StudySriLanka Page

Posted on August 10, 2005  /  6 Comments

What should the Ed forum do next? We have so many options. Our recent seminar on Year-1 Admissions alone pointed us in several directions. Then the President decreed that henceforth all tertiary education institutions shall be reviewed by the government. That’s good, but quality assurance of education is too important to be left to government. In quality assurance in education, typically, government agencies and civil society organizations play complementary roles (more on that later). Therefore, at this point, the Education forum will focus its energies on collecting information and ranking education choices for school leavers, and disseminating the information widely. We have just set up a page on this site called studysrilanka, named after the successful venture.

StudySriLanka page is about choices at 16+ for school leavers in Sri Lanka, but we like to think big and think of a day in the future when the studysrilanka site would be the site of choice for school leavers or even secondary school students from across Asia. We have direct flights from now and apparently Chinese students are finding some of our private institutions attractive. Maldivians have been coming here for years. We plan to include secondary schools, colleges and universities–colleges in this context meaning institutions that offer degrees in affiliation with universities.
Right now what you see in StudySriLanka is a data dump with errors and all. Stay with us, tell us about your experiences with any school, college or university, and tell a friend about the page. We’ll continue to refine the data and add more features.

In quality assurance in education, governments or government sanctioned organizations are there to ensure that schools, colleges, and universities adhere to minimum standards. However, the information published by governments tends to be pretty bland and not very useful for parents and students who need comparative information that they can use for decision making. That is why ranking systems have co-evolved with government-sanctioned registration and accreditation systems. In UK, you have Times Good University Guide and Guardian Guide to Universities. In the US, parents have a choice of ranking systems-Best Colleges by US News & World Report, The Princeton Review, The Fiske guide and so on.

Following are some excerpts from a write up I did for Student Times, a new magazine from the creators of Leisure Times that hit the stands last year.

Is Sri Lanka Ready for Rankings in Education?

For school leavers in Sri Lanka , the choices in higher education are no longer limited to the 13,000 or so available places in the public university system. If you are able to pay, there are many other opportunities to pursue a degree or a professional or vocational qualification. Should one try one more time to gain admission to a public sector university? Are the public sector programs really free? What is the cost of lost-time? How do the quality, relevance and the true cost of other opportunities compare?

An effective system of regulation in combination with ranking can give the consumers of education the information they need to answer these questions. Regulation by a government or government recognized body ensures that those educational institutions provide the learner with at least the minimum standards. Rankings allow potential students and their parents to compare and contrast all available opportunities using information collected, collated and analyzed by a third party such as a reputable newspaper. If regulation gives a pass or fail grade, a ranking gives a number score. If regulation is a cake, ranking is the icing. In Sri Lanka and other developing countries, the icing may have to come before the cake, because governmental institutions in these countries are generally are not very competent.

Diplomas and Certificates

In Sri Lanka, the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) is mandated by legislation to register and monitor all tertiary educational institutions, except those that come under the purview of the University Grants Commission, The Law College, Teacher Training Colleges, and a few other specified institutions. Two-year degree programs or associate degree programs are also under the purview of TVEC although such degrees are not popular in .

Currently, over 1000 institutions that offer diploma or certificate programs are registered with TVEC. Many more remain unregistered. TVEC has adopted the wise policy of using a market approach to regulation. In a market approach, a list of registered institutes and the programs offered by them would be readily available to the consumers allowing the consumer to make informed decisions. The expectation is that student interest in seeking out registered institute would would compel all institutions to register.

The market principle will work only if the consumers get reliable and timely data that are made available in a manner that is convenient to the consumer. So far TVEC has not been able to deliver in this regard. Please take a look at TVEC’s web site ( and decide for yourself. Meanwhile, the demand for training continues to increase and the supply is increasing to meet the demand. A government agency that is already behind will not be able to keep up.

Degree Programs

The University Grants Commission (UGC) is responsible for maintaining quality in the degree granting sector. The term ‘University’ is essentially owned by the government of Sri Lanka, since a university can be only created by an act of parliament. An independent institution may be authorized to offer degree programs but can not call itself a university.

UGC is a latecomer to the business of quality assurance. In 2002, the Committee on Quality Assurance, a committee appointed by the UGC, initiated a project to design and implement a quality assurance system for higher education. Review of all institutions is expected to be completed by 2005 and the review of individual degree programs is expected to be completed by 2007. This time table does not include private degree programs. The efficiency and the effectiveness of process is not encouraging. It will interesting to see how UGC complies with the presidential decree, which I am not sure did not come with any additional resources for UGC.

