Speech by Robert Gabor at the ANC University College, Sri Lanka

Speech by the Chief Guest, Robert Gabor at the ANC University College Official Launch of University of Missouri and Northwood University Bachelor Degree Programs – July 11, 2007

[Economic Officer Robert Gabor, delivers his speech]

Mr. Jagath Alwis, honorable deans, CEOs, colleagues and friends,

It is an honor to be here today to launch the Northwood and University of Missouri degree programs at American National College. I am proud to represent the U.S. Embassy to applaud ANC University College and its partners for providing these valuable new management, psychology, and information-technology programs.

These programs will enhance career prospects for Sri Lankan students. They will strengthen the human resources base that is essential for the Sri Lankan economy. And they will improve the educational and economic ties between the U.S. and Sri Lanka. So they are really a great addition to the local educational landscape.

Why are such programs so important? Because knowledge means economic power.

In today’s global economy, a country’s competitiveness depends on its citizens’ capacity to use knowledge and technology to create efficiency. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies say that to compete in the global marketplace they need college graduates who know math, science, and languages, and who have strong problem-solving skills. Basic credentials like the O-level and A-level are not enough to ensure success in the workplace. Fully 90% of the fastest-growing jobs require post-secondary education or training.

So, to prosper, a country needs a great higher education system. Investment in education yields a tremendous return. Educated graduates get better jobs. Trained workers enable companies to compete successfully in regional and global markets. And creative, empowered individuals become entrepreneurs who create new jobs.

So, let’s consider for a moment how the ANC-University College augments post-secondary education in Sri Lanka.

All of us here today believe that Sri Lanka has the potential to play a leading role in the Asian 21st century. Northwood and UMR certainly believe that, and are doing their part to make it happen. Every nation, including Sri Lanka, faces the challenge of how to adapt its educational system to the evolving needs of both the local and global economy. The presence of Northwood and UMR show that Sri Lanka is starting to adapt. But it needs to keep on adapting so it doesn’t get left behind.

Most of you have heard the alarming statistic that 85% of Sri Lankan youth who qualify for university are not admitted because the university system lacks capacity to accept them. That is a tragic loss for the 100,000 A-level graduates a year who miss out on higher education. But it is also a crippling loss for Sri Lanka.

Despite this, Sri Lanka is a rapidly modernizing economy. Services account for half of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product. That means its people are Sri Lanka’s critical asset. Not surprisingly, in a service economy, one of the most promising sectors for growth is Information Technology, along with IT-enabled Business Process Outsourcing.

Yet, Sri Lanka’s IT leaders report they are constrained by the short supply of qualified employees. Staffing the nascent IT sector will be one of Sri Lanka’s most important challenges over the coming decade. IT firms here such as h Senid and Zone 24×7 are developing globally-competitive software solutions and providing high-end back office services. But to grow and compete, they need a steady stream of graduates equipped with relevant management and IT skills.

I can think of three ways the ANC program helps ensure that the education system here produces those graduates: Through public-private partnerships, international exchanges, and private institutions.

Public-private partnerships

Partnerships among the government, the university system, labor and industry can make enormous advances are the surest way to create a more relevant and flexible education system in Sri Lanka.

How? Take the case of students here who graduate with degrees from the Faculty of Arts. A large percentage of them subsequently struggle to find a job. To remedy that problem, universities should partner with businesses to establish fellowship programs, internships, and on-the-job training to turn out the trained labor that Sri Lankan companies want to hire. Programs that integrate work and training can serve the needs both of students embarking on their initial course of study and of experienced workers in mid-career.

Efforts like this have already begun to prove their value here. For example Virtusa, a dynamic American IT company with offices in Colombo, collaborates closely with the prestigious Peradeniya and Moratuwa Universities. Virtusa invites university staff to attend its in-house IT and management courses. Virtusa also sends some of its best technical experts to teach courses at the universities. Further, the company sponsors and supervises research projects that provide real world challenges for students to tackle. As a result, the grads Virtusa hires are ready to be productive right from the start.
Likewise, UMR embraces this concept. Nearly 2/3 of UMR students complete a co-op, internship or personal research project before they graduate. UMR’s emphasis on students gaining practical work experience as part of their studies is a major reason why over 95% are either enrolled in graduate school or have accepted a job within three months of graduation. UMR grads can expect to be hired by America’s top employers, with starting salaries well above the national average.

International Exchanges

Another way ANC improves the relevance of higher education in Sri Lanka is by increasing the number of international study-exchanges for both students and professors. International business majors need to understand the complex forces of globalization, and a good way to enhance that understanding is by studying abroad. Business and IT skills are not constrained by physical borders. Just look at Northwood, which has over 825 international students from 70 countries benefiting from over 100 international articulation agreements and studying at 5 overseas sites. Northwood’s overseas programs provide its students with exposure to a wide range of international business — from marketing in France, to manufacturing in Thailand, to managing natural resources in Costa Rica.

Private institutions

A final way ANC strengthens higher education in Sri Lanka is by leading the way for foreign universities to come here and partner with local institutions or even operate on their own. I understand that the concept of private or semi-private education at the university level is controversial here, but I think that over time the ANC model will show that competition raises the level of all public and private sector schools.

ANC is a perfect example of how a local, private firm like Ceylinco can make an investment that creates a first-class educational degree program at no cost to the government and no threat to the public universities. That is the power of private investment in the education sector.

What makes ANC’s programs unique among educational options here is that ANC offers the only fully accredited American degrees in Sri Lanka. Those American degrees are recognized and respected around the world. ANC offers a career-focused program that ensures its students are taught and mentored by internationally-educated professors and business leaders. Along the way, ANC students gain meaningful work experience; give back to the community, and learn how to lead. ANC is investing in Sri Lanka’s future by investing in its people today.

To conclude, the United States’ diverse and extensive higher education system gives Americans the skills to compete and succeed at home and abroad. American universities are a pre-eminent factor in the competitiveness of our economy. Sri Lankan students deserve the same opportunities. With ANC and its programs, that is just what they will get, through the private sector-led model that has been so successful in the U.S. and other countries.

So, looking forward, in four years, when the new batch of ANC University College students get their degrees from Northwood and UMR, they will be among the most qualified students of their generation. I am confident that their skills and experience will demonstrate the value of the innovative approach to international business education that ANC, Northwood, and UMR are bringing to Sri Lanka.

I congratulate you and wish you every success with this great program.

[Courtesy: Embassy News, U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka, Colombo]