Lankans studying overseas in dire straits

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Sri Lanka’s economic crisis which started in 2019 is the island nation’s worst crisis since its Independence in 1948. It has led to exceptional levels of inflation, near depletion of foreign exchange reserves, shortages of medical supplies and an increase in prices of essential commodities. The crisis began due to multiple compounding factors like tax cuts, money printing and island wide policy to shift to organic farming and also the Easter bomb attack in 2019. The subsequent economic hardships have resulted in mass street protests.

The 2022 protests, also known as the ‘Aragalaya’ (meaning ‘struggle’ in Sinhala), is a series of demonstrations against the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Government has been criticised for its mismanagement of the economy, the subsequent economic crisis and severe inflation, daily blackouts of up to five hours, and a shortage of fuel and other essential items. The protesters key demand is the Rajapaksa family’s immediate resignation from Government, paving the way for a completely new set of qualified democratic rulers.

The crisis has affected several important sectors and the public in numerous ways, the most unfortunate being the educational sector.

In March 2022, several schools announced that their term/mid-year examinations would be postponed indefinitely due to paper shortages throughout the country caused by the lack of foreign reserves to import paper. The term test examinations were set to be held on 28 March 2022, but due to the acute shortage of printing paper and ink ribbons, a decision was made to either cancel or postpone the exams to a later date.

Dreams come to halt

The most recent issue Sri Lankan students had to face is losing opportunities to study abroad. Rejected applications from foreign universities have been widely shared on social media. This is also a reason why the youth are protesting and demanding a new leadership without corruption. 

One rejected application from a foreign university said;

“The university has decided to defer the application until next intake. As a result of the on-going disruption in Sri Lanka, our current students are facing significant problems paying for their living costs while they study, because they cannot access the funds they need from home. This is obviously very stressful for them. As a university, we have responsibility to ensure that minimal numbers of students are in this position”.

“We believe that deferring your offer until the next intake will be the best decision at this point.”

This type of inconvenience put students’ lives in jeopardy. A student applies to a university in hopes of archiving their future goals. It can be either local or international pathways. But when they are rejected it makes a huge impact on their lives.                                                                                                                                                As we can see in the above statement, the university had to defer the application to the next intake. Therefore the student has to wait for another year to join the university. To live in a country like Sri Lanka at the moment without engaging in some kind of career is difficult. Skyrocketing prices of essentials have made it hard to survive. The student awaiting another opportunity to start higher education is now forced to work. Nevertheless, even to get a job from the basic qualifications like O/L or A/L is difficult as workplaces require more qualifications and experience. Therefore waiting for an answer from a university is not a viable solution.

When Ceylon Today inquired about the situation from the Secretary to the Ministry of Education M.N. Ranasinghe he said the problem is being discussed and that the Ministry will do everything in their power to solve the issue as soon as possible.

Broadening education opportunities locally

Meanwhile, acknowledging the issue Education Minister Dr. Susil Premajayantha said the crisis has affected students who are hoping to pursue their higher education in foreign countries. Through agreements between foreign universities and the University Grants Commission (UGC), higher education opportunities in the country should be expanded.

Expansion of higher education, educational opportunities in Sri Lanka by building new international relations through foreign universities and the UGC on how to implement the higher education strategic plan in the future so as not to jeopardize education amid the current crisis. Dr. Susil Premajayantha addressed a discussion at the UGC on 24 May following a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Higher Education.

The Minister commended Sri Lanka’s higher education system, including universities, as a public service system that has continued to function in the country over the past two and a half years in face of various catastrophic crises.

Sri Lankan students attend school for 13 years in hopes of obtaining a suitable career. At present some start to work right after school while the rest go to universities. However, with the on going crisis even students who thought they would stay in Sri Lanka are trying to leave the country in hopes of achieving a brighter future. The situation has made it impossible for people to survive although they cannot live nor leave the country due to the on going financial crisis.

This issue is not only affecting local students but also Sri Lankan students studying abroad.

Sri Lankan students who are studying overseas are facing many difficulties paying their fees on time because they have issues receiving money from home. Their parents are facing issues sending money due to the forex crisis.

The mental distress the students have to go through is unbearable. Who will be responsible for these students in an uncertain future? Who will save these students if in any case they are suspended from their universities for not paying their fees on time? Would the Government take care of them or would they just blame it on the opposition parties?

By Aloka Kasturiarachchi