Should We Privatize Higher Education? – Is That Even the Real Question?

May 9, 2010 | By Rakhitha | Filed in: Education, Me, Myself & I, Sri Lanka.

This is a response to post “???? ????????? ???????????? ?? ??????” in ‘Middle Path’ blog. I was originally going to post a comment to the same post but my comment turned out bit too long. Also I am no good at Sinhala written language (not proud of it by the way).  Therefore I ended up writing this post.

Writer recognizes that higher education is a basic right but not a privilege, every one who pass A/L must be given higher education. And he/she also recognizes that government can no way provide free higher education for all. But at the end, he try to make his point in the form of 6 questions, and state that even though he recognize that all should be given higher education, there is lot more to be done before that.

I will try to share my view on these questions and generally this topic. I am not expert of education system. This is simply based on my experience of going through the education system for about 18 years. I believe that the writer has assumed that opening of private universities means the closing of government-run universities. Which I believe is not correct. Government will continue to have public universities. And there will be a tight competition to get in to them, even if the selection method is not perfect. But the question is where should the rest go? At least that’s the “Democratic – and – Socialist” way of doing it.

Before going in to more details I’ll give a small background about myself because my background will affect my views. I had my primary education at a small school in Ratnapura. Then I came to Royal College after passing grade 5 scholarship exam. Based on my A/L results I got selected for BSc in Physical Sciences degree program in University of Sri Jayawardanapura. I also managed to get a scholarship to study at SLIIT free of charge, while working for a private company. Therefore I decided to go to SLIIT for my higher education. After graduating from SLIIT I am now following a MSc program at University of Moratuwa. Paying for my higher education was never an option for my family. I had to find a way to get higher education for free one way or another. And I did.

Following are the questions made by ‘Middle Path’ blog. This is not an exact or complete translation of those questions. Just the points which I thought important. I invite you to first read the original article before you continue.

Question 1

Isn’t it going to create separation of classes, when there are two groups of students in a university, where one group pay money for their studies and other groups do not?

My Comment

Very Unlikely. This will not happen unless some element trys to artificially create one. At least it will not create any more class separation than the current situation in the country. Class separation is already here in our country. We measure/compare people by their jobs, salaries. Is there any room to make this any worst? This will only allow students from already separated classes to work/study together and blur the class separation. The fact that you asked this question only proves that we have separated people in to classes. We always try to favor one class over the other.

There are private institutes which teach some students free of charge, based on scholarships /sponsorships / work for education programs. I had my education that way and I am yet to see any separation of classes created by that.

Question 2

How do you select students for courses? (Will there be rich but dumb students in the same course with poor but brighter students.)

My Comment

This is the problem in current system projected in to future. We have separation of classes as science students, medical students,…. and even rich idiots because of current selection system. Some one who wants to become a medical student becomes a science student because of lack of opportunities. Not because he is not good enough to become a good doctor given the opportunity.

With that said I also have to say this. If there is an education institute which teaches students for a fee, and if you want them to teach you free, you should deserve it. You should be better than the rest. You should earn it. That’s how free scholarships work in any place. This does not mean the bar is lower for rich students while it is higher for others. My next comment will cover that. Entrance criteria is same for both groups. But it will be relatively lower because of increased room. Your own merits and merits only dictate whether you should pay or not. One might say that only poor students should be given free education. Well that’s something we can argue.

Question 3

At the moment the rich students who cannot enter government universities leave country for higher education. Those who are not so rich look for jobs. If there are students who can’t pay money how will they get higher education?

My Comment

Having private educations does not mean the end of government universities. When the private education institutes are here, problem changes from ‘how to fund the institute’ to ‘how to fund the students’. Education loans, scholarships, sponsorships, work for education programs will fill this gap with time. As a result the brighter students will still go through the system free of charge and with even more benefits.  This is an economic thing. Demand will trigger Supply.

Question 4

In a country where 20000 students go to government universities there are still jobless graduates. When the private institutes produce more graduates how many jobless graduates will that create?

