Tertiary Education

Undergraduate education in state universities is free but extremely competitive, limited and standardized. Fewer than 16% (less than 16,000 students) of those who qualify get admission to state universities and of that only half graduate. Admission to the university system is based on the highly competitive GCE Advanced Level examination. Selection of students is done on the basis of rank order on average Z Scores obtained by candidates at the GCE Advanced Level under a transparent national policy to replicate a district basis representation. Only the top students from each district get admissions.

The top students from urban and rural districts get the chances of having tertiary education. However, top students who got qualified under the minimum Z Scores requirements for admissions from remote districts may get in with relatively lower marks than those from urban districts. As a result, many students who are not granted admission find other means of higher education. Around 8% those qualified but could not get admission for higher education go abroad to pursue their studies, others enroll themselves at the Open University of Sri Lanka or at the few state-owned autonomous degree awarding institutes (such as the SLIIT, ITS), or study as external students of traditional universities or at private institutes (such as the IIT) that conduct classes and exams on behalf of foreign universities (such as the ULEP).

Some study for entrance/membership for professional bodies both foreign (such as CIMA, BCS, ACCA, etc.) and local (such as ICASL, SLIM) or do studies at vocational technical colleges that specialize in mechanical and electronic subjects. Government has schemes to provides financial aid in addition to free education to financially support to those qualified to get admission to state universities.

There are 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.

Still, there are unemployed graduates in Sri Lanka, except in the fields of medicine, information technology, commerce, law and engineering disciplines. Many claim that if state university graduates are unemployed or causes brain drain that is because of limited exposure in the country for the degrees they have.

Many intellectuals express the need for private universities in the country, where students who chose not to attend or do not gain admission to state universities could study in their home country at a lower cost. The North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) was one such institute. Before its nationalization, it produced some of the best doctors in Sri Lanka. But efforts to establish private universities have been blocked due to protests conducted by many parties claiming that it would create more competition for state university students. In recent years this has become a reason for students who do not attend state universities to prefer going abroad or study at other institutes and professional bodies.

For a complete list, see Sri Lankan universities
Classification of tertiary qualifications
Certificate: 1 year or less than 1 year of study.
DiplomaL 1-2 years of study.
Bachelor's degree
General degree: 3 years of coursework without a major.
Honours/Special degree: 4 years of coursework and research with a major/specialization in a field.
Master's degree: undertaken after the completion of one or more bachelor's degrees. Master's degrees deal with a subject at a more advanced level than bachelor's degrees and can consist either of research, coursework, or a mixture of the two.
Doctorate: most famously Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which are undertaken after an honours bachelor's or master's degree, by an original research project resulting in a thesis or dissertation.