Education in Sri Lanka has a long history which dates back two millennia and the Constitution of Sri Lanka provide for education as a fundamental right. The Sri Lanka's population has a literacy rate of 92%, higher than that expected for a third world country; it has the highest literacy rate in South Asia and overall, one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. Education plays a pivotal role in the life and culture of the country and dates back to 543 BC. Modern education system was brought about with the integration of Sri Lanka in to the British Empire in the 19th century and it falls under the control of both the Central Government and the Provincial Councils, with some responsibilities lying with the Central Government and the Provincial Council having autonomy for others.
Higher education in Sri Lanka has been based on the several prominent Pirivenas (Ancient Buddhist Monks Training Centers) during the local Kingdoms. The origins of the modern university system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when a University College, the Ceylon University College was established at the former premises of Royal College Colombo affiliated to the University of London. However, the begin of modern higher education in Ceylon was in 1870 when the Ceylon Medical School was established followed by Colombo Law College (1875), School of Agriculture (1884) and the Government Technical College (1893).
The University of Ceylon was established on 1 July 1942 by the Ceylon University Ordinance No.20 of 1942 which was to be unitary, residential and autonomous. The University was located in Colombo and several years later a second campus was built in Peradeniya. University of Ceylon became the University of Sri Lanka follow in the University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1972 resulting in a more centralized administration and more direct government control, this gave way for creation of septate universities after the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. Even though new universities of independent identities were created government maintained its direct control and centralized administration though the University Grants Commission. Late Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali as Minister of Education developed an initiative to develop the higher education of the country in the 1980s, the Mahapola Fund established by him provided scholarship and much needed founding to higher education institution to this day. Until amendments to the University Act were made in 1999 only state universities were allowed to grant undergraduate degrees, however this has since changed.
There are currently only 15 state universities in Sri Lanka. The prominent ones are University of Colombo, University of Peradeniya, University of Ruhuna, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura and University of Moratuwa. In recent years with changes to the University Act a few institutes have been given permission to grant their own degrees, the most prominent is the government owned Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology.
It is to regularize, expand and develop the institutions under the Higher Education System; the government established the Ministry of Higher Education. As such this Ministry has a great responsibility in social and economic development. It has a huge impact towards the Development of Human Resource demanded by the key sectors as well. The present situation created a favorable atmosphere for education sector while freeing the government to finally focus on education and other economic and social development activities. As a result the Ministry of Higher Education and Education has already formulated policies and strategies and implementing the same to bring the education system of the country equivalent to the standards of the rest of the world.
Ministry of Higher Education with the University Grants Commission (UGC) having continuous dialog with academia, trade unions and other key stakeholders to uplift higher education system to the desired level. Ministry of Higher Education is taking measures to strength its institutional framework and established Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council (QAAC) under the UGC. The QAAC is key objective is ensure excellence in higher education through quality assurance.
Action have been taken to enhance the demand in the job market value for local graduates by shifting them towards job oriented education system and also providing them with effective communication skills and literacy in Information Technology. This strategy will ultimately improve the net value of the Human Capital in Sri Lanka.
The MOHE develops partnerships with international universities for two way exchange resource and to increase opportunities for scholarships for overseas study for Sri Lankans. Other areas that the MOHE is responsible for, involved acquiring relevant skilled consultant teams for faculties such as Engineering, Medicine, Law and Arts in response to requests. It provides expertise and opportunities for dissemination of information, sharing of ideas and upgrading skills.