Say no to NEPF! Say no to abolishing free education!- A statement by academics of the university system

We are in the midst of an existentially threatening economic crisis. With an ever-increasing
debt burden and low economic prospects, we continue to grapple with uncertain economic
futures and related social and political distresses. As university teachers, we are concerned
about the multiplicity of recent proposals seeking reforms in education that threaten to bring
about a sea change in the way education is conceived of in this country: as a social good.

We note with outrage that these reform efforts have been coupled with deliberate measures to
weaken and discredit state universities. While the budgetary allocations for state universities
have been slashed, the government has violently suppressed any form of protest. Images of
protesting students putatively wasting tax payers’ money are in wide circulation in the media.
High-ranking politicians repeatedly allege that state universities are producing ‘unemployable
graduates’ overlooking the fact that few employment opportunities exist for them. These
narratives have convinced sections of the public that the reforms are not only necessary but the
only course of action available, despite conclusive proof that similar reforms in other countries,
such as the US and UK, have adversely impacted higher education.

The latest proposal is the National Education Policy Framework (NEPF), a cabinet paper that will
soon be tabled in parliament addressing reforms in Early Childhood Education, General
Education (i.e., primary and secondary schooling) and Tertiary Education. NEPF has not gone
through any kind of consultative process, except for an open call for comments to be
submitted. The NEPF’s proposals impinge on the two major education sectors: general
education (i.e., primary and secondary schooling) and tertiary education, in ways that threaten
the very foundations of the Free Education policy that the people of this country hold so dear.
While the proposed reforms to school education are also far reaching, this statement highlights
some of the changes proposed in tertiary education.

Structure and governance
A new structure called the National Higher Education Commission (NHEC) is to replace the
University Grants Commission (UGC). NHEC will bring both state universities and non-state higher education institutes/degree-awarding institutes under a single authority in which the
private sector will have a strong presence. There is no evidence in the NEPF of a commitment to
expand state support for public education. It clearly specifies however mechanisms to subsidize
the private sector, accelerating the diversion of already scarce public resources to for-profit
private tertiary education. Indeed, the main thrust of the policy framework appears to be to
expand the role of the private sector in higher education by facilitating “participation of non-
state partners, including public-private partnerships” (p.28).

Funding of tertiary education
While the government bemoans the low numbers accessing tertiary education (NEPF
misleadingly states that only 8.9% gain admission to the universities today), government
expenditure on education, as of 2022 World Bank figures, is 1.2% of GDP—the second lowest in
the world. The government does not anticipate increasing investment in education except by
“the redeployment of existing resources, leveraging of additional resources through
partnerships with non-state entities, and private contributions” (p.4).

The NEPF proposes a complete overhaul of the way universities are funded. Financing of state
universities will be through three channels: government funding via grants, student
contributions via out-of-pocket payments and loans, and self-generated funds of the university.
Further, funding of programmes will be based on student enrollment, not as assured line-item
based funding in the annual national budget. Universities, both private and public, will be
expected to compete for funds and survival.

Access to education
Combined with general education, public tertiary education has historically helped reduce
disparities and allowed some to escape poverty in Sri Lanka. Many of the middle class have
benefitted from such access. District quotas for some academic programmes and a recognition
of the differences in the social circumstances students bring with them to universities have
made university education more accessible to students irrespective of gender, class, caste,
region, and other signifiers of power and privilege. Through these mechanisms, universities have become integral to the country’s attempt to advance social justice. Furthermore,
universities have sustained free health by providing low-cost health professional education.

The new governance structure will allow universities to create their own admission policies and,
as they must compete for funds, will likely mean that degrees in fashion at a particular
moment, will be key in determining the programmes offered. The types of desired students will
also change as universities compete to capture students from urban and upper-middle-class
social and educations backgrounds who may already have an advantage in the job market. This
problem will be accentuated by plans to attract more “foreign students” for whom the NHEC
will streamline visa processes and facilitate employment in Sri Lanka after graduation (p.26).

Other than for students with special needs, the NEPF does not outline any mechanisms to
address social inequalities. When funding for education is made the responsibility of students,
government contributions will further diminish over time. Ultimately, the astronomical costs
associated with university education will mean that the wealthy will have greater access. These
conditions will deepen already existing social cleavages.

The consequences of the changes in the policy on tertiary education will be huge. Indeed, free
university education as we know it will cease to exist. The lack of an equitable system of
education can only further impoverish the masses by denying one of the few avenues for social
mobility available to them today. NEPF may not affect upper-middle-class people and urbanites
who may have other opportunities for education. Those who wish for social cohesion in the
country must understand that phasing out free university education will usher in a new era of
tremendous instability.

We must oppose NEPF in no uncertain terms, and make a call for a wide ranging consultative
mechanism before any reforms in education are proposed or undertaken.


