Sri Lanka to Improve its Higher Education with World Bank Support

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2017— The World Bank Board of Directors today approved $100 million in financing to support Sri Lanka’s higher education sector. This new initiative will help increase enrollment in priority disciplines, improve the quality of degree programs and promote research and innovation in the higher education sector.

Building on experience in the higher education sector since 2003, the new Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) operation is the first in Sri Lanka to use the World Bank Program for Results lending instrument. This instrument focuses on building institutional capabilities to drive for sustainable development results.

“Sri Lanka’s aspiration to rise to an Upper Middle Income Country status depends on how skilled and versatile its people are,” said Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank County Director for Sri Lanka and Maldives.  “The higher education system must produce a pool of highly skilled scientists, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, policy makers, academics, and teachers, who can contribute to sustainable economic development of the country. Improving competitiveness and growth of the country is a key focus of the Sri Lankan Government and we are pleased to be supporting them in this endeavor.” 

In 2014, Sri Lanka was ranked 88th of 115 countries for higher education participation. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s higher education enrollment rate of 21 percent is well below the average rate of 23 percent in Lower Middle Income Countries; and 44 percent enrollment rate in Upper Middle Income Countries. Sri Lanka particularly needs to improve student participation in disciplines of vital importance to economic development such as the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

A key focus area of the AHEAD project is to enable universities to expand modern teaching-learning and assessment methods which increase the academic quality of undergraduate degree programs, and the eventual social and economic contribution of graduates. 

“This is a first of its kind results-driven operation in support of the Government’s Higher Education Development Strategy,” said Harsha Aturupane, Lead Education Specialist and Task Team Leader. Promoting research, development and innovation will be essential to expand knowledge and technology-intensive industries and services to meet Sri Lanka’s aspirations to become an Upper Middle Income Country.”

An estimated 600,000 students across a variety of higher education institutions, and approximately 5,000 academics, managers, and technical staff members will benefit directly from this program over its 6-year implementation period, which ends in 2023. Other beneficiaries of the program will include: the private sector and government who will be able to recruit better-qualified university graduates; future generations of university students and staff members who will benefit from the system-wide reforms and improvements; and the private and public sector institutions that benefit from the research and innovation activities. 

The World Bank financing for this program includes a $67 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and a $33 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA). The Ministry of Higher Education and Highways, University Grants Commission, and Sri Lanka Institute for the Advanced Technological Education will be the implementing partners at the national level. Fifteen public sector universities and Advanced Technological Institutes and non-state Higher Education Institutions will be the institutional level implementing partners.