My Comment

We are in this problem not because we have too many graduates, we have too many graduates with the wrong degree. When we select a degree we always tend to look at economic and social benefits to ourself. But many of us select non employable degrees because they have no choice. Given the opportunity to select a more economically viable degree program will they make the same choice? As a number there will always be unemployed graduates. But when more opportunities are available to get more employable degrees, as a percentage this will go down.

This may increase the competition in those fields.  This in fact is a good thing. Brilliant people will still have a better place in the industry. If you look at how economy work, more human capital attracts more investments. Of course other economic/environmental factors must be properly managed for this to happen.

Question 5

Will the limited number of jobs be taken by those who with the money, power and connections?

My Comment

This is a tricky question. In most of the cases you cannot hold a job much longer unless you perform well in it, may be except in government sector. Don’t people with money, power, connections (in other words more influence) reach their goals anyway? More education opportunities will give those who are not so influencive a better chance.

Question 6

Government only spends 0.37% of GDP for higher education. Why do you privatize something that has such a tiny cost?

My Comment

Do you think that 0.37% of GDP is enough for higher education? Don’t you think that this is exactly why we need to open up the opportunity to invest in education sector to the private inverters? We are not talking about completely stopping government investment on education. Government can and must continue running free universities. The need is to allow private sector to come in.

IMO the private education is already here. Look around, there are plenty of examples. They have been here for sometime to prove that it is a working system. Education loans, scholarships, sponsorships, work-for-education programs are also here and expanding. They have already proven that they actually work. There are a lot of not so economically stable students including myself who has gained higher education through private sector. And numbers are growing. All you need to do is to create more awareness of the opportunities. Isn’t that answer most of your questions any way?

IMO should we privatize higher education is not is not even the question. The real question is should we allow private investments in higher education sector. And I think we should. This post by Nadee makes a good case for it.

By the way, I also have two question of my own

1. If you recognize that higher education as a basic right, and the government cannot give free higher education to all who pass AL, don’t you see that the prevention or downplaying the need to set up private higher education institutes is a direct violation of basic rights of a large number of students?

2. Middle Path blog says that there are more things that need to be done before this. What other things that needs to be done before expanding the access to higher education. Don’t you recognize that the education is a key factor for economic development and is the long-term answer for many other problems that we are trying to solve out of context?

Hope this post is not a complete waste of time 🙂


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4 comments on “Should We Privatize Higher Education? – Is That Even the Real Question?

  1. ????? says:


    The first reason I wrote that is to create a dialogue between people of different backgrounds. It seems to be happening.

    Second the reason I called my blog “Middle path” is to stay in the middle as much as possible and look at both sides.

    I realized after publishing it that I didn’t do a good job explaining the answer to your 1st question. So I am writing a second part to it. For now I will ask a question back. Is that the only right of people which has been violated in out country?

    For your question two, I agree with you it is a key factor. We (all tax payers) have been investing in higher education for last 70 years. So where is that economic development? The problem is we (our country) come up with piecemeal solutions for a huge problem and implement them quickly. So system get a shock or a jump start but suffer a quicker death. Look at O/L results when the new system was place there was an increase in the student passing the exam only to get bad results this year. I will also point out that lots of people who are supporting this (who are all in) is seems to be working in one field. I will try to elaborate when i finish the second part.

    Thanks again – What I wanted is this. BTW I am not an education expert also but just thinking out loud.


    • Rakhitha says:

      Thanks for the comment…!
      Yep, word ‘right’ does not carry much weight in this country these days :). But this is one of those rights when violated affect an entire generation.

      Also as you said, my view may only be common in the industry that I am in, probably in few similar. I think it’s due to obvious economic reasons. IMO private education will always focus on the industries with most money as they will be the most popular among students (and parents). Same goes for financing options due to payback capability.


      • ????? says:


        Women’ rights affect everyday to half of our population. It is always not only about the rights. I am busy with my experiments but I promise I will make the reply to question one clearer, soon.

        One of the massive problem of Private Universities is that it is only going to focus on economically viable fields of studies. I work in an American private university and they don’t do that. Sometimes the promote other things. We need a change of culture (not the Sri Lankan culture – I don’t wanna hear that I hate my culture). I will try to elaborate on that too but I have a feeling you already agree with me.