History of Higher Education in Sri Lanka

The beginnings of modern higher education in Ceylon commenced in 1870 with the establishment of the Ceylon Medical School, followed by Colombo Law College (1875), School of Agriculture (1884) and the Government Technical College (1893).

The origins of the modern university system in Sri Lanka dates back to 1921 when a University college, the Ceylon University College was established at the former premises of Royal College Colombo, and was affiliated with the University of London. The college provided courses of study in art and humanities, science and medicine prepared undergraduates for examination at the University of London.

In 1942 the first university was established in the country was the University of Ceylon which had several campuses island wide, Colombo (established 1942), Peradeniya (established 1949), Vidyodaya (established 1959), Vidyalankara (established 1959) and Katubedda (established 1972). Vidyodaya and Vidayalankara were established under the Vidyodaya and Vidayalankara University Act No 45 of 1958. The University of Ceylon was modelled on the Oxbridge formula, at its inception the university only accommodated 904 students, which later expanded to cover a number of universities and it remained as an elite-oriented university as stated by Sir Ivor Jennings, catering to a small number of students and exclusively residential. It was dissolved in 1972 to establish the University of Sri Lanka. In 1974 the Jaffna campus was added to the University of Sri Lanka.

The change of the government in July 1977 led to dismantling of the single university apparatus with the plan of establishing independent universities. With the promulgation of the Universities Act. No 16 of 1978, state university status was restored to the six separate campuses. The University Grants Commission (UGC) was also created to plan and coordinate the state university education. After that, a number of state universities were created. All these state universities are registered under the University Grants Commission, but a few come under the auspices of ministries other than the Ministry of Higher Education, in which the UGC is a part of. Most of the state universities depend on funds given by the University Grants Commission, as it is their primary and sometimes only source of funding. Therefore, the UGC has a direct control over these universities and administer the undergraduate intake. The UGC is subordinate to the Ministry of Higher Education.