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Why Study Abroad?

by malinga
September 20, 2023 1:07 am 0 comment

Higher Education allows students to discover themselves and their true goals in life. Higher Education is important because it helps an individual to gain knowledge and skills that can be used in the future.

It is a way for students to prepare themselves for the career they choose and create opportunities for better employment. Higher Education allows students to connect with leaders in various fields of study who were once just like them. They can share ideas, knowledge, and experiences that they have gained throughout their years of learning.

Higher Education opens up the minds of students to new ways of thinking and allows them to gather new perspectives that they have never encountered before. Pragmatic higher education can provide individuals with the critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in the modern workforce. Higher education is important for the advancement of society as a whole. Higher education institutions are centers of research and innovation and many of the world’s most important discoveries and technological advancements have been made by researchers and scholars at colleges and universities.

Higher education also plays a crucial role in developing the next generation of leaders. Higher levels of education are associated with more advantageous economic and psychological consequences (more income, more dominance and wider social support and networking).

The occupational status reflects the educational attainment required to obtain the job and income levels that vary with different jobs and within ranks of occupations. Additionally, it shows achievement in skills required for the job. Is overseas higher education facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, for Sri Lankan students?

Cost of education

Colleges and universities with a global reputation, a strong endowment, and a stellar track record attract the most talented students and prestigious faculty. But can Sri Lankan parents truly afford this? Can young Sri Lankan students really aspire to study without burdening their parents and falling into a long cycle of debt? Wealthy Sri Lankans have no issues. They can send their children to the moon if required. But we are not a wealthy or developed nation. What about all the common middle-class and ordinary students? Sri Lanka is already engulfed in an economic crisis, affecting all sectors.

The current cost crisis of overseas higher education cannot be traced to a single cause. Instead, a pattern of cultural shifts, a steady decline in state support, and economic cycles has combined to inflate the price of a university degree. Individuals within the higher education community have been concerned about this trend for several years.

Tuition has become an increasingly critical source of funding for all types of foreign academic institutions. With less money coming in from states and endowments, academic institutions have turned to tuition to make up the difference. Overseas students always have to pay more, irrespective of the degree subject (even if they get a scholarship which is not a big relief). Foreign faculty salaries are expensive, especially in competitive fields such as business and engineering, and tenured faculty are especially costly. Overseas professors don’t work for cheap wages!

In spite of the monetary challenges involved, the university is still the favoured path for growing numbers of school leavers around the world. Children have a right to education that is not being disputed. Often prospective university students are motivated by the desire to boost their career prospects. But in the meantime, who should front the initial university costs: students themselves, or their parents?

It’s important to understand how much debt you might be taking and how it fits into the family budget. As young people see other generations struggle with the burden of student debt, they have clearly grown increasingly aware of how it can impact financial security. Some Sri Lankan students are influenced by rich classmates and foolishly try to copy them, in selecting a foreign university. They don’t realize the challenges for them and their struggling parents.

Is having a job during university a useful way to strengthen your independence, or does it dent your learning abilities? International students only get limited hours of work per week, and 90 percent of the jobs are odd jobs. Many students overseas find it difficult to manage this income unless they have the support of friends and relatives overseas -who are willing to assist. A medical situation, like a dental issue, is enough to financially burden a foreign student amidst the demands of campus life. During the Covid pandemic, we saw thousands of Sri Lankan students stranded abroad, unable to buy a ticket to fly home.

How do Sri Lankan students go to their part-time jobs? Can they afford to operate a car? Most of them walk in all seasons including winter. The latter is a difficult time of adaptation in every aspect. Many parents have sold ancestral lands, vehicles and jewellery to gather money for their children’s foreign university aspirations. Others have taken loans and struggling to pay. Some others have done fraudulent things like temporarily showing large amounts of money in their bank accounts, which is also borrowed money on super high interest. This is a trending business for money lenders and some corrupt bank employees. Single parents suffer the most in these situations. At the end of the day, families remain worried about their children overseas.

Competition among institutions has driven up spending on facilities, recreation, dining, and athletics to unsustainable levels. Competition between businesses tends to reduce costs and improve offerings, but competition between colleges and universities has increased costs and only brought improvement in some unessential areas, critics complain. Many within the higher education community deplore the “race” to get higher rankings on influential lists and secure superstar faculty, but so far no one seems to have a solution to stop the cycle.

Colleges and universities that try to be all things to all people are likely to spend money where it is not needed, which in turn burdens the student.

Life is impossible to achieve without the active participation of women in all fields. The level of maturity and development of any society can be judged by the level of development and maturity of women in that society. Female students in Sri Lanka remain seriously under-represented in graduate education, both as students and as researchers, and consequently, many women are still failing to achieve their full academic potential.

A Sri Lankan option

Sri Lanka is embellished with many universities. They have a long and illustrious history. They have produced thousands of graduates. However, do students in the past decade feel that they can study locally? Many parents have told me they don’t trust the local university “system”. When and how did we lose this trust? Both parents and aspiring students are terrified about the incidents of ragging and bullying.

This is a serious deterrent and one main reason why students prefer to go overseas-even taking loans and risks. Some incidents are linked to certain politically affiliated student unions. Responsible authorities must tackle this so that future students will select local campuses. Also, students feel that the websites of some local campuses are not as convincing and inspiring as foreign ones-first impressions do make an impact on young minds. If students and parents are convinced of safe and enhanced standards they will surely study here, where it is affordable.

Children can remain within their parents’ “safety net” and enjoy the comforts of home. Social skills can be learnt in Sri Lanka too. Higher education scholarships must aim to produce academics who love their country and are willing to give back by serving here.

The great Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai realized these issues decades ago and founded the Aquinas College in Colombo, for higher education. He was a visionary. We need more academics like him today who don’t “sell” education. Decades ago, students completed their basic degree in Sri Lanka and then flew overseas for master’s and doctoral studies. Many parents agree this era must dawn again. All middle-class and poor students have a right to a degree. They also must have better options for vocational training with quality certificates, which garner dignity and employment.

The rich don’t care about these issues, and their children can fly to the moon.

Views on higher education are changing, globally and locally. We see changing student preferences (shift in focus to getting a job more than a broad education); some have to do with the widespread acceptability of distance education and the emergence of new providers who are not saddled with campus costs or traditional cultures. Much of it simply has to do with higher education reaching the limits of affordability.

Potential students are now choosing other options. Does spending to maintain foreign university rankings align with the institution’s mission and vision? Finally, the most successful colleges and universities will be those able to communicate their distinctiveness and build on their strengths. Each campus needs a clear identity that sets it apart and justifies its worth, globally and locally.

Dishan Joseph

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