Advancing the Sri Lankan tradition of free education
CHALLENGES FACED BY SRI LANKAN STUDENTS
Sri Lanka is one of few countries in the world to provide free education to its people. It is therefore no surprise that Sri Lanka is able to proudly declare such a high literacy rate and have so many students pursue higher education. The number of higher education options available to students has increased greatly over the past few years. However, a student who wants to pursue his or her higher education still has to consider various factors and face many challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of seats in local public universities. Statistics over the years show that despite 60% of students who take the Advanced Level examination qualifying to enter university, only 14-16% are admitted. This lack of space in public universities means that many students must consider alternative options. However, the lack of accurate information and guidance available to students is a cause for concern. The services of numerous ‘agencies’ claiming to send students abroad are not free and can be an expensive process. Many ‘agencies’ are in fact lucrative ‘businesses’. The media has also reported many incidents where such ‘agencies’ misled students and provided inaccurate information. The choice of higher education should not be considered lightly or left in the hands of people hoping to make money off unsuspecting students and parents.
FREE ACCESS FOR STUDENTS THROUGH SL2COLLEGE
Nayana Samaranayake knew first hand the challenges a Sri Lankan student has to face when applying to higher education institutions abroad. In 2005, Nayana formed the beginnings of SL2College as an interactive forum on Yahoo! groups while studying for his Masters in Computer Science at Stanford University (USA). His idea was to create a platform that gave students who had questions about applying for higher education in USA access to free, unbiased and up-to-date information. They could post their questions on the forum and those who had experience in the relevant field could answer. Following the overwhelming response to this group, Nayana was joined by Nishad Jayasundara and DC Jayasundera, fellow students at Stanford University, and Sanjaka Wirasingha, who was studying at Illinois Institute of Technology at that time. In 2008, they formed sl2college.org, SL2College’s own website.
FIRST OF ITS KIND
SL2College, largely based online, may be the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. SL2College became a legal entity in Sri Lanka through the incorporation of the organisation as S L 2 College (Guarantee) Limited by the Registrar General of Companies on the 17th of December 2010. Today, it has become a global community of volunteers who have joined from not only USA, but also from Canada, Australia, UK, Singapore, New Zealand and many other countries. These volunteers are mostly graduate students from diverse backgrounds and many of them have high school and undergraduate experience from Sri Lanka. They share their own experiences so that Sri Lankan students who plan to pursue higher education can learn about the best local and foreign choices available to them. Some common topics of discussion include how to present the best application possible, what it is like to live on a campus in a foreign land, funding and scholarship opportunities, work experiences and much more. All services are provided free of charge since SL2College strongly believes that information about higher education should not come with a price tag.
It should be stressed that SL2College will never partner, get sponsorships or any other financial/non-financial assistance from organisations that make profit from education related activities. SL2College believes that it will lead to a conflict of interest and will hamper their efforts of being completely unbiased.
The greatest aspect of SL2College is perhaps the opportunity it has provided for past and present Sri Lankan students and faculty living abroad to give back to Sri Lanka and be involved in a common cause – helping all Sri Lankans achieve their higher education goals and in turn, develop Sri Lanka’s human capital.
SL2College has worked closely with many key local and foreign organisations, such as the Fulbright Commission and other government institutions. Some of the biggest education exhibitions in Sri Lanka, such as Edex and Future Minds, have recognised the important role SL2College’s provision of free, unbiased and up-to-date information plays in the education arena, and have given SL2College free space at their exhibitions.
The latest venture launched by SL2College is the ‘Brain-Gain’ initiative that encourages Sri Lankan graduates to return to Sri Lanka to work and contribute towards the development of the country. This is currently being done by publicising local internships and full-time job opportunities through the website. SL2College also plans to connect with people who have returned to Sri Lanka after studying or working abroad, conduct interviews with them and create a forum for discussing issues related to moving back to and working in Sri Lanka (such as legal, logistical, etc).
Such efforts continue to grow in many more avenues as SL2College becomes a truly Sri Lankan visionary establishment.
There are a number of services offered at SL2College. They include:
1) The Forum:
This is one of the most used resources on the SL2College website. Students seeking information and guidance can post questions on the forum and moderators ensure that all questions are answered in a timely manner. If a question goes unanswered for 48 hours, moderators go out of their way to find someone who can shed light on the question. Information related to many fields and countries are discussed and the forum acts as a platform to create dialogue. For new visitors to the website, past threads are a great way to obtain useful information.
