Sri Lanka is planning to set up ‘free investment zones’ for education,
which will offer land and tax breaks to foreign investors. The aim is to
attract international universities and build the country into a higher
education hub in Asia.
In January last year Sri Lanka's Ministry of Higher Education had to
withdraw a proposed private universities bill due to escalating resistance from
students and lecturers. To circumvent such opposition, the government decided
to attract foreign universities into ‘free investment zones’ under Board of
There are plans to establish six education zones outside the capital
Colombo, in the Meerigama, Puttalam, Kilinochchi, Hambantota, Deniyaya and
The objective is to attract world-class universities to set up campuses
and research centres in Sri Lanka in order to create an international higher
education hub that is a cost-effective destination for foreign students.
Several foreign universities have reportedly already submitted applications
seeking approval to establish campuses in Sri Lanka.
An extraordinary gazette was tabled in parliament on 3 September by
Minister of Investment Promotion LakshmanYapa Abeywardena, to grant a 15-year
tax break to a British university that is planning to establish a branch campus
in Sri Lanka.
University of Central Lancashire
The University of Central Lancashire, or UCLan, will be one of the first
foreign universities to set up in the new ‘free investment zones’. The
university’s Sri Lanka partner, UCLan Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, is to receive a 99-year
lease on nearly 50 hectares (120 acres) of land.
Total investment in the project will be around US$100 million, and UCLan
will benefit from a 15-year tax holiday and will be exempt from tax on interest
paid for foreign loans, fees paid to consultants, management fees, royalties
and marketing fees.
Speaking to University World News Ian Robertson, director of UCLan
(Overseas) Limited and chief executive of UCLan Sri Lanka, said UCLan hoped to
finish construction of a new campus in Sri Lanka in June 2015 and to admit a
first intake of students by September 2015.
UCLan is the fifth largest university in the UK in terms of student
numbers and is ranked as the best modern university in north-west England. It
offers 500 undergraduate and 200 postgraduate courses and has a total enrolment
of some 35,000 students representing 120 nationalities. The university has a
campus in Cyprus and another is being built in Thailand.
Robertson said Sri Lanka was an excellent location and had one of the
most educated populations in South Asia. Sri Lanka’s ambition to be a hub and
the country’s attractiveness to international students were also advantages.
“We were approached to potentially locate a campus in other areas of
South Asia but Sri Lanka’s ambition, location and academic and intellectual
resources were key factors for our selection. The Sri Lankan government has
awarded ‘special project status, which provides tax concessions to us,” he
“We expect to launch a scholarship scheme for Sri Lankan students. We
are keen to ensure that Sri Lankan students have access to world-class teaching
and research, and to work with other Sri Lankan universities in partnerships to
provide for this vision,” Robertson revealed.
Every year about 12,000 Sri Lankan students go to foreign countries
seeking higher education. The government hopes that the establishment of
foreign branch campuses in the country will encourage local students to seek an
international education at home, and help to stem a drain of more than US$400
million in foreign exchange out of the country.
The knowledge hub initiative could also help to develop Sri Lanka as a
destination for investment in higher education and position the nation as a
centre of excellence and regional hub for learning and innovation.
Meanwhile, the Higher Education Ministry has increased the quota of
international students admitted to local universities – from just 0.5% to 5% of
the student intake – and is offering additional scholarships to foreign
students in its campaign to become a higher education hub: there are currently
100 to 150 scholarships a year for foreign students.
Students, academics unhappy
In the past two weeks, several student unions have launched protest
campaigns against the government's move to introduce education zones.
Students at the universities of Rajarata, Peradeniya, Ruhuna, Kelaniya
and Sabaragamuwa held protests earlier this month, and called on the government
to withdraw the gazette immediately.
Sanjeewa Bandara, convenor of the Marxist-backed Inter University
Students' Federation, did not participate in the protests. Last month a Colombo
magistrate warned Bandara not to stage rallies that inconvenienced the public,
and also not to take part in protests or behave in an unruly manner.
“Government should develop local public universities rather than
establishing private universities. If the government tries to establish private
universities in the country, we are fighting against it,” Bandara said at a
media briefing last week.
The national organiser of the Socialist Students Union, Dr Nalinda Jayatissa,
issued a statement saying that the student movement would oppose efforts by the
government to introduce private universities. The union called on the public to
rally with students to prevent the privatisation of education.
Meanwhile the president of the Federation of University Teachers’
Associations, Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, said academics also had strong doubts
regarding the project and believed the government’s ‘free zones’ plan would
lead to the slow erosion of free education in Sri Lanka.
People are fed up with the politics of student unions,that is one of the reason they are sending children to uk to study,rather than playing politics ,students should take active interest in academic matters,students union leaders shouldn't ruin the future of other students.ReplyDelete
It is very true that the government should develop existing local public universities before giving tax concessions to set up private foreign universities in Sri Lanka. The academics in local universities also must do their duty by having lectures according to the time table and without unduly giving self study periods to undergraduates. Academics have a big role to play by updating the syllabus content and revising reference books lists to meet the present developments in the world.ReplyDelete