by Professor Jayantha Lal Ratnasekera Chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors & Directors (CVCD), Sri Lanka and Vice Chancellor, Uva Wellassa University
The results of 2020 GCE A/L examination held in October, 2020 amidst COVID-19 pandemic were released on May 4, 2021. According to the Department of Examinations, 301,771 candidates sat for 2020 A/L examination and 194,297 have qualified to enter the universities. At present, those qualified students are in the process of submitting online applications to the University Grants Commission (UGC), and they face many difficulties in selecting suitable degree programmes for admission. The students have little or no awareness about the large number of recently introduced new courses of study, when compared to the traditional programmes like Medicine, Engineering, Dental Surgery, Management etc. As a university teacher with 25 years of experience, I have some idea about the problems faced by students in this situation, and hope this article would provide answers for few questions faced by them in filling the application for university admission.
First of all, you should understand that though you have obtained the minimum qualifications to enter a university, it does not necessarily guarantee a seat in a public university. It is highly competitive to secure a place in a Sri Lankan state university, and in general, only about 20% of the qualified students actually enter the universities. For example, 167,992 students were qualified to enter the universities in 2018 A/L examination, but only 31,881 (18.98%) were admitted. Similarly, in 2017 A/L examination, the number qualified was 163,160 while the number admitted was 31,415 (19.25%). The UGC has decided to increase the total intake by 10,000 this year, and approximately 43,000 students will be admitted. (The accurate number of admitted students will be known only after the completion of the admission process.) Even with such a substantial increase in the intake, only around 22% of the qualified students (i.e. 43,000 out of 194,297) will be admitted. So it is obvious that university entrance in Sri Lanka is highly competitive, and you have to be very thoughtful in filling the application for university admission.
The UGC annually publishes a booklet titled, “Admission to Undergraduate Courses of the Universities in Sri Lanka”, and the booklet relevant to 2020 A/L examination is now available in bookshops. It contains comprehensive information regarding the university admission, and generally called the “Admission Handbook”. All students who wish to apply for a placement in a state university should read this handbook very carefully before completing the admission application. I would rather recommend you read it several times until you comprehend it fully. If necessary, it would be good to get some advice from a person knowledgeable on this matter. It is essential that you have a prior understanding of different degree programmes offered by different universities as well as different subject combinations in those programmes. There were numerous cases in the past that the students have lost the opportunity of entering to the most preferred degree programme or completely lost the university admission due to inaccurate filling of the application.
The admission handbook consists of 10 sections and the instruction for its use are given in pages 5-6. The policies and principles governing admissions to degree programmes in state universities and higher educational institutes (HEIs) coming under the purview of the UGC are given in section 1 of the handbook. Section 2 of the handbook (pp. 20-108) provides the list of courses available for different A/L subject streams and the subject pre-requisites to satisfy the entry requirements for different degree programmes. Introduction to the system of codes (Uni-Codes) assigned for each course of study in a particular university/campus/institute is provided in section 3 (pp. 110-114). An introduction to the universities and other HEIs functioning under the UGC and a detailed account of the degree programmes conducted by them are given in section 7 (pp. 166-237). Section 8 (pp. 240-247) contains the frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers. It is strongly recommended that every applicant read this section on FAQs thoroughly before filling the admission application.
In the academic year 2020/2021 (i.e. based on the 2020 G.C.E. A/L examination), there are 119 different degree programmes conducted by 15 national universities (excluding the Open University), three campuses (Sripalee, Vavuniya and Trincomalee) and four HEIs under the UGC. A unique code (a separate identity number) is given to each individual degree programme in a particular university/campus/institute, and this unique code is referred to as “Uni-Code”. In total, there are 244 Uni-Codes, and the list of Uni-Codes is given in pages 139-144 of the handbook. Out of these 244 programmes (Uni-Codes), there are 38 programmes for which every candidate should pass the practical/ aptitude test conducted by the respective universities. The list of those 38 programmes is given in page 146 of the handbook. The university concerned will publish a press notice and the students should apply directly to the respective universities. Hence, the interested students are advised to keep an eye on the newspaper advertisements these days, and in addition, it would be beneficial to log in to the websites of the respective universities from time to time.
