A Labor Market Observatory for Sri Lanka

Posted on March 21, 2006  /  7 Comments

On March 14, 2006, there was workshop at the University of Colombo on the topic of establishing a labor market observatory (LMO) at the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka. It was organized by IRQUE, a $50 million project to improve the relevance of quality of undergraduate education. The intended audience was the set of deans in humanities, social science and science faculties. The attendance was poor but the participation was enthusiastic. Many deans sent representatives. The deans should do that more often. Some of the younger representatives brought refreshing perspectives. Here are a few editorial bullets about the subject matter (not necessarily a report on the proceedings).
1. The LMO initiative should be outsourced with one highly-placed individual (e.g. a member of the University Grants Commission, or a competent manger hired on contract for a relatively high pay and high level of accountability) responsible for negotiating the contracts and enforcing the contracts.
Government institutions in Sri Lanka are by and large dysfunctional. For example, UGC and TVEC may be run by well meaning leaders but these organizations are not capable of handling new initiatives or even managing the existing responsibilities in some cases. The reasons are deep-rooted but it is no reason to magnify their inefficiencies by adding more units.
2. The project is named a LMO or labor market observatory, but it is more realistic to call it a graduate labor market information system like in the UK. sleepwell
General trends in the labour market are covered by others. The Department of Labor (DOL) publishes “The Labour Gazette” and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) publishes the Labour Market Bulletin. They cover general labour market conditions somewhat adequately. The Labour Gazette is not available on the Web, and TVEC puts some dated material on the Web. Both groups should make their publications more regular and widely available through the internet.
2. Higher education should leave reporting on general labor market conditions DOL and TVEC, and focus exclusively on degree holder or graduate information.

Specifically conduct:

  • Tracer studies of graduates
  • Industry or establishment surveys

Both surveys should include questions that ask how the knowledge, skills and attitudes of graduates match with up reality. In all matters higher education should closely follow what DOL, TVEC, Census and Statistics, Jobsnet, Board of Investments, foreign Employment Bureau and others are doing and try not to reinvent the wheel.
3. Labor market data are typically published as national aggregates and projections that are useful for national level policy making, but it is dangerous to rely exclusively on those projections to, say, plan new degree programs.

Dr. Mawalgedera, Dean, Applied Science, at Rajarata University, asked whether the proposed LMO would help her decide, for example, about introducing a program of fisheries and aquaculture. The answer is that it is very unlikely that a centralized survey can give that kind of information, but a LMO should be able to undertake targeted studies on specific questions such as those. UGC and the LMO contractor should agree on the provision for 10 or more such studies for a year. The TVEC already does targeted studies on training needs of various sectors. SLICTA, Sri Lanka ICT Association recently published a comprehensive study about ICT labour market.
4. To make the data useful for deans and heads of departments, the data should be presented at the academic program level. It is difficult to provide printed documents at that level of detail. Therefore all summaries should be distributed annually as CD-ROMS.

For example, if the department of chemistry at the U Colombo wants to know how its chemistry majors are performing, the head or the secretary should have a CD-Rom that enables him/her to select, say, (a) chemistry as the desired academic programs; (b) a set of other benchmark programs as the desired set of comparables; (c) percent with job offers at graduation as the desired variable, say, and press enter to get a table that gives the percent of their graduates with job offers from the University of Colombo along with the data for other programs. The user should be able to slice and dice data by any variable (sex, graduation year etc) that he/she desires.

Since survey data contain personal information, steps should be taken to ensure the privacy of the respondents. The policies of Science resource Division at the US NSF should be studied in this regard.

5. The Education Forum, as a non-governmental public interest body, will try to keep track of these expenditures.

In around 2001, ADB allocated about $2 million for an improved labour market information system at the TVEC. To date there are no outward signs of progress. (This allocation was part of larger project valued at around $50 million.) Now roughly about the same amount is to be spent on a labor market observatory for the higher education system.( Again as part of a larger project valued at about $50 million.) The Tertiary education community should keep watch over these efforts and make sure the money is not wasted. The Education Forum will try to do its part.
Survey of Earned Doctorates, US NSF
Graduate Labor Market of UK
Gamage, Sujata and Bergman, Maia (2000). Using the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates for Institutional Research at the Academic Program Level, Proceedings of Association of Institutional Research Forum 2000, Cincinnati, OH, May 21–24.


  1. A very admirable start as most of these initiatives are at least initially here in Sri Lanka, but will it really tackle the problem that our education system is weighted too much to the side of the academics. Those without any academic abilities are still locked out of tertiary education and are reliant on their employer giving them some modicum of training the extent of which is variable. What we really need in my opinion is a more balanced situation with more inclusion of vocational training and skills development. Maybe a Vocational skills council – There is more to education than university, hard as that is for some sri lankans to swallow.

  2. What you are seeing here is really not a start but a list of recommendations that are largely based on my presentation to the deans and the members of the IRQUE project team at the meeting. Whether these recommendations will be implemented is yet to be seen.

    You raise another very important point about the need to give more recognition to vocational training and skills development. We have an organization for that purpose. It is the Tertairy and Vocational Education Commission (tvec.gov.lk). It is the brainchild of Mr. Ranil Wichremasinghe. TVEC is a well designed and amply empowered organization. Although it has continued to function as one of the more effective governmental agencies, in my opinion TVEC is still performing well below its true potential to transform technical education and vocational training.

  3. Great to see the web-net discussion. I have recently been in Sri Lanka to study the youth employment and training challenges. The Labor Market Laboratory is a great idea, and would give specific meat to the issue of the tertiary expectations and how to adjust them. Also, it would be so interesting to include non-university in your sampling and services, working with a network of technical education institutes (non-public). Look forward to work!

  4. Im a student in University of Colombo. I just need to have some information on labour market trends in Sri Lanka, Specially I need details in post indipendent Sri Lanka.
    So, I’d like to be very grateful to youIf you can email me some factores on it.

  5. Thanushi Hettipathirana

    Im a postgraduate student at the University of Colombo who’s keen on investigating the graduate labour market of Sri Lanka. I appreciate very much these efforts of the responsible bodies towards setting up a web site comprising of information on graduate labour market of SriLanka. In my view this should place more emphasis on the Graduate Labour Market than the Vocational sector since the TVEC already publishes a biannual labour bulletine to do with the sector.

    Further, I’ll be very grateful if you could e-mail me some data and information on the nature of Labour Market Demand Trends for English language graduates in Sri Lanka.

  6. I just need to have some information on labour market trends in Sri Lanka, Specially I need details in web desinning & development fields
    So, I’d like to be very grateful to youIf you can email me some factores on it.

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