  1. A. K. David, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  2. A. M. Navaratna Bandara, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  3. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Univ. of Jaffna
  4. Anurudda Karunarathna, Univ. of Peradeniya
  5. Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya, Univ. of Sri Jayewardenepura
  6. Anushka Kahandagama, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  7. Arjuna Parakrama, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Peradeniya
  8. Aruni Samarakoon, Univ. of Ruhuna
  9. Athulasiri Samarakoon, Open University of Sri Lanka
  10. Asha L. Abeyasekera, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  11. Avanka Fernando, Univ. of Colombo
  12. Ayomi I. Irugalbandara, Open University of Sri Lanka
  13. B. D. R. Prasantha, Univ. of Peradeniya
  14. B. M. H. S. K. Banneheka, Univ. of Peradeniya
  15. Barana Jayawardana, Univ. of Peradeniya
  16. Bhathiya Rathnayake, Univ. of Peradeniya
  17. Chamathka Devasirie Kariyawasam, Univ. of Colombo
  18. Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  19. Chamika A. Silva, Univ. of Peradeniya
  20. Chammika Mallawaarachchi, Univ. of Visual and Performing Arts
  21. Charudaththe B. Illangasinghe, Univ. of Visual & Performing Arts
  22. Chathurika Munasinghe, Univ. of Peradeniya
  23. Chinthaka Chandrakumara, Univ. of Colombo
  24. Chrishantha Abeysena, Univ of Kelaniya
  25. Crystal Baines, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  26. Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly Univ. of Kelaniya
  27. Dewmini Amunugama, Univ. of Peradeniya
  28. Dhamma Dissanayake, Univ.of Colombo
  29. Dhanuka Bandara, Univ. of Peradeniya
  30. Dileepa Witharana, Open University of Sri Lanka
  31. Dilrukshi Abeysinghe, Univ.of Colombo
  32. Dilmi Tharaka, Univ. of Peradeniya
  33. Dimagi Pitawala, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  34. Dinuka Wijetunga, Univ.of Colombo
  35. Erandika de Silva, formerly Univ. of Jaffna
  36. A. Janarth, Eastern University, Sri Lanka
  37. F. M. Nawastheen, Open University of Sri Lanka
  38. Farzana Haniffa, Univ. of Colombo
  39. Fazeeha Azmi, Univ. of Peradeniya
  40. G. D. U. P. K. Gamage, Univ. of Peradeniya
  1. Gameela Samarasinghe, Univ. of Colombo
  2. Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  3. Ganganee Chandima Samaraweera, Univ. of Ruhuna
  4. Gayani Nawarathna, Univ. of Peradeniya
  5. Gayatri Wijekoon, Univ. of Colombo.
  6. Geethika Dharmasinghe, Univ. of Colombo
  7. Gihan de Chickera, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  8. H. Sriyananda, Emeritus Professor, Open University of Sri Lanka
  9. Harshana Rambukwella, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka
  10. Hasini Lecamwasam, Univ. of Peradeniya
  11. Hasintha Wijesekara, Sabaragamuwa Univ. of Sri Lanka 
  12. Hasitha Pathirana, Univ. of Kelaniya
  13. Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Sabaragamuwa Univ. of Sri Lanka
  14. Ishafa Illiyas, Univ. of Peradeniya
  15. J. Prince Jeyadevan, Univ. of Jaffna
  16. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Colombo.
  17. Jennifer Edama, Univ. of Peradeniya
  18. Jinasena Hewage, formerly Univ. of Ruhuna
  19. K. K. G. Randula, Univ. of Colombo 
  20. K. M. S. Wimalasiri, Univ. of Peradeniya
  21. Kalpa Rajapaksha, Univ. of Peradeniya
  22. Kamal Wasala, Univ. of Moratuwa
  23. Kamani Sylva, Univ. of Peradeniya
  24. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, Univ. of Peradeniya
  25. Kasun Gajasinghe, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  26. Kaushalya Ariyarathne, Univ. of Colombo
  27. Kaushalya Perera, Univ. of Colombo
  28. Kethakie Nagahawatte, Univ. of Colombo
  29. Krishantha Fedricks, Univ. of Colombo
  30. Krishmi Apsara, Univ. of Peradeniya
  31. Kumudu Kusum Kumara, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  32. Lahiruka Madhuwanthi, Univ. of Peradeniya
  33. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Univ. of Peradeniya
  34. M. A. Nuhman, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  35. M. M. Alikhan, Univ. of Peradeniya
  36. Madhara Karunarathne, Univ. of Peradeniya
  37. Madhubhashini Disanayaka Ratnayake, Univ. of Sri Jayewardenepura
  38. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, Univ. of Peradeniya
