Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development Operation or AHEAD is the latest development-oriented project to support the higher education sector in the entire country implemented in late 2018. The scope of AHEAD will be the higher education activities under the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways (MHEH), the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the 15 universities under the UGC, Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) and Advanced Technological Institute (ATIs), and non-state Higher Education Institution (HEIs) approved by the MHEH and UGC. The World Bank-supported Operation will comprise a Program component (US$93 million) and Program Operations Technical Support (POTS) component (US$7 million).


The development objective of the programme is to increase enrollment in priority disciplines areas of vital importance for future economic growth and human development, improve the quality of degree programs broadening and deepening modern teaching and learning approaches and promote research and innovation in the higher education sector that can support economic development, especially the growth of higher-value industries and services.


The project has three pronged strategy. They are,

Results Area 1: Increasing Enrollment in Higher Education in Priority Disciplines for Economic Development. The objective of this results area is to increase enrollments in higher education programs of strategic importance for economic development.

Results Area 2: Improving the Quality of Higher Education. This results area aims to support HEIs to produce students who are well-qualified academically and also suitably prepared for the world of work and for wider civic and social life.

Results Area 3: Promoting Research, Development, and Innovation. The objective of this results area is to develop a culture of research and development, innovation and commercialization.


The most AHEAD projects grants are bestowed under a system of competitive grants. University of Colombo secured the most number of grants under all three results areas (22 grants, 22 Doctoral level Scholarships, and one University Business Linkage Cell).  Under results area one, the Faculty of Technology obtained two grants (LKR 580 million) and the Faculty of Medicine (LKR 30 million) and the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) obtained (LKR 20 million) one grant each.

Under results area two, Faculties of Arts (LKR 120 million), Management and Finance (LKR 120 million), and Science (LKR 120 million) won one grant each. In addition, Departments of International Relations (LKR 18 million) and Sociology (LKR 18 million) of the Faculty of Arts won one grant each. Similarly, the Departments of Chemistry (LKR 18 million) and Physics of the Faculty of Science (LKR 18 million) won one grant each. Department of Accountancy of the Faculty of Management and Finance won (LKR 18 million) one grant under the same result area.

Under results are three, the Faculties of Science won 3 grants (LKR 120 million), Medicine two grants (LKR 117 million), and Graduate Studies one grant (LKR 10 million). UCSC won one grant (LKR 35 million), and Departments of English (LKR 10 million) and Physics won one grant (LKR 25 million) each. In addition, under the same result area, the University of Colombo won 22 doctoral research grants (LKR 162 million) and of them, 15 candidates have started their doctoral-level research activities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and India by the third quarter of 2020.

Under the results area three, the University of Colombo was able to establish the University Business Linkage (UBL) Cell (LKR 15 million) in 2018 to create, strengthen and coordinate university-industry partnerships and links. It is headed by a Director assisted by a full-time Administrative officer.


OTS is the nerve centre of AHEAD funded projects of the University of Colombo. It liaisons between project coordinators of the university and the Lead Academic Experts of AHEAD Operations attached to Operations and Monitoring Support Team (OMST). OTS Colombo office is head by a Director assisted by two Deputy Directors on Procurements and Finance activities and three full time project staff.