University students in a tight fix as parents struggle to pay tuition fees

May 09 2022.

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The dream of every parent once their child finishes school life is that they get recognized higher education or get into a trade school in their area of interest. This ideology still makes sense as future salary expectations, quality of employment, and quality of life all improve when you have the right kind of degree, Master's or Bachelor's.

However, for students who are interested in a degree from an international university overseas, it is starting to seem like a dream with the devaluation of the Rupee. The mere thought of being an international student is daunting to even consider it and people wonder “how can I ever afford it?” Several parents are faced with difficulty as they have been forced to buy dollars in the black market as local banks seem to have limited foreign currency. This scarcity in the country is taking a heavy toll on parents as they struggle to pay up the university tuition fees of students who are overseas.

Ashaira* is a 20 year old university student, the eldest child in her family with three younger siblings. She started working straight after completing her Advance Level exams to finance her higher education as her parents are already carrying the load of getting her three younger siblings through their schooling years. “I paid about Rs.60,000 per paper yesterday, which was only Rs.30,000-40,000 at the end of 2021,” says Ashaira. She further said “I had to make a payment of Rs.120,000 yesterday to book my exams for June using my debit card as the bank refused to allow payment due to the weekly limit when transfers are made in foreign currency. I had to borrow a credit card to make the payment” she concludes.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka has strict policies on transferring money to overseas students, and parents are found in extremely dire situations as they’re unable to support their children financially by sending money for their studies or living expenses. Speaking to Shameera, a medical student at the Zhejiang University in China who started University back in 2018 said that her initial tuition fee was Rs.1 million. She further claims that “now with the inflation, we’re not only paying double, but we have to resort to other methods of paying such as paying from abroad as University payments need to be made in dollars.”

Shameera further states that “the biggest challenge is sending the money from Sri Lanka. "Our fees need to be paid in dollars and we have to inform the bank early so that they can put us on a waiting list due to the shortage of dollars. To send in Yuan makes it much more expensive. We also have to factor in the day on which we choose to send in our payments because some days the rate is much higher than others so if I’m paying it at 1.8 million today, a fellow batchmate is paying Rs. 2 million+ tomorrow.”

Countries like the UK, Australia, and Malaysia are recognized as the top destinations for study among Sri Lankan students. More than 21,000 students yearly have been granted admission to universities in these countries. Shafraz is a student who moved to the UK early this year, to complete his Master's and since the beginning has been facing issues in transferring payments to the University. He says that “Once the letter of acceptance was ready, I had to pay £5000 to the Uni, which wasn’t possible at the moment in Sri Lanka as the banks were not allowing to transfer. I had my brother and uncle in New Zealand transfer the money to the UK university on my behalf. Upon my arrival to the UK, I spoke to some of my friends in the UK to secure some pounds.”

The inconvenience didn’t end there for Shafraz. Being a new entry to the country and despite securing a part-time job still didn’t suffice to pay the next installment that needs to be paid for the university. “I had to get my required amount of pounds through the black market which cost me around Rs.380 per pound, through this, I lost nearly £3000 with the exchange rate.” The economic situation in Sri Lanka is degenerating with shortages of basic necessities such as medicines, fuel, and food. Nevertheless, educational institutes state that there is an increase in student applications for overseas universities and professional courses as people are desperately trying to move out of the country.

Nishantha Jayasundara, General Manager of Australasian Academy of Hospitality which is an Australian-owned higher education institute in Sri Lanka offering Australian programmes as well as Swiss programmes says that “with the depreciation, the Australian Dollar has gone up to around Rs. 240 making the course fees alone to around 10 million and with the rise in the cost of living, typically a student will need around 14 million in the first year.” He further states that the cost of the course fees and the cost of living expenses haven’t changed in these countries. Parents who can afford the present amounts are actually paying double than previous figures.”

Nishantha adds that “the demand for overseas studies has not dropped but the financial situation makes it a tricky situation. There are some courses that are in demand for migration purposes. Some parents are adamant about finding the financials for their child somehow as they believe that there is no hope here.”
The Central Bank Governor recently said that banks will be requested to provide foreign currency for students studying overseas.  Here are a few of the many students who voiced their concerns about the hardships they have to face in settling tuition fees for international universities.

I had been looking into applying to Australia in December of 2021, when the dollar was at Rs.140/=. In March 2022, I was lucky to receive an offer letter from the University I always dreamed of going to. My tuition fee shot up by almost a million rupees a semester and skyrocketed all other expenses my family had accounted for. It had always been a goal to study abroad. My family is working twice as hard to make this a reality. I feel so guilty for something that isn’t my fault. I can’t control the inflation but I look up the exchange rate every morning ‘Australian dollar to lkr’ to see the increase, hoping for a decrease. It’s daunting to think this massive expense falls on my family. It’s taking a lot more effort to go. Taking loans and trying to sell valuables during an economic crisis, is an impossible situation. We had collected enough but now we are left uncertain about how to find the rest. I haven’t even left yet and I’m thinking of student loans and working part-time jobs whenever I can to collect whatever I can. It’s a bigger struggle than ever but we are still trying even with the great uncertainty that lies ahead.

My strong advice to anyone coming from Sri Lanka as a student to the UK, with the current Rupee depreciation is to look for alternatives.

The private bank I was dealing with said they can’t open a student file for me. The state bank I was dealing with before said they can’t do so either (actually they were unaware of what a student file was) and when I tried to contact the main FOREX department of the same state bank they didn’t pick up the phone. They didn’t even answer branch calls. Anyways what we resorted unfortunately was to go through the black market. The budget I allocated for my studies went off the roof due to this. My father found ways to send cash in physical form through friends and family when they travelled to Aus.

My sister resides in a private property rented outside the uni in Malaysia. We used to send her rent and expenses for the month to her local bank and she used an international debit card and withdrew the amount in her local currency. But with the rupee value decreasing banks restricted the weekly threshold for withdrawals via an ATM outside SL. This inconvenienced her further because she needed to wait an entire week if she withdrew over the limit to withdraw the balance she needed.
We have now switched to a family friend whose paying the rent on our behalf but they are charging us a higher conversion since they too incur bank charges from both ends. As for tuition fees, my parents used to take turns and travel to see my sister and pay off the tuition fee both at the same time. However, with Covid and travel restrictions we were forced to do a telegraphic transfer via the bank. The amount plus taxes was not worth it. But we had no other option because of covid protocols.
We got her down last December and sent a lump sum through her. When my sister started off at the end of 2018 one Malaysian Ringgit was 42/= Lankan rupees. Today it stands at 80/= +++ per Ringgit.

Athinsha Nafeel
I have got selected to do my Master's in Education at a Canadian university. And I have no way of making my first-year tuition payment. The banks are not opening student files and credit card is allowing only one-time international payment for a month. My brother-in-law is paying on my behalf from the Middle East.


Fazmina Samat

Wifey. Mommy. Daughter. Sister. Ice cream. Movies. Date nights. Bookaholic. Foodie.



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