  39. Madushani Randeniya, Univ. of Peradeniya
  40. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, Univ. of Jaffna
  41. Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka
  42. Manoj Alawathukotuwa, Univ. of Peradeniya
  43. Ven. Muthukeliyawe Indarathana, Univ. of Peradeniya
  44. N. Gafoordeen, Univ.of Colombo
  1. Nadeesh de Silva, Open University. of Sri Lanka
  2. Neavis Morais, Open University. of Sri Lanka.
  3. N. G. A. Karunathilaka, Univ. of Kelaniya
  4. Nicola Perera, Univ. of Colombo
  5. Nira Wickramasinghe, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  6. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Univ. of Colombo
  7. Nishani Jayaweera, Univ. of Peradeniya
  8. P. Iyngaran, Univ. of Jaffna
  9. Paba Suraweera, Univ. of Peradeniya
  10. Pamuditha Herath, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  11. Pavithra Ekanayake, Univ. of Peradeniya
  12. Pavithra Jayawardena, Univ. of Colombo
  13. Prabhath Jayasinghe, Univ. of Colombo
  14. Pradeep Peiris, Univ. of Colombo
  15. Priyantha Fonseka, Univ. of Peradeniya
  16. R. T. Gamalath, Univ. of Peradeniya
  17. R. Angammana, Univ. of Peradeniya
  18. Rajan Hoole, formerly Univ. of Jaffna
  19. Rajitha Ranasinghe, Univ. of Peradeniya
  20. Ramanie Jayatilaka, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  21. Ramesh Ramasamy, Univ. of Peradeniya
  22. Ramila Usoof, Univ. of Peradeniya
  23. Ramya Kumar, Univ. of Jaffna
  24. Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  25. Rohan Laksiri, Univ. of Ruhuna
  26. Ruhanie Perera, Univ. of Colombo
  27. Rumala Morel, Univ. of Peradeniya
  28. Rupika Rajakaruna, Univ. of Peradeniya
  29. Ruth Surenthiraraj, Univ. of Colombo
  30. S. Sivasegaram, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  31. S. Arivalzahan, Univ. of Jaffna
  32. Sachini Marasinghe, Univ. of Peradeniya
  33. Sahani Situbandara, Univ. of Peradeniya
  34. Samal Vimukthi Hemachandra, Univ. of Colombo
  35. Saman Dharmakeerthi, Univ. of Peradeniya
  36. Saman Pushpakumara, Univ. of Peradeniya
  37. Samudrika Sylva, Univ. of Colombo
  38. Sandaruwan Subasinghe, Univ. of Peradeniya
  39. Sarala Emmanuel, Open University of Sri Lanka
  40. Sarath Witharana, Univ. of Kelaniya
  41. Sasanka Perera, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  42. Sasinindu Patabendige, formerly Univ. of Jaffna
  43. Saumya Liyanage, Univ. of Visual and Performing Arts
  44. Savitri Goonsekere, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Colombo
  1. Savitri Kumar, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Peradeniya
  2. Seetha Bandara, Univ. of Kelaniya
  3. Selvaraj Vishvika, Univ. of Peradeniya
  4. Shalini Wijerathna, Univ of Peradeniya
  5. Shamala Kumar, Univ. of Peradeniya
  6. Shanil Wijesinha, Univ. of Colombo
  7. Shashikala Assella, Univ. of Kelaniya
  8. Shirley L. Wijesinghe, Univ. of Kelaniya
  9. Shyamani Hettiarachchi, Univ. of Kelaniya
  10. Siri Hettige, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Colombo
  11. Sirima Gajameragedara, formerly Rajarata Univ. of Sri Lanka
  12. Sithumini Rathnamalala, Univ. of Moratuwa
  13. Sivamohan Sumathy, Univ. of Peradeniya
  14. Sudesh Mantillake, Univ. of Peradeniya
  15. Supoorna Kulatunga, Univ. of Peradeniya
  16. T. Sanathanan, Univ. of Jaffna
  17. Tasneem Hamead, Univ. of Colombo
  18. Thiru Kandiah, formerly Univ. of Peradeniya
  19. Udari Abeyasinghe, Univ. of Peradeniya
  20. Ven. Uduhawara Ananada, Univ. of Colombo
  21. Unnathi Samaraweera, Univ. of Colombo
  22. Upul Abeyrathne, Univ. of Peradeniya
  23. Uwin Ariyarathna, Univ. of Peradeniya
  24. Varuni Ganepola, formerly Univ. of Colombo
  25. Vasanthi Thevanesam, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Peradeniya
  26. Vihanga Perera, Univ. of Peradeniya
  27. Vijaya Kumar, Emeritus Professor, Univ. of Peradeniya
  28. Visakesa Chandrasekaram, Univ. of Colombo
  29. Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka
  30. Warshi S. Dandeniya, Univ. of Peradeniya
  31. W. D. N. S. M. Tennakoon, Wayamba Univ. of Sri Lanka
  32. Wijith Rohan Fernando, Univ. of Kelaniya.
  33. W. M. M. P. Hulugalla, Univ. of Peradeniya
  34. W. M. T. P. Ariyaratne, Univ. of Peradeniya
  35. W. T. L. S. Fernando, Sabaragamuwa Univ. of Sri Lanka
  36. Yasas Kulasekara, Univ. of Peradeniya
  37. Yushani Alahakoon, Univ.of Peradeniya