehood have created among Sri Lankan general public.
Through GCE Advance Level (A/L) examination Sri Lankan students could get into a university. However, please note that Sri Lankan A/L exam is a rat race which students assume as a life or dead situation. They are not actually wrong; as a country with lower middle income, for an average Sri Lankan student getting a higher score in A/L exam is the only option to continue his/her academic career. In every year, around 300,000 candidates take A/L examination and nearly 150,000 of them are qualifying to enter university.
However, the bitter truth is the whole amount that gets qualified cannot go into a university due to limited number of places available in state universities. Only around 25,000 of them will get chance (Wijesiri, 2016). Left over’s have few options they could choose. If the candidate did A/L’s for the first time he/she can sit for the exam again. Or at a huge expenditure apply for a foreign university and go overseas, or apply for local higher educational institute. But what typically happens is due to financial circumstances majority tends to find employment while giving up their dreams. By opening more private universities not only could open door to experience higher education to many who couldn’t get into a university but also can minimise the shortage in universities.
If we see this matter from more economic eye, the number of Sri Lankan students who are applying for overseas degrees is getting higher day by day; not only students who could not enter university but also ones who got accepted as well. Going for overseas studies cost a lot of money. Approximately, more than US $400 million annually goes out of country just for education (De Alwis, 2013). That is a huge amount of money for a third world developing country like Sri Lanka. So why can’t Sri Lanka open more private universities within the country and keep those money. That’s what other developing countries such as India, Bangladesh do. Sri Lankan students who are willing to pay huge amount of money goes to countries such as USA, UK or Australia while others apply for Indian, Bangladesh universities at a moderate cost. Then, why students apply for countries like India, Bangladesh? It is not because they want to study in another developing country, because there is no other option for them. Through private universities Sri Lanka can cut the road to economic development. How: first it could lead to limit student flying abroad to study and can save country’s money. Second, it possibly will aid to attract foreign students and that could turn into an income.
What is more, these monopolistic monsters are breaking the consumer protection law. In this case students are the consumers and consumer has the right to know information about the product or service he/she purchase. Most public and private universities around the world give student chance to select the course they like to follow at the university if they meet entry requirement. Also they allow students to see course content and compare with other universities. So students could make the best choice. However, this is absolutely different in Sri Lanka. At all times, Sri Lankan University Grant Commission decides what course a particular student should follow based on A/L marks. For instance, even a student wants to follow an accounting course, due to limited places in the universities this student might have to end up studying Marketing. Plus, University Grant Commission won’t allow students to see the course content before head. In this manner, students have to enrol into a course without knowing what they’ll be doing for the next 3-4 years in the university. It is clear that, Sri Lankan public universities are breaking the consumers’ right to know act (Hg.org, 2017). Introducing private universities could protect consumer in other means student rights since it could give students more flexibility and the chance to select courses according to their preferences and it could also aid to get rid of state universities’ monopoly.
As a matter of fact, the foremost reason why Sri Lanka needs more private universities is for higher quality and standards. According to Quacquarelli Symonds newest top university ranking for 2018, none of Sri Lankan universities have succeeded to get into top 100. Note that, this ranking is only for Asian universities. When it comes to world ranking it is hard to find a Sri Lankan university even within top 1000. This means Sri Lankan public universities are rarely meeting the globally recognized ranking indicators such as teaching, research, academic reputation, employee reputation and so on. Consequently no surprise students are going abroad to get quality higher education qualifications. Some may think ranking is not important, but to attract researchers and to ensure quality of enrolled students and to make a better brand ranking is an essential. Most of Private universities usually follow high quality standards to deliver best to its students and normally separate huge budget for research and development.
On top of that, typical Sri Lankan student enter university at age 19. Due to political issues and university strikes this could be change. Enrolled students are actually willing to wait 1 or 2 years to start their new course at state university since they believe these monopolistic state universities are the best. For instance, imagine two friends do A/L exam in 2013; one get a higher district rank get selected to a local university. The other one before even applying for local universities, applied for an overseas university and starts undergraduate degree in 2014. In early 2017, second person can get graduate and start further studies or work end of 2017 while first person is still following undergraduate degree and probably will get graduate in 2018.
The reason why I’m telling this is most of Sri Lankan public universities do not follow an academic calendar. They start new academic year once university problems are solved. What is more horrifying is, even though students do not want to participate in political campaigns, they are forced to do so by seniors and student unions. Normally, at least 2 protesting happen in a year; as a result typical Sri Lankan undergraduate student graduate at age 25 or later. Because of the monopoly play by state universities, students have no other option than waiting. But private universities usually do follow a proper academic calendar and will get students graduate accordingly in due date.
However, on the other hand, at the moment there are hundred and plus private institutes in Sri Lanka are marketing so called “UK”. “USA”, “Australian” degrees. For me, it is questionable that, those education institute deliver the same quality as the mother universities. Here, there is something to keep in mind; not many ranked or high quality universities do partner degrees. They either have their own campuses in a particular market or they ll just offer students to come and study at the main campus as partner institute can lower the reputation and the quality of the degree. So it is up to you to decide whether get ‘just’ a degree or do it properly with a right education institute. To be honest, I also think when comparing to these money making institutes to public universities, public universities offer high quality degrees even with the unstable internal and external affecting matters.
As you can see, most of these problems have arisen as a result of state universities’ monopoly and gives a clear clarification that what Sri Lankan state universities are doing is not ethical nor so called private institutes. According to above discussion; given few facts solid the argument of indeed need of quality private universities in Sri Lanka. Not only as a marketer but as a Sri Lankan I do believe now it is time to restructure Sri Lankan higher education system while getting rid of state universities monopolistic play because even though we are in the 21st century, it feels like Sri Lanka is still in 19th century. Through establishing more quality private universities, we could make the first step to build better education system. With the time, state universities and private universities can accordingly increase their quality and standards to offer same level quality education. If Sri Lankans are saying no to private universities because of ‘free education’, what they actually are doing is breaking freedom of education.
Thus, I advocate that, there is an indeed need of more quality private universities to Sri Lankan education industry and would like to see all Sri Lankans welcome private universities with open hands.
What is your opinion regarding this matter? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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- Student Sri Lanka Education. (2013). Higher Education Institutes offering Degrees in Sri Lanka. [online] Available at: http://studentlanka.com/2013/02/13/degree-institutes/ [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].
- Top Universities. (2017). QS University Rankings: Asia 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/asian-university-rankings/2018 [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].
- ac.lk. (2017). University Grants Commission – Sri Lanka >> Universities and Higher Educational Institutions. [online] Available at: http://www.ugc.ac.lk/en/universities-and-institutes/list.html [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].
- Wijesiri, L. (2016). Why we need more private universities. [online] Daily News. Available at: http://dailynews.lk/2016/10/17/features/96101 [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].