In 2006, Industry needed 4900 IT graduates and public universities produced a paltry 400 or less!

Posted on June 21, 2007  /  13 Comments

According to the latest SLICTA report on IT industry, in 2006 Sri Lanka needed nearly 5000 graduates but only 1900 graduates were available locally for a short fall of 3000 graduates. SLICTA’s predicted shortfall for 2007 is 5000 (full report at ).

Year Demand Supply
2005 4920 1235
2006 4920 1887
2007 7672 2216

These data are based on a survey of IT industries conducted by MJ Consulting.
How realistic are these numbers? ((Why is the demand same in 2005 and 2006?). Do we really have that many jobs going begging in the IT industry? For those of you in the IT industry do these numbers sound right?

Even if we halve the estimated demand, the more interesting story, I believe, is the dismal response of our public university system with respect to the demand. For a start the university system is not even able to give us the graduation numbers. The UGC statistics gives enrolment figures for computer science/IT for 2005 and 2006 but no. The total enrollment in 2005 was 398 but no graduation data.
Using enrollment data we can make a generous estimate and say that the universities produced less than 400 graduates in 2005. (The pass rate at external BIT is really really low but I don’t have numbers. Anecdotally, I know that it is hard to find a competent people to teach for the external BIT.)

Compare the 400 or less produced in 2005 by the public sector to the 909 or more produced by local private institutions in the same year (see Education Forum’s full report for details). These private institutions met Sri Lanka’s IT human resource needs by twice as much or more than the public sector, with no thanks government patronage. One might even say they did this despite government (see our previous post about the irresponsible/hypocritical behavior of Minister Susil Premachandra and his political friends).

What does ICTA has to say about the dismal performance of the public IT education sector? Should not they have seen the coming demand?
What do Universities of Colombo and Moratuwa have to say? According to UGC, in 2005 Colombo enrolled 245 and Moratuwa enrolled 110. Moratuwa is a newcomer, but shame on Colombo. Very poor output for all the hoopla they created, I think.
In fact, what do these data say about the effectiveness of late Prof VK Samaranayake who dominated the ICT education field for last 30 years or so?
———————————————————————————————————- Summary of results from a survey conducted by the Education forum in 2006.

Total number of degrees awarded locally by private institutions = 909

Foreign degrees awarded locally by private institutions = 511

Local degrees awarded locally by private institutions = 398

(333 of the local degrees were awarded by SLIIT, a quasi private institution)

See the report for details.


  1. The key reason why the quality of IT education in our country still remains high (unlike in case of other fields) is that it had never been a state monopoly. It was the private institutions (not the state) that started producing quality IT graduates and the state caught up only later. Even today, some of the private institutions produce better graduates than state universities, in spite the state universities are provided all the facilities.

    So if one were to think of improving the IT education think about developing the private institutions/universities. Do never promote state universities. Let the private universities compete and produce the best. Let them develop as an industry. Let them win an international fame and attract foreign students and earn foreign exchange for the country. That is the only way forward.

  2. Gihan Wikramanayake

    I guess the person who wrote this is not aware of the limitations in the state universities in increase intake through free education. Which also includes bursaries/scholarships and hostel facilities.
    That is why Colombo went for an External degree 7 years ago.
    With respect to external degrees as teaching and supervision is not done by the degree offering university and hence the dropout rates are high and pass rate is low when compared with the registered students. However it is not so when compared with those who sat all the required courses. This is the nature of an external degree with no face to face teaching. Pass rate is low even for exams like BCS.
    Note that although Moratuwa commenced IT Faculty degree recently they have had the Computer Engineering degrees from the time Colombo began its Computer Science degree.
    Universities like Kelaniya, SJP, Peradeniya, Ruhuna, Jaffna etc are also producing Computer Science graduates, but in small numbers.

  3. If the universities are limited why did not they raise the alarm? IT education powers, led by late prof. VKS, gave the impression that much is being done. Why did not they use their their influence and knowledge to ‘To speak truth to powër” (quoting from Edward Said*). They had a strong case.

