Sri Lankan students abroad struggle amid economic crisis

Sri Lankan Economic crisis protests
The ongoing Sri Lankan economic crisis has made life difficult for its citizens studying abroad as they struggle to make ends meet. Source: Jewel Samad/AFP

The ongoing Sri Lankan economic crisis is causing international students from the country to struggle to keep up with the costs of studying abroad.

These include those based in Canada who must decide whether to remain in Canada amid the worsening crisis back home, or opt to return to their country if they cannot afford to fund their studies and other necessities abroad.

Among the students affected by the Sri Lankan economic crisis is Dehan Kumburugala, who had to make the difficult decision of forfeiting his studies in Canada.

The third-year biology student at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan had to resort to the undesirable outcome when he could no longer afford to pay his tuition, reported New Canadian Media.

The situation isn’t any better for fourth-year business student, Supun Weerasinghe, who could face the prospects of abandoning his studies as his parents cannot afford to pay his tuition fees.

Both students are some of 10,000 international students from Sri Lanka in Canada who are affected by the Sri Lankan economic crisis.

Canada is home to some 200,000 individuals of Sri Lankan descent and hosts one of the largest international student populations in the world.

Sri Lankan economic crisis requires help from citizens abroad

There is also a sizeable Sri Lankan student community in Australia.

According to government data, of overseas student enrolments in 2020, 38.4% (160,430) were from China, and 19% (79,410) were from India, with the remaining top 10 nationalities being Nepal, Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The top 10 nationalities are the same as in 2019. Enrolments among students from India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Singapore declined more significantly than those from other key countries in 2020, it said.

There is a growing demand for Sri Lankan immigrants based in Australia to send money back to their home country, as pleaded by the central bank governor of Sri Lanka Nandalal Weerasinghe.

A Sydney-based restaurant has launched concerted efforts to mitigate the financial crisis back home by matching every meal purchased from the set menu to go with donations aimed to feed the hungry back in Sri Lanka.

The restaurant, Colombo Social, is a social enterprise kitchen that has previously helped socioeconomically disadvantaged community members.

Understanding the economic crisis

Sri Lankan economic crisis: Police dealing with protesters

The Sri Lankan economic crisis has caused social unrest among its citizens, who gather outside the President’s office in Colombo on April 17, 2022. Source: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP

Many factors contributed to the economic crisis. According to experts, the crisis has been years in the making.

Speaking to CNN, Murtaza Jafferjee, chair of Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, said the Sri Lankan government has borrowed vast sums of money from foreign lenders to fund public services over the past decade.

The country had also faced natural disasters that affected the economy.

Subsequently, in 2018, the president’s dismissal of the prime minister sparked a constitutional crisis. In 2019, hundreds of people at churches and luxury hotels were killed in the Easter bombings; from 2020 onwards, the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated matters.

Inflation in the island nation is also at an all-time high of 17.5%. According to reports, prices of food items such as a kilogramme of rice soaring to 500 Sri Lankan rupees (2.10 Australian dollars) when it would normally cost around 80 rupees (A$0.34).

Sri Lankan students in Australia who are affected by the economic crisis can contact their Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) insurance provider for advice on their health coverage and services available.

Students in Australia and Canada can also contact their counselling services from their respective universities for help.