Marga Institute - Centre for Development Studies

Seminar on the Towers of Learning

On an initiative taken by Dr Harsha Aturupana Senior Economist the co –leader of the team that produced the World Bank report on higher education in Sri Lanka the Marga Institute in collaboration with the World Bank and the Gamani Corea Foundation held a seminar on 20th of November 2009 at the Marga Auditorium. The seminar was organized to coincide with the World Bank mission which visited Sri Lanka and which included the main co-authors of the report. Dr Benoit Millot, participated in the seminar and presented some of the main conclusions of the. The speakers focused on three major themes:

  • enhancing the quality of higher education and developing an effective system of quality assurance for both public and private higher education ;
  • the non-university or alternate system of higher education and its potential for supplying the large component of the middle levels of the labour force;
  • The nature of supply and demand in the labour market for higher education and the problems of mismatch and relevance in the prevailing system.


The Chairman of the National Education Commission Professor Suraweera gave a brief opening address and informed the audience that the Commission had completed the drafting of a national policy on higher education which would be presented to His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapakse shortly. Dr Harsha Aturupana who represented the World Bank said that there had been a shift in World Bank policy in the recent past resulting in the Bank including the higher education sector among the priorities in its programmes of assistance to developing countries.

The speakers provided an insightful analysis of the shortcomings in the present system and outlined the corrections and improvements that are needed. The audience at the seminar comprised a well represented cross section of the concerned stakeholders in the education sector. It included representatives of government policy making bodies, the academic community, the private sector and civil society. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion which identified some issues of high priority that required further research. These included the poor performance of the alternate system- which accounted for only 2% of the enrolments in the tertiary sector ; the disproportionately high enrolment for external degrees in the universities and the nature and composition of this enrolment; the characteristics of the unemployed graduate population with its high concentration of females who accounted for over 75% of the unemployed with GCE/ A level and above ; the growth of the public sector in keeping with the growth of the economy and higher levels of development and their implications for higher education; the other issues of a wider nature such as the political determinants of higher education and the entrenched violence in the universities which have been outside the frame of reference of the World Bank study.

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