    They should have told the the political leaders that public sector can not do it all, private investments are necessary and the government needs to promote these investments. If they did that we would have had lot more schools opening up. The government should have given scholarships to needy students to attend these institutions. Where were the true public intellectuals when we needed them?

    *’To speak truth to powër”
    Speaking truth to power is no idealism: It is carefully weighing the alternatives, picking the right one, and then intelligently representing it where it can do the most good and cause the right change
    (Edward Said (1994), Representations of the Intellectual: The Reith Lectures)

  4. differentPerspective

    I question the role of universities being required to fulfil the needs of the job market. This is a mistake that western universities have been making and are beginning to regret.

    At the moment you need IT graduates. What happens when the market becomes satuarated? Do you close down the IT faculty or retrench all those new staff members you hired and then start building another department from scratch to fulfill the skill shortage that is present at that time? This is the role of a technical institute or a vocational training centre, not a university.

    The private sector needs to invest in training graduates. Not simply expect universities to produce ready made graduates for the job market at the time. Government has to provide tax incentives to private companies to invest in research and development as well as training. Companies in the US such as IBM, Xerox,Intel and Hewlett and Packard have become known for this. The CEOs in these companies are not IT graduates. They are mainly engineers, physicists, etc.and some like Bill Gates are drop outs from Harvard.

    If you are just looking for graduates to fill a western companies requirement for data entry operators, customer service or call center people from the third world, you don’t need universities to train them.

    With globalisation and rapidly changing market forces and technological innovation, it is much more important that Schools and universities concentrate on core competencies such as basic maths and literacy, and at higher education level, a solid background in the humanitites and sciences, with sound analytical and research skills. Then when entering the market these graduates should be able to learn requisite skills that are applicable to the workforce, quickly, and when these skills become redundant, able to pick up newer skills in the future.

  5. Is the sole job of universities to produce the needs of job market?

    In Sri Lanka, the answer is Yes. (May be different in other countries)

    Here it is the state that provides university education free of charge. The state has no right to spend massive amounts of public money on activities that do not bring direct and immediate economic results. If somebody wants to learn Buddhist civilisation for the sole purpose of broadening his or her knowledge, let them pay for it. The state should spend money only to produce requirement of the job market either through universities or vocational training centres.

    When the industry demands IT graduates, in such a large numbers it is a crime for the state not to accede to that demand and instead produce graduates in Buddhist civilisation.

    If state cannot do that let the private sector come in and meet the demand. The state should not be the stumbling block against the education industry.

  6. differentPerspective

    Just a quick clarification:

    All universities in the UK including Oxford and Cambridge university are state funded.

    Many universities in Western countries are state funded.

  7. Rejoinder to my post above:

    Now I know somebody will jump in and ask me whether I know the cost of producing an IT graduate. Yes, I know it can be ten times more than the costs of producing a graduate in Buddhist civilisation.

    But as a country it is worth to produce that one graduate in IT rather than ten graduates in Buddhist civilisation, who can never use their knowledge to gain any economic return.

  8. Does UK provide completely free education like us from LKG to University for the entire student population? I am not sure. Even if they do they have money to fund their universities. We do not.

    It is a question of competing priorities.

    Do we spend this 100 million to build a library for a university or to expand the maternity ward at Mannar hospital? Or shall we use it to provide drinking water to some villages at Hambantota?

    All these are for human development. All these are equally important objectives. We can choose only one. So we simply do not have money to teach students stuff which are not economically useful in the market.

    I am not against any one learning any subject, but if it mismatches with the job market needs let them study at their own cost.

  9. What should be the role of the state in higher education?

    From the discussion above, I would say that it depend on the (a)) stage of economic development (b) Gaps in the demand and supply of graduates, if any, and (c) availability of alternate sources of investment to fill the gaps.

    “”Different perspectives”” says that in UK and USA universities are state-funded. Yes, they are because there are economic benefits to the state. The more educated the higher the salary and higher the tax revenues for the state. In this part of the world the higher the education level, the higher unemployment rate. Very clearely our economies are not ready to absorb a large number of graduates.

