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Market Quick Guide: Sri Lanka

Growing household income over the last decade and demand for higher education overseas has made Sri Lanka an attractive market for student recruitment. If you’re new to recruiting in this market, or are looking for ways to push your performance further, review the following guide from UniQuest Recruitment Manager, and Sri Lanka market expert, Jayesha Fernando.

About the Expert
Jayesha is from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Following her undergraduate studies at the American University of Asia – Institute of Technological Studies in Sri Lanka and her postgraduate studies at Griffith University in Australia, Jayesha moved to the UK and began her career in higher education admissions. In her admissions roles, Jayesha researched Asian markets for Oxford International Education Group, analysing different qualifications from Sri Lanka, which is where she developed close relationships with Sri Lankan agents and a deep understanding for the market.

Sri Lanka’s Education System
Sri Lanka has three types of government schools.

National Schools
The majority of National Schools were established while Sri Lanka was still a British colony and are now directly funded and led by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Education. These 353 schools are segmented into all-boys and all-girls institutions. Instruction at National Schools varies by school, some teaching in Tamil, Sinhala or English only or a combination of two or all three languages. Colombo’s National Schools are very selective and generally have a student population from wealthier families. They hold a lot of weight when it comes to social status. It’s quite common for people to size each other up based on where they attend(ed) school.

Provincial Schools
Provincial Schools are controlled and financed by local governments. These 9,809 schools tend to serve students from households with lower incomes.

These colleges provide secondary and higher education for Buddhists priests.

Non-Government Schools
Sri Lanka’s private and International Schools require fees and typically teach in English and follow a UK syllabus. Similar to Colombo’s National Schools, these schools tend to serve students from wealthier families.

Higher Ed Qualifications
Like the UK, students wishing to enter higher education must sit A-levels. Sri Lanka’s General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level is generally taken in optional Grades 12 and 13.

In 2015, 255,191 students sat GCE A-levels — 155,447 of them qualifying for university. However, Sri Lanka’s national universities are incredibly selective with only ~17% of those eligible for university admitted. The selectivity of universities at home drives significant demand for higher education abroad. So, how can you attract this demand your way?

Build Relationships
Like recruiting in other countries, it’s crucial to spend time in Sri Lanka meeting people face-to-face. Prioritise your time in Colombo and Kandy which have a high concentration of prestigious schools serving students, and their families, who are committed to investing in higher education abroad.

Before heading over to Sri Lanka, spend time developing a network with National Schools by getting touch with the Sri Lankan Old Boys Associations and Old Girls Associations in the UK. Also, connect with International School Principals to organise seminars where you can address students directly to share the unique value of your University.

Take advantage of opportunities to network in-person here in the UK too. Participate in the Festival of Cricket, a hugely popular cricket tournament where Sri Lankan Old Boys Associations in the UK compete on behalf of their schools. To establish a bigger presence, you can buy stall space to promote your institution. This year’s tournament will be on 9 July.

Appeal to Students’ Key Interests and Priorities
When you’re building relationships in Sri Lanka, you naturally want to highlight the attributes of your university that are most relevant to your audience.

At the undergraduate level, you’ll need to prove:

  • Value for money
  • Quality and reputation of your courses
  • Innovation
  • Employability

As you prepare for conversations in Sri Lanka, keep in mind the courses that are popular among students. Sri Lanka is starting to see a broadening of course interest from STEM to Arts and Business. In 2015, the undergraduate courses with the highest enrolments locally were Arts followed by Management & Commerce followed by Science.

In the postgraduate arena, MBAs are very popular. Make connections in the larger, multinational companies in Colombo to get in front of people looking to accelerate their careers.


Ultimately, success in the Sri Lankan market will boil down to the relationships you nurture. Keep your focus there and you’ll be on the right track to meet your recruitment goals.