WMU News

Kandy to Kalamazoo: WMU offers new 'twinning' program in Sri Lanka

March 30, 1999

KALAMAZOO--After five years of effort and despite working around an ongoing civil war, Western Michigan University has succeeded in developing its newest "twinning" program on the island nation of Sri Lanka.

The new program, Trinity-Western Michigan Institute of Higher Education, is WMU's sixth twinning program in Asia. Beginning this summer, the program will allow students to complete the first two years of their WMU degree through Trinity College in the city of Kandy, and then transfer to WMU to finish the remaining two years of their studies.

"This project demonstrates that patience is everything when it comes to developing an international partnership," says Dr. Howard J. Dooley, executive director of international affairs at WMU. "We began discussing this five years ago and will now be able to offer educational opportunities that didn't exist there before."

Perseverance wasn't WMU's only challenge. In recent years, civil unrest has racked the nation of Sri Lanka and still plagues various sections of the country. Dooley said instead of being a daunting factor, the civil war was actually a catalyst for the program's development.

"The educational system in Sri Lanka is a traditional British model and many of the graduates come out with liberal arts degrees and are unable to find employment. In addition, there was a nationalist movement to make Sinhalese the only language of instruction, so there was no English being taught in the schools," Dooley explains. As a result, students were unemployable because they had limited English skills in a country that was rapidly entering a global marketplace.

"When you turn out 25,000 graduates without jobs, they become very unhappy. This can be very politically destabilizing," Dooley explains. "Part of the unrest there was student radicalism."

The Sinhalese-only policy has since been reversed and recognition for educational reform by Sri Lankan government and business leaders led to the endorsement of WMU's twinning program.

"They were very attracted by our American business administration which is offered in English and saw it as just what Sri Lanka needs," Dooley says.

The Trinity-WMU program will offer business administration and general education courses, with students completing about 60 credit hours or 20 courses in Sri Lanka. Then they will take remaining credits needed to finish their bachelor's degree at WMU. Students admitted to the Trinity-WMU program will be assured places at WMU for their final two years, provided they meet the required academic standards.

Dooley says WMU received support for establishing the program in Sri Lanka from very diverse sources. The Episcopalian diocese in Colombo gave the program a nine-building complex that was formerly the Trinity College Agricultural Institute. Alumni from Trinity College, many of whom are now prominent business and political leaders in Sri Lanka, banded together and raised money for the program, establishing it as a corporate entity. The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka played an instrumental role in transferring a 7,000-volume library from Colombo to Kandy.

"This is truly a unique international partnership," says Dooley. "The result will be graduates with appropriate degrees for the labor market who are fluent in English and have a global perspective."

The Trinity-WMU program is modeled on WMU's successful twinning program offered in partnership with Sunway College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Since that program was established in 1987, nearly 2,000 students from Malaysia have completed their degrees at WMU. In addition to programs in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, WMU offers twinning programs in Hong Kong and India. More than 575 students are enrolled in these twinning programs.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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