Interview: Ananda Jayawardane
What can the government do to address the issue of “brain drain” in the higher education sector?
ANANDA JAYAWARDANE: The main reasons for brain drain are better opportunities for those scholars who go abroad for various academic purposes, and the frustrations and challenges they face when working in Sri Lanka. Opportunities abroad include an academically rewarding environment, higher remuneration and better educational chances for children, while domestic frustrations include lack of facilities, resource limitations, lack of academic freedom, and difficulties in educating children in good schools and universities.
Some of these issues depend on the development status of the country, whereas others can be addressed by the government in a more proactive manner. The most effective intervention by the government would be to increase investment in both schools and universities. This could transform understaffed schools into good schools, enhance access to university education, and provide state-of-the-art facilities and incentives, while strengthening autonomy and accountability.
How can an integrated ICT academic platform boost future economic prospects for Sri Lankans?
JAYAWARDANE: ICT makes access to education possible at any time and everywhere, meaning that learners do not have to be confined to institute premises. ICT provides a platform for collaborative education, enabling learners to interact with fellow learners, subject experts, mentors and many other stakeholders, including industry personnel, spread across the world. Access to such resources via e-learning platforms goes beyond institutional boundaries. Blended learning integrates traditional face-to-face education with ICT, making it good for disciplines such as engineering, medicine, agriculture, etc., due to essential practical components for learning. An integrated ICT platform is a tool with vast potential to overcome access limitations and provide fast content and flexible education, which is unfortunately only partially available in Sri Lanka. Embracing an ICT integrated academic platform is necessary in learning environments. They can address higher education challenges and resource constraints, and can boost economic prospects.
How can the private sector partner with higher education institutions to address skills gaps between academia and the professional world?
JAYAWARDANE: The skills gap is more prominent in the faculties of arts and humanities than in professional degree programmes, as their relevance and quality are regulated by their respective professional bodies. An important first step is to enhance confidence and strengthen relationships between higher education institutions and the private sector.
Higher education institutions should be proactive in establishing such linkages and the private sector should consider themselves partners in producing employable graduates. The most effective way to bridge the skills gap is first to identify the gap by profiling an employable graduate through necessary graduate attributes, and then to design and deliver courses centred around an outcome-based model, ensuring that average graduates acquire the necessary attributes.
There are many ways that the private sector can support such initiatives. Beginning with effective and regular industry feedback on the skills gaps, the private sector is also expected to contribute through industrial training. Firms could accomplish this by providing visiting lecturers and student mentors; partnering with higher education institutions for facility enhancement; providing endowments; funding staff positions in strategic areas such as entrepreneurship; facilitating competitions; making industry facilities available for student exposure and in many other ways, most of which are limited only by one’s imagination. The private sector’s participation in bridging the skills gap is increasing, but there is still room for further improvement.
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