Ambassador M.D. Lamawansa: Russia has a well-established reputation in Sri Lanka as a proper study destination
— Your excellency, the number of students from Sri Lanka in Russia has doubled since 2015. What is the reason behind a growing interest of prospective students from Sri Lanka towards studying in Russia?
The first thing is that Russia has been developing fast for around 20 years. The growth and changes of infrastructure has been so great that former students coming to Russia after graduation told me that some of the places were unrecognizable. Also I think there are social attributes like large cities and good transportation facilities have been taken into account as well as a word of mouth. The latter provides an exponential growth of the number of international students as successful graduates provide genuine advice to their relatives and friends regarding their experience of study and living abroad. Another very important factor is a comparative affordability of transportation of flights to Russia because there are both many direct flights between Moscow and Colombo as well as connection options through the Middle East countries. This allows kids to visit their parents during vacations.

— Russia and Sri Lanka have long‐standing history of academic cooperation. do you think this heritage still has an influence?
There are also some fundamental things that cannot be changed overnight. They start from the Soviet era when the Soviet government under the skin of promoting culture and education gave a lot of scholarships to Sri Lankan students to study at famous RUDN. A "Russia means scholarships" stereotype has become strong throughout many years of such relations. Many Sri Lankan students considered Russia as their main priority as a destination to study medicine. Nowadays you can find many doctors in Sri Lanka who graduated from Soviet and Russian universities, and currently there are approximately 1,200 Sri Lankans studying medicine in Russia. So, parents with their own study background in Russia would like to send their children to Russia as well because they know certain areas, they know the high level of safety, and, basically, they know everything. And even if one cannot get scholarship he or she still comes to Russia because fees at local universities are lower than at universities in the Western countries.

Besides, you have to know that Russian culture is very popular among Sri Lankan population. Hundreds of Russian books have been translated in Sri Lanka including such authors like Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. Russian novels and short stories are studied at school level so children read about Russia a lot.

— Are there any new factors that make Russian universities attractive for Sri Lankan students?
One of the major factors that have emerged in recent years is that Russian universities have introduced substantial number of degree programs with English as a language of instruction. Before this development students had to spend from 6 months to 1 year learning Russian language before proceeding to degree studies. English-taught programs make it easier for students for many reasons including the need to learn Russian language only for their day-to-day communications and easier way to successfully pass their professional tests at Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) when they return back home.

Generally speaking, Russia has a well-established reputation in Sri Lanka as a proper study destination. I appreciate the role of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Colombo in promotion of study opportunities in Russia through certain exhibitions and other activities.

— The most part of Sri Lankan students come to russia to study medicine. However, the number of Russian medical universities and programs recognized by SlMC is limited. What is your opinion on ways of meeting the growing demand for Russian medical education in Sri Lanka?
This is a very important question. Sri Lanka Medical Council has strict criteria on how a foreign medical school can be accepted. There is a certain procedure that is related to assessment of the university. If the university is able to comply with the criteria then it gets recognized by SLMC. Besides some formal factors and indicators, there are certain standards that foreign medical programs are expected to comply with. For example, according to the Sri Lankan standards each doctor has to have competence in forensic medicine so the university's curriculum has to match this requirement. Similar issues are related to studies at specific medical domains such as psychology, gynecology, etc. To summarize the matter, a medical school that wants to apply for the SLMC recognition should demonstrate its readiness to comply with certain academic requirements and provide precise information for formal assessment by SLMC.

— Taking into account current limitations related to the pandemic, all universities converted their classes into online more. Do you expect any difficulties about this switch both from recognition of studies prospective in Sri Lanka and overall quality of education?
I do not expect any problems with recognition of studies in Sri Lanka provided that each university provides proper paperwork on what subjects have been taught online, what has been an attendance, and so on. Universities across the world have gone online and they deliver lectures and other types of classes online apart from subjects that require physical practice which cannot be replaced at any cost.

— If we leave aside scholarship opportunities, education consultants play a major role when it comes to sending students to study in Russia. Unfortunately, not all of them can provide high‐quality services on a regular basis and this market definitely requires a regulation. Are there any professional or governmental bodies or associations of education consultants in Sri Lanka? Do you think there is a space for building cooperation ties between professional communities of our countries in order to organize Russia‐specific training and certification program for student recruitment agencies?
We do not have any organizations of this kind. But I believe that country-specific training and certification for education consultants is a great initiative. It would allow any consultant from Sri Lanka to approach such training center directly and get certified in order to be able to work with Russian universities. I am sure that such comprehensive system that would also collect feedback from universities and students regarding their experience of working with certain consultants would greatly contribute to the overall improvement of students' satisfaction from studying in Russia.

— How would you evaluate potential initiatives of Russian universities to set up their branches or sister academic organizations in Sri Lanka?
I consider this as a really great opportunity for them as they will not need to take students but train them locally. Universities from the countries like Malaysia, UK, and Australia have already established their branches. And I do not see any reasons why Russian universities would not be able to do the same. This format of teaching international students will become more and more popular in coming years as there will always be a risk of interruption of international travelling. I am sure that this could be far more affordable opportunity for Sri Lankan students to study towards getting Russian degree. And, in turn, universities can provide very flexible alternatives to Sri Lankan students allowing them to get transferred to their Russian campuses if required.
Prof. M. D. Lamawansa, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation, the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan. H. E. Prof. Meegahalande Durage Lamawansa is an internationally recognized specialist in one of the most precise and most soughtafter areas of surgery — transplantation. Professor M. D. Lamawansa is a former Dean of Faculty of Medicine at University of Peradeniya and President of the Sri Lanka College of Surgeons. He is currently President of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Surgical Care Society for the period 2020–2021.