Reviewers for quality assurance are chosen from among the faculty members from the 13 universities and therein lay the problem. Many of our faculty members in the universities do not have the level of post-graduate training. The situation is particularly acute in social sciences, humanities and management fields. Of those faculty members with adequate post-graduate training, not all keep up to date in their subject matter. Degree program reviewers should themselves meet certain quality standards. If you set the bar too high for a qualifying a reviewer, there won’t be sufficient reviewers and the efficiency suffers. If you set the bar too low you lower the validity of the quality assurance.

In addition there is the small-pond problem. Nobody would want to be too hard on another colleague who is in the same small university system The quality assurance process in the higher sector badly needs some sort of external validation.

Transnational Operations

Transnational education is a no mans land, locally here in or globally around the world. Transnational education is service or a trade where the supplier of education is in one country and the receiver is in another country. According to the GATS (General Trades and Services) convention, transnational educational services or any transnational trade or service can operate in one of four modes. In Mode I, education is provided in distance mode. Distance education requires a high-degree of self-motivation and discipline and is suited more for more mature learners. Distance mode is yet to establish it self as a viable mode of higher education for young school leavers for whom the acculturation and socialization process of higher education is just as important as the as the educational experience.

In Mode II, the consumer moves across the border to where there is supply. Although reliable statistics are unavailable, the number of alumni associations such Association of Sri Lankan Graduates of Indian universities or alumni associations of specific universities are becoming established is an indicator of the growth of mode II educational services.

In Mode III, the supplier establishes a commercial presence in the consumer’s country either by establishing a campus or through a partnership with an affiliate. In Mode III a student can study for a foreign degree in his/her home country. In , Mode III or a Mixed Mode is most prevalent. In a mixed mode, a student begins his/her study in Mode III and then convert to Mode II by proceeding to a foreign destination to complete the degree

Mode IV is when persons move across borders to provide services in person. A recent advertisement for a transnational IT degree program stressed the fact that their entire faculty is made of Australian nationals.

Regulation and Ranking of Transnational Educational Services

UNESCO, together with the European Union has developed a draft paper that emphasizes the importance of transparency, accountability and academic standards and specifying that transnational arrangements must comply with national legislation in both receiving and sending countries. An international document is in the works. The implementation of these codes of ethics is of course is up to each country.

In the absence of a national regulatory framework or a local ranking system in the receiving countries, rankings that are meant for national consumption in the supplier’s country are used as credentials in transnational operations. For example, University of Nottingham’s operations in cite the ranking of that parent university as the 9th in the Sunday Times Good University League Tables 2004. Curtin University of Technology in Perth is ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement’s World University Rankings 2004 for as 76th from among a group of 200 universities from around the world. Curtin University has a branch campus in Sarawak, . A Curtin University degree can be completed also by studying full-time at the Sri Lanka Institute for Information Technology.

When a transnational service is offered by a university which is highly ranked in its home location, chances are that the branch campuses or the affiliates also offer a reasonably good education. Problems arise when a university that claims to be ranked in comprehensive universities category for the Midwest region in the or some such obscure category offers a degree program in or when nonexistent universities with non-existing credentials offer their programs here.

The University Grants Commission of India monitors and maintains an up to date list of fake universities. The Ministry of Higher Education in maintains a registry of all higher education institutions against which fake universities can be checked. No such service exists in . Fake universities of inferior quality programs can pose serious problems not only for consumers of education but for employers as well. Even if some students might be happy to have degree in their pockets no matter what quality, it affects the pocketbook of the employer who’ll be paying for bachelor’s degree that does not exist or a degree that is of inferior quality. How do other countries handle transnational education?

Australia is a country which is both a transnational education provider and a receiver. In all overseas providers must also be accredited through the Australian processes. The accreditation process considers the following criteria.

· The standing of the provider in its own system

· The comparability of qualifications and learning outcomes with those offered in ;

· The adequacy of delivery arrangements, including arrangements for oversight of course delivery by the overseas institution;

· The bona fides of any local agent or provider delivering on behalf of the overseas institution;

· The adequacy of safeguards for students if the provider cease to operate in .

In effect, the government in takes responsibility for protecting its consumers.

Malaysia is one of the Asian countries which welcomes transnational higher education operations. The prime Minister himself recently announced that the government will initiate a ranking system starting with ranking of IT programs. If succeeds, it will be perhaps the first country in the world where the government steps into do a regulation and ranking at the same time.

Malaysia’s attempt is laudable. The Malaysian government will most likely start the process and then allow a private or non-governmental organization to carry it on, similar to the way the Web site was initiated and is now maintained.

