Colombo, Education

The SLAS entrance exam: an age-limit of near madness

This note concerns the government gazette notification (available at on the open competitive exam for recruitment to Grade III of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS). The SLAS is unarguably the most crucial of services that falls under the competency of the Ministry of Public Administration. The gazette notification stipulates that the applicants need to be graduates of universities recognized by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka. All the entry requirements mentioned in the gazette appear to commendably set, except one, which I see as extremely unjust for a large number of fully qualified candidates: the age limit of prospective candidates.

The gazette notification states that prospective applicants should be aged below 28 by 16 November 2009. For anyone acquainted with Sri Lanka’s system of higher education, it may not be difficult to understand that this age limit (for a major competitive exam of this nature) is thoroughly unjust, and simply unacceptable. The majority of Sri Lankan youth complete their Advanced Level examination towards the age of 18-19+. Unfortunately, those entering Sri Lankan universities are forced to face a horribly long waiting period until they are admitted to undergraduate studies. The situation may be better for undergrads in medicine and engineering, but graduates in these disciplines are less likely to sit for the SLAS examination. In general, the majority of SLAS candidates are graduates in the humanities and social sciences, while there can certainly be graduates in the pure sciences with multidisciplinary professional interests. By the time the majority of Sri Lankan university undergraduates complete their degrees, they are already well into their mid twenties.

I presume those managing a crucial service like SLAS believe that they require candidates with minimum ‘concrete’ professional experience, at least spanning a couple of years. In a country like Sri Lanka, it is highly advisable to recruit candidates with IT skills, while it goes without saying that management-related skills are extremely crucial. How can one expect a young professional, who enters university after the horrible waiting period, (and therefore) completes the degree by his/her mid/late twenties, to be armed with such skills, AND correspond to the age limit imposed by the SLAS examination? Of course, in a country not short of smart young people, there can indeed be many high achieving youth who correspond to this age limit. But what about the others? Those who are fully capable of passing the competitive exam, and given their academic and professional skills, totally deserve a position within the SLAS? This concerns young professionals who have just turned 28, or who are 29-30.

If we had a system of secondary education like that of the Republic of Ireland, where young people sit for their Leaving Certificate at the age of 17 (which is also the case in France with the baccalauréat), and if there was no waiting period to enter university after gaining the secondary qualification, the age limit of 28 to sit for the SLAS exam would have been absolutely fine. Sadly, this is not the case, and the reality presents a totally opposed situation. I wonder if the organisers of such an important examination live in a different country. The age limit of 28 years represents an act of total injustice to a large number of suitably qualified young Sri Lankans, and prevents the Sri Lankan government from benefitting from the services of a fair portion of the best young talent available in the country. Given these circumstances, changing the age limit to the age of 30 at the time of application would be highly beneficial to many qualified applicants as well as to the SLAS.