By Nishel Fernando
The government is planning to set up a 500-acre special BOI zone for internationally recognised higher educational institutions this year with the aim of positionng Sri Lanka as a leading international educational hub.
The Cabinet of Ministers on Wednesday approved a concept proposal presented by the Cabinet Co-Spokesperson and Information & Communications Technology, Higher Education, Technology & Innovations Minister Bandula Gunawardane to attract foreign and non-resident Sri Lankan students to pursue their higher studies in the country.
Speaking to Mirror Business, the minister noted that the government will set up a 500-acre special BOI zone for foreign higher educational institutions including universities, university colleges, technical colleges and other research institutes.
The ministry is exploring the possibility of allocating a 700-acre land in Millewa, which was to be allocated for Homagama Tech City project earlier.
“Depending on the investor preference and availability of infrastructure, we will look at other areas as well outside of Colombo district with the support of BOI. For example, fibre optical cables are a crucial requirement for these foreign high-tech institutes,” Gunawardane said. He revealed that 10 such foreign entities from India, China and United States have already expressed interest to set up their units in Sri Lanka, which is likely to take place during the year.
India’s Top Ranked Private University, Manipal University is among the interested foreign entities.
The government hopes the initiative will generate the much-needed foreign exchange revenue to the country by attracting foreign and non-resident students.
Following Cabinet approval, Gunawardane said the government would invite internationally recognised universities, technical colleges and other institutes to set up their entities in Sri Lanka while noting that certain regulations and Acts are also required to be amended to facilitate the move.
He also revealed that Sri Lankan students will receive scholarships to study in these foreign institutes.
“We are looking at a minimum of three percent of local enrolments per course,” he added.
The government plans to replicate the success of Malaysia’s Putrajaya City which was setup by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1990’s to promote the country as an educational hub.
Gunawardane yesterday also met with the incumbent President of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), Dr. In-Ki Joo who is currently visiting Sri Lanka.
Sharing the highlights of the meeting, he noted that Dr. Joo extended his fullest support to transform Sri Lanka into an international hub for accounting recognising the country’s potential and performance in the arena.
Although, around 30,000 students get enrolled to State universities in Sri Lanka per annum, around 21,000 students migrate to other countries for higher studies resulting about Rs.50 billion foreign exchange outflows per annum.
In 2019, Gunawardane noted that Sri Lanka attracted 1, 568 foreign students to local universities, which is a negligible figure because up to 4.5 percent of enrolments in State universities are allocated for foreign students.
According to UNESCO, Maldives, Myanmar, Bhutan, China and Vietnam are top five countries of origins for local universities currently.
A World Bank commissioned study recommend a clear strategy with targets and firm overall leadership, use of a national branding exercise, financial support for students and simplified visa and immigration policy for Sri Lanka to achieve educational hub ambitions.