Graduating with honours

"I think the two institutions have learned much from each other."

It may not have been the biggest graduation ceremony in the University’s history: a little over 100 students receiving their degrees in business and science. But what it lacked in scale it made up for in significance as the first cohort of Plymouth graduates in Sri Lanka took their bow and made their way into the world.

It also signified a graduation of sorts for the University’s partnership with the National School of Business Management (NSBM) in Colombo. For more than three years the collaboration has grown, with Plymouth staff regularly flying 5,500 miles to deliver teaching, and students from both institutions taking up reciprocal international study opportunities.

Dr Dulekha Kasturiratne, Associate Professor of Marketing, has been been lead academic on the partnership since its launch and has worked on a range of projects in the country, including the PMI2 programme, on developing entrepreneurship through collaboration. 

“I think the two institutions have learned much from each other,” Dulekha says. “There have undoubtedly been some cross-cultural challenges, but discussion and negotiation have led to mutual understanding. And with challenges come reward, and we can be very proud of where we’ve got to after three years.”

Eight courses were offered at the outset, covering business, computing, finance, accounting, marketing, and tourism and hospitality, and the University has since supplemented those with degrees in shipping and business communications.

Dulekha says: “We started with modest student numbers – no more than about 150 – but now, across three academic years, we have nearly 1,500 students. This is a huge achievement for the partnership in such a short time period, and speaks volumes for the input of the University and NSBM teams involved.”
“The venture has been quite a successful partnership, considering the growing competition for undergraduate-level education in the country,” adds Mr Chaminda Rathnayake, Senior Manager of Academic Affairs, at NSBM. “The
partnership with Plymouth has also enhanced the reputation of NSBM as an institute that awards internationally recognised British degrees in IT and business. Moreover, we have also benefited from the exposure to the processes and
procedures of academic delivery and administration used by Plymouth. The knowledge acquired has helped us in turn to become more efficient.”

Under the agreement, the first year of the degree belongs to NSBM, with the second and third years being quality assured by Plymouth. And it is in that final year that the ‘flying faculty’, comprising some 15 academics from the Faculty of Business and the
Faculty of Science and Engineering, swing into action. Flying out for two weeks at a time, they deliver around half of the final year modules in person, and validate the rest.

Bogdan Ghita, Associate Professor in the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics, is one of those delivering the degrees. He says: “Although it can be a rather demanding experience, I do enjoy teaching in Sri Lanka as I feel that my expertise contributes directly to the learning process of the students, who really do embrace the information and knowledge. The learning culture is slightly different, as traditionally in Sri Lanka academic staff engage in a more formal, strict interaction with students, whereas I try to encourage my students to express their views and speak freely in order to help them understand the concepts discussed and guide them through their learning.”
Dr Carmen Lopez, Lecturer in Marketing, in the Plymouth Graduate School of Management, is another who is responsible for course delivery. She adds: “Working in Sri Lanka is a rewarding and educational experience both personally and professionally. I found the students respectful, responsive and engaged in the subject matter, and I enjoyed adapting to the environment in which I was teaching and living. The experience allows me some opportunity to see life in Sri Lanka and has been a valuable learning experience in understanding the motivations and priorities of the students in Sri Lanka compared with those of their peers in the UK.”

Professor David Coslett presenting the degrees at the NSBM ceremony

With demand for higher education in Sri Lanka outstripping supply, the partnership is being closely monitored by the country’s government. Indeed, the graduation brochure for the Plymouth event carried no less than seven introductions from heads of state and government leaders, including the President and Prime Minister. 

NSBM is taking steps to meet that extra demand by creating a 26-acre green campus in Homogama, which will enable the school to enrol up to 30,000 students, and will contain in-house supermarkets, banking facilities, and business centres.

Mr Rathnayake says: “The Green Campus is a Rs. 10.2 billion investment, and seeks not only to provide an unmatched academic experience but also to set the backdrop for an authentic university life. And we see many potential benefits, from elevating the quality and level of education in Sri Lanka to new heights comparable with those in the developed world, to retaining Sri Lankan students and attracting overseas students to the country. We hope it will contribute  towards establishing Sri Lanka as a seat of learning in South Asia.”

With new courses under discussion, not to mention interest being expressed in our marine and maritime expertise, there is potentially an even greater role that Plymouth might play in Sri Lanka in the future.

“Graduation was the culmination of years of hard work, and was a celebration that was shared by the students, the parents, and the two institutions,” says Professor Simon Payne, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and strategic lead for the University’s international partnerships. “It’s a very important strategic partnership for the University, and interesting stories are beginning to emerge from our presence here. People have taken notice of us.”