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FEATURE STORY

Linking Universities and Industry to Build an Innovative Knowledge Economy in Sri Lanka

April 21, 2015

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26-year old Gihan Dissanayake works as a Research Assistant at the University of Colombo Science and Technology Cell, an innovative research and development unit. 

Dilinika Peiris/World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Research in the Sri Lankan Higher Education system traditionally focuses on academic advancement, research outcomes are often limited to research papers.
  • The ‘Cell’, an innovative research and development unit at the University of Colombo, promotes entrepreneurship through partnerships between university and industries.
  • The World Bank-financed Higher Education for the Twenty First Century (HETC) project is enhancing Sri Lanka's capacity to deliver quality services and research relevant to the country's development priorities.

April 22, 2015, Colombo Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s future in the global knowledge economy of the twenty-first century hinges critically on the country’s intellectual and human capital. To reach the level of a prosperous middle-income country, the country needs research and innovation capacity to stimulate dynamic economic development. “The ability of people to think and act creatively, work industriously and productively, innovate and evolve new technologies, and adapt available technologies to improve economic performance is of central importance for Sri Lanka to develop from a lower middle-income country to a high-income economy” says Harsha Aturupane, Task Team Leader for the World Bank-financed Higher Education for the Twenty First Century (HETC) Project.

The Challenge

State universities usually rely on financial support from the government to carry out research and development. But for Sri Lanka to build a world class knowledge economy, it will require developing partnerships and an integrated approach where universities, the National Intellectual Property Office, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry closely collaborate towards establishing flexible and productive partnerships with industries.


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Post Graduate student staff of the Cell managing the day-to-day operations and coordination work while gaining practical experience and exposure to connect universities to industries. 

Dilinika Peiris/World Bank

" The ability of people to think and act creatively, work industriously and productively, innovate and evolve new technologies, and adapt available technologies to improve economic performance is of central importance for Sri Lanka to develop from a lower middle-income country to a high-income economy. "

Harsha Aturupane

Project Leader


 “The Cell”

The Science and Technology Cell at the University of Colombo is a registered company established in 2013 through a Quality and Innovation Grant (QIG) under the HETC project. It is a collaborative facility with board members representing 7 Departments of the Faculty of Science (Chemistry, Mathematics, Nuclear Sciences, Physics, Plant Sciences, Statistics, and Zoology).

The Cell has been an effective channel for high-profile companies such as Darley Butler, Ceylon Cold Stores, DSI, Hemas and John Keells to work with the faculty on specific industry problems and conduct consultancies for organizations such as UNDP, CEB,  and providing services for ITI and the Asia Foundation

 “Earlier, I thought that lecturing would be the only career path for me,” said Gihan Dissanayake, an enthusiastic research assistant with an interest in organic chemistry. “Thanks to the Cell, I got the opportunity to work at Hemas manufacturing plant and explore many new opportunities for my research interests” added Gihan, who plans to complete his PhD abroad and return to Sri Lanka with new knowledge to further develop the work of the Cell.

The Approach

The Quality and Innovation Grants (QIGs) are a competitively awarded grant scheme of the World Bank-financed Higher Education for the Twenty First Century (HETC) Project. The grants were designed to make resources available to support strategic and innovative plans to enhance the quality of teaching, research and innovations in universities.

QIGs operate in four windows, three of which are dedicated to enhance undergraduate study programs and postgraduate research degrees. The fourth window is research dissemination and commercialization projects, and is directed towards promoting agro, manufacturing, high-technology services and aquaculture industries via knowledge and technology transfers. This window also supports linkages between university and industry through the establishment of business centers and university commercialization centers equipped to facilitate the valorization of research products.

The Cell is one of 11 grants that won LKR10 million ($75,000) to:

·         Foster entrepreneurship among members of the University community;

·         Enhance opportunities for the initiation of research projects and consultancies aimed at economic growth, and

·         Facilitate the obtaining and protection of rights to intellectual property developed through the company.

Results and Way Forward

QIGs have been awarded to 58 programs, exceeding the project target of 51 programs. 40 beneficiary undergraduate study programs with modernized curricula were launched to promote student-centered learning and prepare ‘market-ready’ graduate students for a multi-disciplinary environment.

Over 15,000 students are also enrolled in Advanced Technological Institutions, surpassing the initial project target of 11,000 students.

Apart from the 11 Research Dissemination and Commercialization entities, 60 MPhil and PhD candidates under the 7 Postgraduate grants are currently engaged in research aimed at economic development, improving the well-being of the people and environmental sustenance. Their research was featured in many local and international publications and garnered awards.

Speaking of the way forward for the HETC project, the Project Director, Professor K.A. Nandasena summed up the scope of research dissemination and commercialization grants of the QIG: “we aim to improve the research culture, promote symbiotic University – Industry relations and provide direct contribution to socioeconomic development of Sri Lanka. We are optimistic that these initiatives will take root, inspire and equip the higher education system to improve its quality and relevance to the local and global society.”


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