The project is aligned with the following impact: an educated and knowledgeable labor force for accelerated economic growth is developed. The project will have the following outcome: access to employment-oriented higher technology education improved. These are the universities of Colombo, Sri Jayawardanapura, Kelaniya, Jaffna, Ruhuna, Eastern, South Eastern, Rajarata, Sabaragamuwa, Wayaba, and Uva Wellessa. Output - Innovative technology learning and research environment established

This output will address the main constraint in access by constructing well-equipped faculty building following green building standards with climate proofing. Renewable energy systems will be incorporated in the buildings. The facilities will support the latest pedagogical approaches in higher education, such as project-based learning, peer learning, and student-centered learning, using flexibly adjustable spaces for different types of research and industry collaborations.

Human Development Index, outperforming other lower middle-income countries, and this is attributed to good access to education. Higher education plays an instrumental role in producing a future-ready labor force, But Sri Lanka's higher education system is facing several challenges.



Sri Lanka has recorded steady economic growth of 5.2% per annum for the last decade. Per capita gross national income was $3840 in 2017, well on track to become an upper middle income country. To achieve higher incomes and better standards of living, the government envisions transforming to a knowledge-based economy by 2025. Investment in human capital is prioritized for economic diversification and enhanced productivity. Sri Lanka ranked 73rd in the Human Development Index, outperforming other lower middle-income countries, and this is attributed to good access to education.


Limited Access

Higher education opportunities are limited. The gross enrollment rate is 18.9%, which is far lower than that of the upper middle-income country average of 50.7%. Increasing demand for higher education is evident from steep competition for public university admission, the large number of external degree program students, and increasing numbers of students seeking private higher education.


Quality Concerns

Research and practical learning in science, technology, and engineering are limited because of lack of laboratory facilities, researchers, and capital investment. Lack of qualified academic staff constrains quality of teaching, learning and research. There were 5,440 academic staff in 2016, but less than 50% have a doctor of philosophy degree. The vacancy rate at universities was estimated to be 28% in 2014.


Areas of improvement for job market relevance

Job placement rates are high for graduates in IT (92%), engineering (92%), and science (83%) compared with overall average (66%). However, even among science, technology, and engineering graduates, cognitive and non cognitive skills, such as analytical thinking, problem solving, communications, and teamwork, need further improvement.


Gender Dimension

Over 60% of undergraduates are female students in Sri Lanka. However, female enrollment is more concentrated in liberal arts and social studies (82.4%) where unemployment is the highest. Gender parity in computer science or IT and technology faculties (50.4% and 45.6% female) is nearly achieved, and around 22.0% of engineering students are female.


Opportunities in science, technology, and engineering education

Despite impressive employment outcomes, there were only 5,012 admissions for science, technology, and engineering in 2016, which is only 17.2% of total admissions. The main constraint is financing. The government expects that priority economic development initiatives, like the Colombo Trincomalee Economic  Corridor, would generate 580,000 incremental jobs in manufacturing between 2020 and 2032, and around 10%-15% of such job opportunities would require advanced skills in technology.


Government Initiatives

In response to the high demand for a technically-oriented workforce and the need for diversifying pathways for youth, the government introduced the technology streams to secondary education in 2013. The Asian Development Bank supported this initiative through its Education Sector Development Program. Since 2015, around 7,000 technology stream students have become qualified for higher education annually.


Lessons and Project Focus

In addition to very much needed modern facilities and qualified faculty members, these middle-tier universities should introduce new practices in pedagogy, student guidance, and industry linkages. Lessons from previous development partner higher education support indicate that developing new technology and engineering faculties in these universities will result in opportunities to demonstrate strong industry linkages, employment focus, and other innovative approaches, avoiding the accumulated inertia of past academic bureaucracy.