Open Online Courses Can Help More Sri Lankans Access Higher Education

Tertiary education is no longer a privilege. It is a necessity. Better quality jobs are open to those with university degrees. But, getting a good quality university degree is increasingly becoming hard around the world.


The rising cost of university degrees is one main reason behind this. In the United States, the cost of a university degree has increased by 1.6 percentage points more than inflation over the last two decades. Also, with improvements made to general education and more students qualifying, the competition to enter university is getting harder.


For those from developing countries, the challenge of getting to a good university, let alone graduating from one in an advanced country, is more demanding. Countries in the developing world, including Sri Lanka, are struggling to expand access to university education and improve the quality of education. Progress, however, has been slow on both fronts. Universities are underfunded and understaffed, and as such, they have little space for investing in development. Further, transportation and accommodation costs also raise the cost of education.


“Problems of cost, space, and quality are crippling the chances of more young Sri Lankans gaining higher education”


But new, technology-based, options are becoming available. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), introduced in 2008, challenged the traditional model of getting a university degree of physically residing near a university and attending classes in person. MOOCs allow students to listen to lectures, conducted by the best university lecturers from across the world, online. Most importantly, these lectures are provided free of charge. However, a problem with MOOCs is that it has not yet come up with a reliable way of accrediting courses and assessing learning. This is gradually changing. Traditional universities are teaming up with other companies to offer online degrees for a fraction of the cost of traditional degree courses.


In Sri Lanka too, MOOCs could be a solution to many of the issues facing the country’s tertiary education system and those aspiring to get higher qualifications. Students can be exposed to the best lecturers in the country, or indeed the world, language permitting. Under a system like MOOCs, students can learn from home, or at computer centers at their convenience. This could also be a solution to the problem of shortages of lecturers in universities. Students from all locations can benefit from recorded lectures conducted by the best lecturers around the world.


[pillquote]”In Sri Lanka too MOOCs could be a solution to many of the issues facing the country’s tertiary education system”[/pullquote]


Through this method, universities would be needed primarily for providing practical knowledge, accrediting courses, and for assessing learning outcomes. As a result, the universities will be able to accommodate more students, as students will need to spend less time inside the university. Presently in Sri Lanka, universities are open mostly to those completing their general education. A system similar to MOOCs can open university doors even for older students – those who wish to upgrade their skills or wish to change their career paths.


Problems of cost, space, and quality are crippling the chances of more young Sri Lankans gaining higher education. New technology provides new options like MOOCs that can help address this, especially as the country aspires to be a knowledge-based economy. MOOCs could be a win-win solution to students and the state, and Sri Lanka needs to take a close look at it for introducing them here.