An acute shortage of places in government universities and the high cost of going to private ones at home and abroad mean getting to study a degree course is no easy feat for Sri Lankan students. Tens of thousands of qualified students miss out on a place in government universities each year, forcing many parents to try sending their children to foreign universities such as in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand or expensive private ones at home. Here they also have to overcome visa applications and, in some cases, contend with fraudulent agents or even universities. But many seem unaware of an educational institution at home which not only offers degree courses at relatively low cost but also has plenty of places available. Aquinas University College is the only Catholic educational establishment in Sri Lanka offering degree courses and has been doing so since 2005, when the University Grants Commission recognized it as a degree conferring institution. Last year the government awarded it university status, allowing it to give out its own degrees. To attract more students, more than 4,000 staff and students from Aquinas College took to the streets of Colombo recently in a carnival parade full of color and noise to put the institution on the map. There has been a significant increase in admissions at the college as the message reaches others, said Father Placidus De Silva, the rector of Aquinas College. “We don’t advertise but we can accommodate more students,” he said. "We offer various degree and diploma programs in English, such as engineering, marketing, business management, information technology. All are available at reduced rates," he added. To study for a UK engineering degree in Sri Lanka it would cost about US$24,500. Aquinas' three-year course is only US$3,500, he said. He said the parade was to boost student morale and to send a message that more students are need. Many students at the parade said Aquinas College gave them an educational lifeline when all else seemed hopeless “Aquinas was there for us when all other university gates were closed to us,’’ said Jane Arthi, 20. She is now studying at Aquinas’ engineering faculty. Shehan Ramanayake,22, and his two friends studying hospital management, said: “ We are ambassadors of our college rallying support and declaring our loyalty to it.”
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