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Sri Lanka Aims to Meet Asia's Demand for Technology Graduates

Sri Lanka hopes to take advantage of the growing regional demand for information technology graduates. A new training institute opens next year to provide skilled graduates to meet increasing demand. Ron Corben recently visited Colombo and has this report for VOA.

On the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, construction is fast progressing on a new $5.7 million information technology and management institute.

The institute, at Malabe, sits in a new industrial park for information technology businesses. The institute is the dream of veteran Sri Lankan businessman, Neville Fernando

Fernando, who personally financed the institute, says language courses are key to the institute's program, so that graduates will be able to work for multinational companies.

"So what we teaching will be IT-related subjects, even the English language course. All this will be IT-based so that they work in any IT factory anywhere in the world. Even Korean, Japanese, Chinese will be taught because in the Asian region there is a lot of demand for IT technicians," he said.

Mr. Fernando hopes the institute will allow more young Sri Lankans to stay at home to study, instead of going abroad. The campus will have space for 1,000 students, and will offer classes in business administration, communications technology, and management in areas such as tourism.

Vickum Senanayake is the Sri Lanka country chief for the U.S. technology company Oracle. He says the number of technology graduates each year falls short of demand.

"Our need is around 20,000 graduates coming out of the university and various other tertiary education institutes. But we produce maybe about a maximum 3,000, 5,000 in the IT sector," he said.

Senanayake says there also is a gap between the skills needed and the training offered at existing schools. He says the IT industry has been grappling with these problems for more than five years.

An even bigger problem is persuading graduates to stay in Sri Lanka, instead of seeking jobs in other countries.

"It is a huge concern not just for Oracle but the industry as a whole. People who get skilled up are quite valuable to the industry and we keep losing these people to the region or the West mostly and lots of skilled migration," he said.

The dean of the new institute's information technology faculty, Chandima de Silvais, thinks the school will go a long way toward meeting demand in Sri Lanka. But, he says, India will remain a draw for many graduates.

"In terms of India as a destination for employment I do not think Sri Lanka or any other Asian country can match. There are thousands of jobs demands in India. Our institute can cater to that in time to come. But in terms of education alone Sri Lankan parents might still opt to send their children to a good institution in Sri Lanka. So I think it would be a landmark in Sri Lankan education," he said.

Businesswoman Geetha Karandawala says the institute comes at an opportune time in Sri Lanka's IT development.

"People are beginning to see particularly the IT-related career pathways and Sri Lanka because of its language skills and I think it is a very good area for future employment and career development. If the timing is right then the project works and I think the timing is right now for this kind of project," she said.

Sri Lanka is gaining attention from international companies looking to invest in its IT sector. One international bank already plans to set up a support office in Sri Lanka to take advantage of the country's English-speaking workers and trained technical staff.