SL2College encourages past and present undergraduate and graduate students, and those who have completed professional degrees, to share their educational experiences by answering questionnaires and writing articles. These are published weekly in the Sunday Observer’s Education section where SL2College has its own column and on the resources page of the SL2College website. Articles range from advice on the application process, funding issues, housing in different countries and more.
3) Mentor Program:
Students who are interested in higher education and are planning on applying to programs within 12 months are matched with an experienced mentor for a direct, one-on-one exchange of information and guidance for 3-4 months. Mentors and mentees who are interested in joining the program can visit http://links.sl2college.org/mentor-program.
4) Web Chats:
SL2College organises ‘live’ web chats for students interested in higher education. Students joining from Sri Lanka can ask questions regarding their higher education ambitions from graduate students in USA and Canada. For more information visit http://links.sl2college.org/live-webchat.
5) Seminars at Local Schools/Universities:
SL2College conducts information seminars at local universities and schools to discuss higher education opportunities in different countries. Lately, seminars involving skype sessions have been organised on a regular basis. Graduate students based worldwide join on skype to talk to audiences on various topics. For example, on 30 March 2011, nine graduate students, mostly alumni from University of Colombo (UoC) who are currently based in USA, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore, joined via a skype conference call to talk about their graduate experiences to students at UoC. There was a rich diversity of research experience among speakers on the panel as they represented fields of Biology, Maths, Physics and Computer Science.
6) University Clubs:
SL2College clubs in universities are an extension of the main SL2College organisation. Club members organise events that promote higher education and highlight the many opportunities that are available to students interested in pursuing further education locally and abroad.
7) Adviser Base: Country teams
SL2College is continuing to expand and diversify its adviser base of mostly past and present graduate students of diverse backgrounds from many countries. Currently, teams of advisers have formed in US, Canada and Singapore. They are working on various projects to inform Sri Lankan students of opportunities in those respective countries. Advisers join the teams in various capacities such as forum adviser, skype session adviser, mentor, writers, etc.
8) US – Sri Lanka lecture series with Sri Lankan faculty
The SL2College US Chapter is about to launch a new project in which Sri Lankan professors in the US will give a talk pertaining to their research and subject matter to university students in Sri Lanka. The project is initially being organised at University of Moratuwa and University of Colombo, and will be held at University of Peradeniya in the near future. The intent of this lecture series is to make Sri Lankan students aware of current research programs in US and to build relationships between US universities and Sri Lankan faculty in local universities. These talks will be conducted via skype video conference. It will give local students the opportunity to communicate in real time, in an academic setting, with Sri Lankan professors in US. Several professors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Mississippi, Texas State University, Clarkson College and College of Atlantic have shown their interesting in participating in this project as well.
9) SL2College events calendar:
Events related to higher education organised in Sri Lanka are posted on the SL2College events calendar at www.sl2college.org.
10) Internship postings:
In line with the ‘Brain-Gain’ initiative, SL2College has launched a section on internships on the website. SL2College hopes that all Sri Lankans are able to perceive the opportunities and potential Sri Lanka holds, and graduates are encouraged to work in Sri Lanka.
11) YouTube Channel:
SL2College has its own channel on YouTube where videos of past seminars and other educational videos of interest are posted: http://www.youtube.com/SL2College.
12) ‘The Insider’:
SL2College has a newsletter, ‘The Insider’, which is published on a quarterly basis. Events held at SL2college, introduction of new team members and other updates are published. It is sent to all members and made available on the website.
13) Social media:
SL2College has an online presence on various forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
14) The Blog:
Articles written by members at SL2College will be posted on the blog, where it can be discussed and any questions by readers can be answered by the writer. The SL2College blog is found at: sl2college.blogspot.com
SL2College is only as strong as its volunteer member base and is therefore encouraging more Sri Lankan students and professionals to join the organisation. We all know that Sri Lankan students have much potential; now, through SL2College we can all work together to give back to the country we all call home. To share your experiences and suggestions, or to get more details on any of the services at SL2College, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been written by Sachini Weerawardena, Editor-in-Chief of SL2College.