From left: Rajarata University Vice Chancellor Dr. B.A. Karunaratne, University of Sri Jayewardenepura Vice Chancellor Prof. Sampath Amarathunga, ADB Country Director in Sri Lanka Sri Widowati, University of Kelaniya Vice Chancellor Prof. D.M. Semasinghe and Sabaragamuwa University Vice Chancellor Prof. Sunil Santha
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and four Sri Lankan universities yesterday signed project agreements totalling US $ 145 million, under the ADB-funded Science and Technology Human Resources Development project, to foster science and technology in Sri Lanka’s higher education.
“To achieve higher incomes and better standards of living, the Sri Lankan government aims to transform the country to a knowledge-based economy by 2025, with education playing a key role,” said ADB Country Director in Sri Lanka Sri Widowati.
“To this end, the project will help nurture a new breed of technology-oriented graduates equipped with skills and entrepreneurial spirit for the economy.”
Widowati signed the project agreements on behalf of ADB while Vice Chancellors Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, Prof. D.M. Semasinghe, Dr. B.A. Karunarathna and Prof. M. Sunil Shantha signed for the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, University of Kelaniya, Rajarata University and Sabaragamuwa University, respectively.
Sri Lanka’s education system is facing several challenges in delivering quality learning relevant to the labour market, particularly in the science, technology and engineering subjects. Higher education opportunities as a whole are limited, with the gross enrolment rate at less than 19 percent— much less than the 50 percent average for upper-middle-income countries.
Moreover, less than 20 percent of graduates are from the science and engineering subjects.
Although more than 60 percent of the undergraduates in Sri Lanka are female students, they overwhelmingly (about 82 percent) concentrate on liberal arts and social studies, where unemployment is highest. Encouraging more women to take technology disciplines will increase women’s career opportunities in technical areas where wages are high.
A lack of investment, laboratory facilities, researchers and qualified academic staff are holding back the quality of teaching, learning and research. The existing degree programmes in scientific or engineering areas are more theory-oriented and lack practical applications of knowledge and skills.
The project will construct faculty buildings following green building standards, ensuring they are climate proofed, well equipped with laboratories and offer flexible spaces for different kinds of research and learning as well as facilities that help integrate female students and staff, such as day care centres.
Under the programme, the universities will develop a complete degree programme curricula incorporating industry inputs and aligned with international standards.
The project will also support the recruitment and training of academic staff for the new programmes. Staff performance management systems will be strengthened to continuously improve teaching and learning, student services and industry collaboration.
The universities will develop joint proposals with industry partners for research and development activities to resolve industry problems or come up with new products and services. In addition, the project will develop a future project proposed for 2021, focusing on the research and development capacity.
The government is expected to provide an additional US $ 20 million towards the project.