r Ministry of Defence - Sri Lanka

Building National Economic Resilience: Sri Lanka as an Educational Hub

January 09, 2024

by Thamindu Devinda


The changing dynamics in the modern world mainly rely upon economic imperatives, which states emphasize, on internal and external manifestos. Economy is a word that is being heard every day; a concept that carries a huge meaning. Reading daily newspapers, listening to and watching daily news and ‘economy’ is a word that never be left without being heard and discussed, certainly more than one time a day. It can be defined as a “complex system of interrelated production, consumption, and exchange activities that ultimately determines how resources are allocated among all participants” (Kenton, 2023). A strong and effective economy works to retain and grow jobs and investment within a country (Clickner, 2012) which provides citizens with employment opportunities, and increased living standards. In addition to that, it generates higher tax revenues which benefits the government (Pettinger, 2019) and allows government to use the revenues to provide the public good and services such as healthcare, social protection, education and basic public services (Sen, 2021).

On the other hand, education is known as the backbone of a country, which plays a vital role in achieving sustainable development, as well as in strengthening social, cultural and integral development. It produces responsible citizens enriched with domestic values, who eventually contribute to the quality of the country’s workforce. In this way, the educational system of a country contributes to the development of the country (Alawattegama, 2020) and it shows that these two components are deeply connected and inter-related pillars that need consideration of any state in the world.

This article is focusing on analyzing the role of Sri Lanka as an educational hub for developing the Sri Lankan economy as well as the connection between economic development and national security.

Economic Background of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is known for a country with considerably superior social welfare in comparison to those of most countries with comparable income levels (Karlik et al. 1996). Addressing the economy of Sri Lanka, service, industries and agricultural sectors remain the largest contributing sectors (Central Bank of Sri Lanka, 2022).

At present, the country is experiencing a critical economic condition where the inflation has resulted in increasing level of prices of goods and services including essential commodities. Inflation is not limited only to developing countries but also to others as well. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2022, Sri Lanka’s inflation rate was 57.2% whereas the global average of inflation remained at 10.1% (Ratnasabapathy, 2023).

Educational Background of Sri Lanka

Being a South Asian country, Sri Lanka holds a leading position in the region in terms of literacy rate, gender parity and school enrolment rate as the government provides free education from the primary level to university level without any marginalization. (Ahmed, 2023). As a result of the free education policy, Sri Lanka has been able to achieve one of the highest literacy rate in the developing world, which is at 92% (Macrotrends, 2023) and above the world’s average rate; 86% (Macrotrends, 2023).

Despite the high literacy rate, as a result of the ongoing economic crisis; the increased rate of youth unemployment; and the competitiveness of state university entrance, an increasing number of Sri Lankan students migrate to other countries in search of better educational opportunities and thereafter obtain employment and residency visas in these countries (Weeraratne, Weerasekera and Bandara, 2022). Because of this, Sri Lanka losses a significant amount of human resources as well as around 3 billion USD a year, which roughly equals to 2.24% of the country’s total economy. Hence, it is very important to address this issue and develop the path towards establishing Sri Lanka as an educational hub which will help in reducing the number of Sri Lankan students who migrate for foreign education.

Sri Lanka’s Potential to Emerge as an Educational Hub

At the global level, educational institutions are significant in generating economic advantages through domestic and international sources. Sri Lanka being geographically centralized in South Asia produces enough advantages to function as a central educational hub in the region and some of those advantages are as follows;

  • Sri Lanka’s geographical location - Sri Lanka’s geographical location inking in the centre of the Indian Ocean with a significant amount maritime boundary provides with a great opportunity for Sri Lanka to implement maritime educational centers with international standards to attract international students, especially those who are from landlocked countries. CINEC Campus, the Ocean University of Sri Lanka, Mahapola Port and Maritime Academy and the Maritime Studies Division of University of Moratuwa are such examples and further establishment of such educational institutions with much more advanced technologies would greatly contribute towards achieving Sri Lanka’s goal to rise as an educational hub.
  • International Climate Change University (ICCU) - H.E. the President of Sri Lanka, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed the idea of establishing a climate change university in Sri Lanka. According to the president, this will support “green, blue studies and provide room for scientists, environmentalists, researchers, policymakers, development practitioners and visiting researchers worldwide” (CFC Sri Lanka, 2023).
  • Higher literacy rate - Sri Lanka has a literacy rate of 92% at present, which is higher than that of most other countries in the region, as well as the average global literacy rate (Macrotrends, 2023). This depicts the quality of Sri Lanka’s education despite the economic difficulties and capacity to provide intellectual support while disseminating knowledge imperatives through educational centers.
  • Research opportunities - Sri Lanka’s unique geographical location, diverse culture and cultural heritage provide excellent opportunities for students to research in fields such as environmental sciences, social sciences, marine technology and archaeology.
  • Affordability - When compared with top educational destinations in the world such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Russia, and the United States, Sri Lanka has the ability to provide quality education at a lower cost, which international students from Europe and North America would find significantly lower (Keystone, 2019).
  • Opportunities to explore - Even though the country is small in size, it is the proud owner of a vast number of tourist destinations as well as a diverse society and culture. For any student, especially from the West, who is looking forward to travelling and gaining unique, indigenous experiences while studying in a foreign country, Sri Lanka can be their ideal destination. Having a rich culture, a diverse society, a rich wildlife experience, and many historical and religious destinations, Sri Lanka can provide foreign students with unforgettable experiences and memories (Keystone, 2019).

