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IHRA aims at making Lanka an education hub by 2020

At present there is much criticism about the higher education system in Sri Lanka, specially the university system, as a major percentage of students qualified to enter university are deprived of their chances due to the huge competition among students to grab that chance in state universities.

Adding to that competition, huge delays in the process of university admissions make these youth more desperate when completing their university education and passing out as graduates to lead a better life with a good employment. Therefore fed up with the system, so many youth at present are trying their best to pursue their higher education at their young age without wasting valuable youth life for prolonged university education and enter the real race in their life at the tail end of their youth.

The recent proposals by the Vice Chancellors Forum of Universities and strongly backed by Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake to get students into the university system at least two years earlier than the present age of university admission, came as a solution to keep Sri Lankan youth also on par with the trends in other international university systems.

According to Director of the Institute of Human Resource Advancement (IHRA) of the University of Colombo Dr. Rohan Perera, the institute established in 1971 under a Government Act, as the Institute of Workers Education in Sri Lanka, and renamed in 2006 to its present name, is strongly backing this new trend in higher education as this institution is also committed to provide the pathway for the youth and other professional to pursue their higher education in par with newest trend in the world.


Dr. Rohan Perera

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Dr. Rohan Perera, said that as an institution comes under the University of Colombo, they are also committed to make the government vision of making Sri Lanka an education hub by 2020, is also committed to clear the pathway for youth to enter the university system soon after their O/L examination and pursue their higher education without going through the mill of the traditional university system.

Educating people working in the private and public sectors, who were unable to enter the university system, in specific subject areas and enhance their skills to achieve their goals in their respective fields was the prime objective of the institute when the institute was set up in 1971.

"With the changing of the name in 2006 as Institute of Human Resource Advancement we now catere to a wider range of people among the working community in the country offering many programs to achieve their targets and dreams in the particular organisation they are working", Dr. Perera said.

At present the IHRA carries out eight Masters programs such as Masters in Public Administration, Masters in the Human Resource Management, Masters in Disaster Management, Masters in Business Management, Masters in the Service Management, Masters in the Marketing Management and Masters in the Banking and Finance.

"So we are covering a wider range of organisations and various programs under the IHRA and at present a student population of 9,200 are following various courses under our guidance", he said.

The most interesting feature in the IHRA program is the creation of a career pathway for the youth who have passed their O/Levels to achieve their goals within a limited span of time to enter the field as qualified persons in the respective fields.

Those who have just passed the O/Levels can enter the university of Colombo to follow a certificate course and then follow Diploma course and then go to the Executive Diploma and follow the Masters Degree programs offered by the university. "That is the beauty of this organisation and those who were unable to enter the university system through the A/Levels can enter the University of Colombo through this path", Dr. Perera said.

Therefore, although the institute was originally set up for workers education it has created a pathway to enter the system without any working experience through certificate programs."Generally we are not asking for work experience from those who are entering our certificate programs. But those who enrol into Diploma and Executive Diploma programs require two years working experience in their particular field", he said.

Therefore, people in banking and other sectors can join these programs with two years work experience. The only difference of studying at IHRA compared to the normal university system is that the students have to pay for their courses.

"But we are not charging a large amount of money from students. For example our Masters program is Rs. 200,000 compared to the Rs. 400,000 fee when you follow it at a private university. Therefore, we do it in a more subsidised rate for all the programs offered by the IHRA", he said.

The other important feature of this program is that people who enter the Executive Diploma course can change their career pathway.

Those who enter the Executive Diploma in Management program can change to the medical area. The IHRA opens them to the medical pathway as well. "Executive Diploma is a multi disciplinary subject. We do not teach only about the Management but all the subjects and they can move to other fields also after following the Executive Diploma", he said.

While serving the objective of clearing the pathway for the workers to achieve the goals in their careers, the IHRA is also ready to fulfil the much needed workers skills of the country in accordance with the development needs of the country, since it has flexibility in adopting new courses into its programs.

"If we go to start a new program in accordance with the requirement of the country our Academic Director can propose the program and implement the program within a short time. Therefore, this is the only institute that caters to the education needs according to the requirement of the country as other conventional universities have to go through long procedures. But here we don't have those barriers and obstructions. If we have a vision we can implement the program according to the local and global demand", he said.

The Institution's ability to bring experts from the field to carry out these programs and using Faculty members of the University of Colombo is also another advantage.

"At the end of the day you are getting a world recognised diploma or degree from the University of Colombo. So the recognition is there.

That is why we are achieving our goals because we are a partner of the University of Colombo", Dr. Perera said.

The institute is also targeting financial independence in 2015 as it generates an average annual income of Rs. 42 million depending on the Treasury for only 12 percent of the funds after running the institution with 32 staff and two academic staff while outsourcing the other staff.

"Only the Bachelor of Labour Education degree is funded by Treasury funds. Other than that all the other programs and the administrative activities are carried out by funds generated by us. So we are generating a massive amount of funds and in 2015 this institution will become a financially independent one.

This is a prime vision for us", Dr. Perera said. Under this setting there is a huge response from the public towards the programs offered by the IHRA and many institutions and organisations are establishing partnerships with the IHRA to conduct new programs to educate the workers in the respective fields.

"Right now the most demanded courses are the Management courses because Sri Lanka is a service oriented country and people from the engineering sciences also follow management courses. Even medical practitioners come to our MBM programs and HRM programs", he said.

"Very soon we are introducing the Banking and Finance and also the Masters in Marketing Management according to the demand for those courses. We hope we can attract many people for these courses", he said.

"To achieve our course we have professional agreements with various institutions to achieve our targets. Recently we started medical laboratory science for the Medical Laboratory Technicians since there is a huge demand for this field. At the same time we started the Disaster Management courses since Sri Lanka is facing severe disasters and we must know how to mitigate and prepare for these disasters", he said. "As a country ranked 107 in the UN Education Index, we should move fast to achieve the goal of making Sri Lanka an education hub by 2020 in accordance with the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

If a country like Cuba can surpass a country like the United States in the education sector, as a country Sri Lanka can also achieve that target", Dr. Perera said.

"If we can diversify our courses and give opportunities for skilled persons to pursue their education in their respective fields and to achieve their goals, we also can achieve the goal of making Sri Lanka an education hub by 2020 while creating a workforce that matchs the requirements of the country", he said.

"Therefore as an institute under the University of Colombo, we are committed to create that environment in this country, enabling the youth to grab this opportunity to create their career pathway without making the competitive examinations a barrier for their higher education", Dr. Perera said.

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