    Yes, there is a gap in demand and supply of IT graduates but the state need not go there full scale because private investments can take care of the need. The state can give scholarships/vouchers to needy students and focus on post-graduate education and teacher training.

    Yes, there is no need for more graduates in Buddhist civilzation but there is a serious gap in scholars in that area. Our archaeology is interpreted for us by a priest calling himself Pura Vidya Chakravarty, and various talk show hosts. Our university students are taught by others who have no qualification beyond their Bachelors degree. The private sector won’t put money in research and post-graduate training in Buddhist Civilization. The state should put money into creating strong programs in these Pali and Buddhist Studies etc. with heavy research and post-graduate educaiton emphasis (not the pathetic undergraduate degree mills we have now). These are niche areas where we can even attract foreign students.

  10. differentPerspective

    To utilise university infrastructure to simply teach very basic applied skills is overkill. So vocational training centres have a role. Maybe not just at the post secondary stage but also during the middle school years in high school.

    There is a balance. To simply plan for short term economic gain is foolish. Unlike vocational training centres, universities are also centres of innovation and thinking. This is important for the long term future of the country. Training in Pali and Buddhist studies is a case in point. Furthermore, some benefits cannot be measured purely in monetary terms.

    At least 40% of employees hired by Nokia are graduates in the social sciences. If Finnish universities scapped all their social science courses and simply went with market forces during the dotcom boom, this need would have been difficult to fill.

    I would like to refer to the economic boom in Ireland. Ireland was ripped apart by conflict in the region and has suffered from poverty and social fragmentation. The recent economic boom has made many look at Ireland as a country to emulate. It has been suggested that Ireland is a case in point, where government policy, with clear short term and long term strategy has played an important role. To provide an educational perspective: “Public investment in education and training was high, for a state at
    Ireland’s level of development. ” (

    “In Ireland, human capital was placed at the very
    centre of national development and industrial strategy. Over time, it
    took on three characteristics.

    a) It gave technology-related skills to a broad segment of the
    population, to ensure an adequate supply of scientific and
    technical personnel needed for development and adoption of
    new technologies;
    b) It supported life-long learning, in order to counteract the
    accelerated depreciation of skills in times of rapid technological
    c) It improved conditions for the accumulation of research-related
    human capital”

    This is only a broad idea of what was done. Specifics, include some of the things discussed here: the need for more technical institutes or vocational training centres. However, this was not done at the expense of Universities. More specifics are provided in the document. This is what the west is looking at. Third world countries need to be careful that they don’t fall into the trap of following and simply providing manpower to be exploited by these countries.

    Regarding priorities: hospital in Matara versus library in University….there is something else in the back of my mind, which is the bloated defence budget. But this is outside the control of educators.

  11. My dear differentPerspective,

    It has been proved so many times in Sri Lanka, letting universities produce graduates not required by the industry (or even public sector) is a big burden to the country. Even right now GOSL is spending millions and millions of money to provide living for these unemployable graduates.

    So there is virtually no point in engaging in an experiment so many times during the last 3-4 decades. (Especially when it wastes so much of tax payers’ money)

    Let us experiment something we have not done yet.

  12. Correction:

    So there is virtually no point in engaging in an experiment that FAILED so many times during the last 3-4 decades.

  13. I think we are getting closer to the real issue here. All those human resource policies are fine but who is going to implement. I talked about Pali and Buddhist studies as fileds with real potential and the need for more investments in graduate education but who is going to do it?

    As Truth says we have continued to put our trust in government and they have failed us over and over. It does not look like it is going to be better. Whether the universities should produce for the labour market or simply educate becomes a moot point when the government has become merely an instrument for appropriating public property for person gain. They don’t care one way or the other.

    Yet, we can not give up on government. I used to think we can do things despite the state but I am beginning to think otherwise. The private sector in this country is weak. We have no future without a government that takes care of business. These jokers have to be taken to task.

    I may be overly optimistic but I think accountability is coming into fashion. The supreme courts have made some key decisions regarding accountability in the last few weeks(Expulsion of lodgers, the SLT deal) and magistrates are asking MPS to be produced in court. All the power to them and let us do what little we can do.

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