The Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) operation began in 2018 with a soft loan provided by the World Bank at the Government’s request. A value of US$ 100 Mn was granted under the supervision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Education Ministry. Under the second result area of the operation, a series of higher education scholarships were granted to academic professionals in universities. So far, a total of 206 PhDs had been granted in three courses of awarding under the AHEAD operation.
These had been granted in the fields of natural sciences, management, social sciences and humanities, engineering and technology, agricultural sciences and medical health sciences. AHEAD provided financial assistance to permanent teachers (probationary and senior lecturers) of the Higher Education Institutes (HEI) coming within its purview, enabling them to read for PhD Degree programmes.
AHEAD PhD scholarships for university academics were announced between June 2018 and December 2020. The criteria for eligibility, required candidates to be entitled only for foreign doctorial (PhD) studies in English -- including split site PhDs -- as overseas exposure was a must. Grants were capped at Rs. 3,000,000 for each candidate up to a maximum period of three years, including a maximum living stipend of Rs. 1,500,000 a year for the period spent abroad.
While a maximum age of 40 was imposed, a concession was introduced for arts, humanities and social sciences, and candidates under the age of 48 were also allowed to apply. This permitted the programme to extend the PhDs on offer by another nine PhDs for English. An IELTS overall score of 6.5 or more was another requirement. The candidates submitted their applications with their proposed project proposal and certified copies of IELTS and a placement letter from the proposed university overseas endorsing their heads, deans and the vice chancellor, before the relevant deadline.
Funds are released annually, based on the awardees’ request with a progress report for the relevant period and to the Operational Technical Secretariat (OTS), which is the programme representative in all universities. for the health insurance fee and cost of living allowance to be transferred to the awardees, they were expected to forward e-invoice to the OTS. The awardees were also eligible to receive a half of their cost of living allowance at the beginning of the academic year to their own bank account, which they could open in the destination country.
Since some grantees of previous rounds were awarded full scholarships from their proposed foreign universities (as performance of these grantees was exceptional), a few more scholarship opportunities had been created. The OMST had decided to call for fresh applications and select the best applicants who were able to leave the country or begin their studies online on or before the end of February 2021.
The programme additionally provides financial assistance to permanent teachers of the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE), enabling them to read for recognised Master’s Degree Programmes at national universities in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, applications were called by the AHEAD Operation from the SLIATE permanent academic staff members who did not already possess master’s degree qualifications. This scholarship required that applicants be permanent SLIATE staff members, with a minimum IELTS score of 5.5 or an equivalent qualification at the time training begins.
Candidates must be aged 45 or below and would receive a minimum service period of one year. The offer would be valid for six months after being awarded. Selected applicants would receive a total maximum amount of Rs. 500,000 for course fees and a stipend of Rs. 16,000 per month, for the normal period of such masters’ degrees in the university. Should the awardees fail in their first attempt any costs related to the repetition of the course would have to be borne by the awardees. Awardees were also eligible to receive a full reimbursement of their IELTS registration fee.