Written by Alyssa Walker

Located just off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is a diverse and beautiful island nation with a long history and unique culture. During the British colonial period, the country, known as Ceylon, was famous for its tea exports, notably Ceylon Tea. But Sri Lanka is more than just a leading exporter of tea.

This year, Lonely Planet voted Sri Lanka the number one country in the world to visit. Just ten years after its civil war, the country has rallied, creating a tourism industry that rivals that of its competitors.

With tourism in Sri Lanka picking up and The Guardian reporting an all-time high of 2.1 million visitors last year, you might wonder how you can double up and experience Sri Lanka as a student. After all, what’s better than two weeks in a beautiful destination? Well, a semester or year abroad for a start.

Here’s what you need to know about studying in Sri Lanka.

1. Sri Lanka welcomes international students

The Sri Lankan government has a plan to "be an international hub of excellence for higher education by 2020."

Their mission is to "delight" students, industry, employees, and other stakeholders in the country's higher education system, by implementing effective, efficient strategies to produce "the best intellectuals, professionals, researchers [and] entrepreneurs" and to make Sri Lanka 'The Wonder Of Asia.'

The nation is currently developing a strategy to improve opportunities, rankings, employability, research, publications, and overall efficiency of the higher education sector.

Some universities, like the University of Colombo, the country's oldest university and one of its most highly rated, have stepped up efforts to attract international students by joining the Asian Universities Alliance to promote educational mobility in the country.

2. Accessibility and affordability

Not only does the country want international students, it doesn't cost them much to study once they get there.

In Sri Lanka, there are two types of universities: public and private. Public higher education institutions in Sri Lanka charge little to no tuition, but entry to some programs and degrees is highly competitive.  Private institutions set their own tuition fees, which vary depending on the type of institution and the field of study or degree.

International students from Europe or North America will find a significantly lower cost of living. Sri Lanka is not the least expensive destination in Asia, but it is similar to countries like Thailand and Malaysia.  International students should be aware that imported goods are both scarce and expensive.

Some schools, like the University of Sri Jayewardenepura offer scholarships for international students which provide free tuition, room, and board for up to two years.

There are currently 15 schools that fall under the University Grants Commission, too, which helps students coordinate funding for higher education.

Sri Lanka also makes generous allowance for student support. According to World Education News and Reviews (WENR), “the Ministry of Higher Education offers various scholarship opportunities to offset the price of school supplies and other related expenses.” The Ministry recently implemented its “laptop loan scheme,” which offers students interest-free loans to buy laptops up to about $500.  

3. Degrees are transferable and partnered with other universities

If you are a British student considering Sri Lanka, you’re in luck. The British Council allows students to study for UK qualifications through overseas campuses, international partnership programs, and online learning opportunities in Sri Lanka. You can read more about the scheme organized by the UK transnational education (UK TNE) system.

International students from outside the UK should investigate connections between their home country and Sri Lanka, as well as transnational agreements between Sri Lanka’s universities and others around the world.  To determine how to register for degree programs in Sri Lanka, students need to work with the University Grants Commission regarding foreign admission. On the site, students can also search for fellowships that support transnational work.

4. Opportunities to explore!

There’s a reason Sri Lanka has made waves in the travel community. In recent years, the government has spruced up its rail system, making it one of the best in the world, and improved its overall infrastructure. Better roads, more flights, investments in accommodations, and eco-retreats complement the government's work and the country is booming. These improvements allow Sri Lanka to welcome more travelers and as Lonely Planet author Ethan Gelber said in the Best in Travel 2019 book, “Already notable to intrepid travelers for its mix of religions and cultures, its timeless temples, its rich and accessible wildlife, its growing surf scene and its people who defy all odds by their welcome and friendliness after decades of civil conflict, this is a country revived.”

 For international students considering Sri Lanka, the country’s tourism renaissance means it is easier than ever to explore Sri Lanka’s natural and cultural beauty. Among its “unmissable experiences?” Lonely Planet advises Minneriya national park with its 300-strong elephants and Buddhist monuments. Students will also have the opportunity to traipse around the stunning beaches and Mulkirigala rock temple in the Tangalla area. Students can spend weekends and breaks hiking through the Hill Country’s tea plantations, and the country’s extensive train system makes it easy to experience different cities and regions.

Students into sport will want to catch a match with Sri Lanka’s national cricket team, The Lions. Similar to baseball, cricket is huge in Sri Lanka. Fans can go to national games, or attend matches at local schools. There are also informal leagues for adults.

With its booming tourism industry, its government commitment to improving higher and international education, and its reputation for stunning beauty inside and out, Sri Lanka may just make the top of your list of places to study in Asia.

ArticleEducationStudy AbroadStudent Tips
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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