Higher Education is not a dream anymore – Pathways for Higher Education in Sri Lanka!


Higher Education is not a dream anymore – Pathways for Higher Education in Sri Lanka!

There was an era in which higher education was a miracle and limited to a few. In economic terms, it was a period in which supply was very little compared to the demand. Even though still state university entrance opportunities are limited, compared to the past there are plenty of different options and pathways to achieve your higher education dream now.


(Image from Sri Lanka Qualifications Framework (SLQF) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of Sri Lanka)

The above diagram shows possible higher education options and pathways shown by the Sri Lanka Qualifications Framework (SLQF) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of Sri Lanka. Having a very good understanding of these different higher education options and pathways when completing school education is very important.

General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level (O/L) is considered as a first educational qualification, and this provides the basement for your educational or career pathway. Some public sector jobs and entry requirements for some university programs essentially require minimum credit passes for Mathematics and English in G.C.E O/L.

When entering foreign universities and local private institutes, London O/Ls are also considered equivalent to G.C.E O/Ls.

The final stage of secondary education in school is the General Certificate of Education at Advanced Level (A/L). When entering foreign universities and local private institutes, London A/Ls will be considered equivalent to G.C.E A/Ls.

This is the point where mainly students get directed to their higher education path. Based on the A/L stream and subjects, students keep the first step to their future career path as well, not only for their higher education pathway. Therefore, selecting your A/L Stream is a key decision, that you need to make carefully before entering to A/L studies.

Selecting A/L Stream

Selecting a stream or subject as per the desire of the family, based on the friend’s selection or since having good O/L results for Math’s or Science are the common mistakes which students make. Always consider your skills, capacity, and ambition before you make this life decision. It will create a clear interest and perfect roadmap to achieve your career dream.

Pathways After G.C.E A/L

This is the next point where you need to choose the right choice for your dream!

Are you with a good result for G.C.E.? A/L exam with an adequate Z- score? YES, there is a high probability for you to get admission to a state university degree program based on you’re A/L stream


My dear students, losing one option in an opening of different options too. Here are the pathways

waiting to onboard you for your dream journey.

  • Foreign degree program offered by a private institute/ university in Sri Lanka or foreign.

  • UGC Approved Degree programs offered by private institutes/ universities in Sri Lanka.

  • Foreign Degree pathway programs.

  • Open University Degrees.

There are private institutes/ universities in Sri Lanka that provide internationally recognized foreign degree programs. Even though the lectures will be conducted in Sri Lanka, the degree certificate will be offered by a foreign University. This is one of the low-cost opportunities for students who passed G. C. E. A/L exams and missed the state university opportunity. Also, you can decide to go to a foreign country and start your high studies there, which might need an additional English language qualification such as IELTS.

The other option will be entering a Sri Lankan university offering and awarding degree programs approved by University Grants Commission, Sri Lanka. The next option will be, entering into an external degree program conducted by Open University. This is also a state university which is a separate application process and not dependent on the Z-score and no age limit.

Sometimes the A/L stream for some degree programs offered by private/ foreign universities will not be significant.



Yes, if you couldn’t get through A/L exam successfully or couldn’t get selected for a state university, still you can,

  • successfully complete a professional qualification and enter the second/ third or final year of a degree program.
  • follow and pass a foundation program and enter a foreign degree program.
  • follow an HND program and join directly into the final year of a degree program, with A/L results or sometimes even with O/L results.

There are different professional qualifications directly focused on specific professions, which are considered as equivalent to a bachelor’s degree which can directly register for a Master’s degree program. There are cases where students can participate in the classes and grab the knowledge and personally register with the relevant body and sit for the exams. Apart from that, students need to meet the requirements of the qualification and get the membership of the professional body.

Example – Chartered qualification in Accountancy, Chartered qualification in Marketing, Chartered qualification in HRM

After completion of A/L or a Foundation Program, one can enter a university accredited Diploma Offered by higher education institutes which is equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree. This opens a path to enter directly to the second year of the relevant Undergraduate degree. After successful completion of an accredited Diploma Program, students can start an advanced Diploma program which is equivalent to the second year of an undergraduate degree.

Or can enter a Higher National Certificate (HNC) which is equivalent to the first year of a bachelor’s degree program where students will be eligible to progress HNC to a degree. Upon successful completion of HNC students can obtain HND which is equivalent to second-year completion of a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, students can enter the third year of the Degree program (also called Top-up degree completion), after completing the HND.

With an Undergraduate / Bachelors’ Degree or considerable years of work experience in the specific field or area of specialization, can enter to Postgraduate / Masters’ Programs and Degrees. This concentrates on improving professional skills and knowledge in specific areas.

For the people who started employment just after completing A/Ls and are interested in improving professional knowledge and for those who have an educational qualification barrier for career growth, this is a very good opportunity.

There are different stages of Postgraduate Qualifications which lead to Master’s Degrees.

  • Post Graduate Certificate (PG Cert) Post Graduate Diploma (PGDip))
  • Masters with coursework
  • Masters with coursework and Research component
  • Master of Philosophy

Unlike, undergraduate degree students are required to pay for Master’s Degree programs and can be obtained from state universities / private universities or institutes in Sri Lanka which offer Masters programs awarded by foreign universities. Also, there are sponsorship opportunities from foreign universities to go abroad for Postgraduate / Masters’ Programs and Degrees.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest educational qualification, which is an employment requirement for a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields.

Not only for them, for students who are interested to receive the highest education qualification, can register for a Ph.D. program after successful completion of an MPhil degree or register directly for MPhil/Ph.D. degree with a good undergraduate honors degree (with 1st or 2nd class) and/or a master’s degree, in a Sri Lankan state university or a private higher education institute with UGS approval to award PhDs Depending on the subject area, there are scholarship and funding opportunities also to go abroad to follow a PhD.

There are plenty of options and pathways offered in Sri Lanka. Therefore, students need to choose the correct choice or pathway to achieve career ambitions in the chosen field.

Students & parents, it is always better to refer to professional guidance which would help students to choose the right pathway which will lead to the right program, where their capabilities and aspirations are matched.


Hashani Ruberu

Assistant Manager – Human Resource & Administration

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