Politicians and academics in Sri Lanka want a ban on private universities to be lifted to help foster growth in the undersized higher education sector.
The calls to lift the ban came as the Sinhalese-nationalist People's Liberation Front pulled out of the coalition Government led by the United People's Freedom Alliance after a row over issues including the pressure for private higher education development.
Tara de Mel, Permanent Secretary at the Education Ministry, told an Asian Round Table on open and distance learning, that Sri Lankan laws preventing the establishment of private universities were partly responsible for "a pathetic enrolment in tertiary education of about 10 per cent and a dismal 3 per cent of the cohort aged 18 to 25 in universities".
Ranjith Ruberu of the University of Colombo told the Sunday Observer : "Private universities cannot be discouraged in a democratic set-up."
He said the only danger was potential "exploitation by unscrupulous managers who are prone to make them profit-making businesses". But this could be avoided if they were scrutinised by the Education Ministry, he added.