You could apply for any number of programmes (any number of Uni-Codes), to which you are eligible to apply. In this regard, it is strongly recommended that you mark the maximum number of Uni-Codes, when filling the admission application. It has to be noted that you will not be considered for a Uni-Code (a degree programme), if you have not requested (marked) it in your application. Further, it is important that you arrange your Uni-Codes from the highest preferred Uni-Code (degree programme) to the least preferred one. UGC will always attempt to select you to your most preferred Uni-Code (degree programme). However, if the seats of that programme are already filled with the candidates who have obtained higher z-scores than you, then the next preferred Uni-Code (degree programme) for which you are eligible will be considered. In other words, the selection to a particular degree programme is based on two criteria, namely the z-score obtained by the candidate and the preference given by the candidate to different degree programmes (i.e. order of Uni-Codes). Thus, I would like to reemphasize the importance of your order of preference for the courses of study and universities, in your admission application.
Furthermore, you are strongly advised not to use the cut-off marks pattern of the previous years as the sole criteria in deciding the preference for the courses of study and universities. The cut-off marks (i.e. minimum z-scores) for the selection to various courses of study are given in pages 250-267 of the handbook, and it is only a guide for you to understand the demand patterns for different degree programmes. Usually, the number of students that will be admitted to a particular course of study (i.e. annual intake) is decided in advance by the relevant university, and the students are selected based on the results (z-scores) of the A/L examination of the particular year. Hence, the cut-off marks (minimum required z-scores) will be known only after the completion of the admission process. The belief that the cut-off marks for various courses of study are decided as the initial step and then the selection re made, it is completely a wrong perception.
As mentioned above, the students face many difficulties in arranging the preference list for different courses of study in completing the university admission application. When someone ask my advice in this regard, I always have a trivial question to ask. “What is your most liked or favourite subject area?” The answer, I usually get is the same. “Mmmm….. not thought about it yet!” It is really unfortunate that most of our young people have not given due consideration to their career future even at the A/L classes. Of course, the parents and teachers also have their share of responsibility in guiding the children towards a particular subject area most suited to their capabilities and liking. More appropriately, this type of decision should have been taken at the selection of the A/L subject stream or subject combination. However, at this time of selecting the degree programmes in universities, you should give first priority to your liking, your fondness to a particular subject area, specialization. At the same time, you should assess your capacity and capability in following such a degree programme, and pursuing a professional career in the selected specialization. The demand in job market for such graduates also need to be considered, but it should be third factor. In other words, the priority order for consideration should be, firstly your liking, secondly your capacity and capability, and thirdly the job market demand. If you do not select a degree programme suited to your liking, then the entire university education will be really boring. If you do not select a degree programme suited to your capabilities, then the entire university education will be very tedious.
Of course, you might not get selected to your most preferred course of study, as the selection depends on many other factors such as number of seats available, number of applicants, z-scores etc. You can consider yourself lucky if you somehow get selected for university admission. However, as mentioned above, you will not be considered for a course of study if you have not indicated the relevant Uni-Code in your preference list. That is why it is so important that you arrange the preference list and complete the application form accurately. In this regard, you should carefully go through the details of various degree programmes conducted by the universities and other HEIs, as given in pages 166-237 of the handbook. In the recent past, many universities have introduced a large number of new, job oriented degree programmes. For example, all the 15 degree programmes offered by the Uva Wellassa University are job oriented ones and are of high quality. Unfortunately, many students are not aware about these new, high quality courses of study, and as such, I strongly recommend that you pay due attention to these programmes as well.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that there are many factors which require special attention in completing the university admission application. The main factors are your liking, your capability and the job market demand. Filling of the admission application need to be done very carefully and cautiously.