Feb 14, Colombo: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and four Sri Lankan universities Wednesday signed project agreements totaling $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 Ms. 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."
Ms. Widowati signed the project agreements on behalf of ADB while Vice Chancellors Sampath Amaratunge, D.M. Semasinghe, B.A. Karunarathna, and 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 labor market, particularly in science, technology, and engineering subjects. Higher education opportunities as a whole are limited, with the gross enrollment rate at less than 19%- much less than the 50% average for upper-middle-income countries. Moreover, less than 20% of graduates are from science and engineering subjects.
Although more than 60% of undergraduates in Sri Lanka are female students, they overwhelmingly (about 82%) 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. Existing degree programs 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 centers.
Under the program, the universities will develop complete degree program curricula incorporating industry inputs and aligned with international standards. The project will also support the recruitment and training of academic staff for the new programs. 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 research and development capacity.
The government will provide an additional $20 million toward the project.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members - 48 from the region.