Sri Lanka to grow as a knowledge based economy: Doors open for private sector : Eran Wickramaratne

Mar 30, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s future should be based on a knowledge based industry which will enable the Island to attract more investors, deputy Minister of highways, higher education and investments promotions, Eran Wickramaratne said.

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“One of the challenges for investors in Sri Lanka is access to skilled labour and the island’s education system needs structural reform as well as higher spending allocations,” Wickramaratne said.

“Once I called two BPO companies to come to Sri Lanka saying that we have the highest literacy rate in the region and skilled people, but I was stunned to find out, the companies had a hard time looking for people , who can speak English and were skilled for the job,”

“As the supply of human resources is limited (In Sri Lanka) as compared with the rest of Asia. We must continually educate and up skill our human resource base,”

“There is much to be done in education like enhancing skills.”

Wickramaratne was speaking at a forum on “Policies in place? : Bring in the Investments”, orgernized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce held in Colombo recently.

Wickramaratne said, the new regime is committed to investment more on education in Sri Lanka and had already increased allocation for education to six percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through the interim budget 2015.

The former regime had allocated only two percent of GDP for education.

“We have already made a clear vision statement that we want to see investment in education of up to six per cent in GDP, and that is the goal,” Wickramaratne said.

“Year after year we will invest in that goal.”

Structural Change

However the minister says, investment alone will not take education to the required higher level but structural changes in the system will.

“We have committed to higher investments. But it requires much more than that,” he said.

“Curriculum has to be revisited, scientific and technical education should be prioritized and more funding should be allocated for research and development,”

“In Sri Lanka we need to urge educationists to align curricula to the needs of the market rather than expecting the market to absorb the output of schools and universities.”

There are about 200, 000 students who complete GCE A/L Examination every year in the Island but only around 25, 000 students enter State Universities, a report showed.

Sri Lanka has 15 state universities including the Open University of Sri Lanka while the University Grants Commission recognizes 18 other higher education institutions as degree awarding institutions.

However, tens of thousands of students who graduate using tax-payer funded state universities are ‘unemployable’ in productive sectors. These graduates have agitated and grabbed state jobs becoming tax burdens for life and are expanding an already bloated state service.

People who were successful in getting into the private sector have to go through skills development and knowledge development processes to match the knowledge gap that the industry needs.

Wickramaratne said, as countries seek to innovative ways to avoid middle-income traps, all governments especially those with limited resources need to be sure that their investments boost both efficiency and productivity, benefiting their economies and people, and move to a knowledge-based economy.

Academics and officials in Sri Lanka have been debating ways to transform the agriculture based economy to a knowledge-based economy through better education and call for more technical colleges and engineering universities to be established in the island to enhance the knowledge of the youth.

The islands new regime says knowledge is a greater wealth creator than any other sector but creating it alone is not that easy.

“Sri Lanka is endowed with limited natural resources but it is endowed with lot of brain resources,” Wickramaratne said.

“We believe people are our unique selling proposition and as a government we will invest in education,”

“But we realize it is not possible for the government alone to meet this demand and the doors will be opened to the privet sector to participate.”

Sri Lanka in 2014 was ranked 19th in creative productivity index which was jointly developed by Asian Development Bank and Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to give policy makers a way to assess how best to foster creativity and innovation. Singapore was 10 while China ranked as 11th in the index. India ranked as 14th.