The Role of Educational Hub Initiative to the Economic Development of Sri Lanka

Quoting his words, H.E. the president of Sri Lanka, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe said, “you are allowing billions of US dollars to go out, at least 3 billion USD. So not only can we retain that 3 billion USD, but if we do it right, we will be able to attract another 10 billion USD. We must do that” (The Sunday Times, 2022). Sri Lanka as a developing country is currently in a critical situation due to the ongoing economic crisis and developing the country into an educational hub would greatly help in increasing the economy which will invariably benefits for the sustainable development of the country.

Australia is one of the best examples of a country in which education significantly contributes to its economic development. International education has contributed over 37.6 billion AUD to Australia’s economy in 2018 – 19, marking higher education as the country’s third-largest export earner (Lucas, 2023). Considering Australia as an example, it is not impossible for Sri Lanka to develop itself into an educational hub if the necessary steps are being taken properly. If Sri Lanka could earn an additional 10 billion USD per year by providing education for international students, it in return could significantly contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic development. As of October 2023, Sri Lanka's total economy is 74.85 billion USD (IMF, 2023) and according to the above-mentioned numbers, Sri Lanka can increase its GNI by at least 7.48% if the plan to develop itself as an educational hub works out well.

The Connection Between the Economic Development and National Security

A Strong Economy is always the foundation of a strong country (The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 2021). If the economy is declining, it leads to people’s suffering, social unrest and political instability and even lowers the strength of the country’s security. In the same way, if the economy is strong, all the other aspects of the country become strong, including the national security of the country. National security protects the economy of the country, while economic development could provide protection for national security. They are actually two sides of the same coin that a country should handle with a holistic approach (The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 2021).


Education is considered a fundamental human right which every citizen in the world is entitled to. In the context of Sri Lanka, the country holds a leading position in the region in terms of literacy rate as a result of the Sri Lankan government providing free education. At present, Sri Lanka’s literacy rate is at 92%. As a way to overcome the current economic crisis in the country, the Sri Lankan President initiated the idea of developing Sri Lanka into an international educational hub. As it was mentioned in the speech by the president, if Sri Lanka could earn an additional 10 billion USD per year by providing education for international students, it in return could significantly contribute to Sri Lanka’s economy.

Way Forward

Developing Sri Lanka as an international educational hub is not an easy task. Given the crisis in the country, it may take a lot of effort. Following are some recommended steps that the Sri Lankan government can follow, especially to improve the quality of education in the country and to attract foreign students.

  • Increase budget allocation for education - The Sri Lankan government has allocated only 6.3% of the 2023 budget for education, which is Rs. 232 billion and in the South Asian region, Sri Lanka is only above Bhutan in terms of budgetary allocation for education (The Sunday Times, 2022). Hence, it is necessary to increase the budgetary allocation to improve the quality of education.
  • Work on improving the global ranking of state universities - Sri Lankan state universities provide a high-quality education and it has been proven well. Despite the quality of the education, not a single Sri Lankan state university is ranked between the top 1,000 universities in the world (Dias and Eliatamby, 2020). Academic reputation is not the only factor which is considered when ranking a university in the global level. Academic reputation including many other factors such as employer reputation, portion of international faculty, portion of international students, staff to student ration, research productivity amd international collaboration are taken into account when ranking universities in the global level (Abeysekera, 2020). Global ranking of a university plays a significant role in attracting foreign students. Hence, it is important to focus not only on the academic reputation but also the other mentioned factors and work on improving the global ranking of Sri Lankan universities.
  • Educational collaboration with regional and international universities - To provide quality education for both Sri Lankan and foreign students, Sri Lankan universities can collaborate with regional and international level universities. This could also include the introduction of exchange university programmes which allows students to gain a global experience in education.
  • Focus on expanding the university programmes that have global job opportunities - An educational hub must provide programmes that allow students to explore global-level job opportunities. It is significant that almost every Sri Lankan university provided programmes in fields such as engineering and technology, tourism, healthcare, computer science and maritime education which provide students with global job opportunities. Expanding and improving such programmes through further specialized institutions would greatly contribute in increasing the quality of these programmes as well as to attract foreign students, especially for fields such as maritime education.

Link to the original source : Click here

Published on Colombo Telegraph on 27th November 2023.

* Mr. Thamindu Devinda is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established and functioning under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed are his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.


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