Working Paper
Standardization and ethnocracy in Sri Lanka

Standardization was the scheme that replaced meritocracy in Sri Lanka education, with positive discrimination to increase the majority Sinhalese community’s university enrolment. It did so by minimizing better-qualified minority Tamils’ university entry, even as the quest for Tamil separatism was gaining ground.

The government claimed the scheme was justified to create a more balanced representation in science-based university fields, but it was among the policies that contributed to the island becoming an ethnocracy. While standardization was later discarded, its legacy continues thanks to the district quota system it fostered and the inequalities it helped to cement between ethnic groups.

Ultimately, standardization did not merely complicate existing inequalities; it also contributed to anomie and substandard professionalism within the educational and governmental sectors. A path dependence explanation helps us to better understand why the policy was instituted, and why district quotas continue to operate.