In Sri Lanka, it is very unlikely that any government organization will be able to give the leadership that is required for a viable regulatory system for tertiary education. The political environment is too unstable and government institutions are weak. As a result, government agencies have failed to provide a viable system of regulation of post-secondary education. If the present instability continues and the political system cannot provide a consistent and coherent vision that is long-term, the agencies will continue to fail.

In Sri Lanka and other countries with similar political environments, newspapers together with Chambers of Commerce and relevant professional associations and private organizations need to play an active role in monitoring and reporting on education and training programs. A ranking exercise on its own may not be viable financially, unless it can be pegged to other revenue-generating means such as newpapers or magazine sales, or the sale of other education products. Internationals donors too should consider supporting these efforts initially.

According to Lanka Business Online, Sri Lanka Information Communications Technology Association (SLICTA), has begun work on a survey that aims to assess the demand for and the supply of skills in the IT sector. To assess the supply, they are collecting information on the type of skills taught in about 150 training institutions. The information for individual organizations will not be divulged in the final report and the SLICTA survey does not seem to address any quality issues.

Is Sri Lanka ready for rankings?

University rankings are typically based on criteria such as peer evaluation, student entry qualifications, retention and graduation of student, quality of faculty, and facilities and financial resources specific to each location. Score for each criterion is aggregated to give a final score which then is used rank the institutions. As is the case with any indicator that uses measurable criteria and those only, these rankings should be used as a starting point for assessing other qualitative information.

A peer-review score is an important component of a ranking score. Typically every institution ranked will be asked to rate all the other institutions on a given scale of, say, 1-10. In a small country even if a few scores are affected by personal or competitiveness concerns, that can affect the final outcome significantly.

A properly functioning ranking system requires a relatively mature education system where institutions find it in own their interests to report accurate data and rank others reasonably. In , transnational operations and local private initiatives in post-secondary education are relatively new. These new organizations may not be particularly open to disclosing information when they are in their teething stages.

Ranking systems in the US or UK have access to a base of reliable data that is maintained and disseminated in a timely manner by other well established surveys. In the UK, the rankings in the Guardian Guide to Universities are compiled from official information published by public agencies. This includes teaching assessment scores from visits by Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) inspectors to departments during the recent 10 years. Other scores are derived from figures published or provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) or by the Higher Education Funding Council. The official data include data on private institutions as well.

In Sri Lanka, we have to be creative and design a simple system that may not be exhaustive in its coverage but captures the essence of the quality of a program. A survey of relevant employers could be an important component for an education system in a small country. Here the small size may be an advantage. The number of employers in a given trade or occupation in a small country can be large enough for collecting sufficiently valid set of data but small enough so as to be manageable.


  1. You’ve chosen to answer your opening question by directing your attention to rankings. It is no doubt an undertaking of immense value. My question to you is, what could you do ? What is the charter of this forum ? Will ideas discussed here be heard by the relevent powers ? How likely is it for this forum to cause a change in education practice in Sri Lanka ? If such change is possible I’d love to know how. If not, what would it take to be able to bring about change if necessary ? I’m looking for confirmation or refutation of assumptions readers are likely to make, by, for example, reading the introductory paragraph on the main page or looking at the invitee list for the year-1 admissions seminar.

    What you’ve started looks promising. It is good to get an understanding of its potential.

  2. Ashley has asked some good questions. As the introduction indicates, there is no charter or even stated objectives for the Forum. Pathfinder Foundation which is a registered non profit orgnaization gives the forum some administrative support and other resources for organized events etc. for the time being. Although it was not inteneded that way, the Forum seem to have become my blog (i.e. done by an individual on private time with private funds). It is just as well. I am now not so sure whether a Forum that is totally dependent on volunatary public contributions would work. According to the stats on visits to the site, people seem to come for the information and leave without participation.That would fit with a ‘change through information’ mission. I am not too keen about setting up yet another non-profit organization and depending on donor funds for survival. I am talking to some media groups for a joint effort whereby we can deliver a public good using a possible income generating activity such as studysrilanka to cover the costs.

    To answer Ashley’s questions, I don’t envisage a Forum of this nature to pursuade relevant powers, becasue I believe the focus should be in pursuading and supporting private citizens and civil society organizations–private citizens to make the most out of the market place for education, and civil society to help the disadvantaged groups to face the market forces.

    For the time being, the EducationForum will function as it is–i.e. a private effort delivering a public good. I collect and analyze data on education, and write reports, for a living and also for fun. The Forum provides me a venue for the fun part.

  3. When do you hoping to update this site? It’s terrible to have a website like this

  4. To Nilmini: Please specify what you think needs updating on this site. This particular blog had two tables with incomplete information. The idea was to give the best available information. Those two tables were deleted.

  5. 6822088

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