The history stands proof of an existence of a monastic University in Palabaddala in the district of Ratnapura, Sabaragamuwa province. This ancient University had been established by Kalikala Sahittya Sarvagna Pandita ParakramaBahu, the Second (1235-1271 AD) in Dambadeniya Period. Bhikku Dharmakirti held the position of Chancellorship in the said University. Meanwhile the monastic institution of higher education in Sabaragamuwa had been in the custody of Deva Pathiraja, the royal agent to the King Parakramabahu, the second.
During the early 1990s, the Sri Lankan government came up with the new concept of “University Affiliated Colleges”. The concept was triggered by various social problems faced by the younger generation, in addition to several committee reports which made recommendations to the government on youth unrest. Based on these reports, the government decided to open new avenues for the younger generation by means of establishing new diploma awarding bodies, which were to be affiliated with several national universities. The Sabaragamuwa Affiliated University College (SAUC) was one such institution formed in affiliation with the University of Sri Jayawardenepura. Established at Belihuloya in the Sabaragamuwa Province on 20th November 1991 under the Sabaragamuwa Province Affiliated University College Ordinance No. 14 of 1992, the SAUC was ceremoniously declared open by His Excellency R. Premadasa, then President of Sri Lanka, on 8th February 1992. Following the opening, academic programmes of the SAUC commenced on 7th May 1992.
Prof. Dayananda Somasundara, the founding Director of the college, was determined that the SAUC should become a national university. Guided by his motivation, the academic, administrative and non academic staff as well as students and the nearby communities actively contributed towards the development and promotion of SAUC into a national university. As a result, the government decided to elevate SAUC to the status of a national university, amalgamating the Uva Affiliated University College (UAUC) at Rahangala and the Buttala Affiliated University College (BAUC) as the Faculties of Agricultural Sciences and Applied Sciences respectively (Prior to this amalgamation, the SAUC at Belihuloya and the UAUC at Buttala were affiliated to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, while the UAUC at Rahangala was affiliated to the University of Peradeniya. The Directors of the UAUC and BAUC were the Rev. Elle Wimalananda Thero and Prof. Arthur Bamunuarachchi respectively.
The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences was functioning at Rahangala under difficult conditions until the year 2001. The main difficulty was the long distance between the university’s main premises and Rahangala. In addition, the academic staff and students pleaded with the university administration to shift the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences from Rahangala to the main university premises at Belihuloya. In response to these demands, the faculty was moved to Belihuloya in 2001. Meanwhile, the Faculty of Applied Sciences was still operative in Buttala. However in 2008, this too was moved from Buttala to the main university at Belihuloya for the same reasons.
The SUSL has completed 16 years of operation. Within this short time, the university has become a centre of academic excellence in higher education and has recorded significant achievements in teaching, research and the other key areas within the education system. As one of the fastest growing universities and distinct higher education institutions in the country, SUSL seeks to create and sustain a culture of learning and critical inquiry that respects diverse views. Furthermore, SUSL inculcates in its students a sense of social responsibility, service and commitment to the democratic values of the society, both locally and internationally. SUSL is already a nationally and globally acclaimed centre of excellence in learning. The University which assists in the mentoring of dynamic leaders and nation builders who will guide the future of Sri Lanka.
Despite still being a growing university within the national university system, SUSL is ranked seventh in Sri Lanka. This is a significant achievement, considering the university’s short history and small capacity compared to the more conventional universities in the country. The credit for this achievement cannot be given to one person. Instead it is due to the sincere dedication of many who were truly and actively involved in the development of the university. Prof. Dayananda Somasundara, the founding Director of SAUC (who became the first Vice-Chancellor of SUSL), and all Vice-Chancellors of SUSL deserve due respect and honour for making the institution one of the foremost universities in the system. Credit should also be given to the innovative and energetic academic staff members of the university, who have contributed to the enhancement of its reputation both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Such efforts have of course been supported by an efficient administrative staff that enables the smooth functioning of the system. The dedicated services of the minor staff and contributions by the student community have also recorded a positive impact.
At present, the university has five faculties, namely, Agricultural Sciences, Applied Sciences, Geomatics, Management Studies and Social Sciences and Languages. SUSL also has several other institutes and centres, which are in great demand. They offer programmes to undergraduate and postgraduate students and the wider community. The university practices a semester based system and conducts most of its study programmes in English medium. Although a bilingual medium (English/Sinhala or English/ Tamil) instruction is available in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages, the proportion of students who follow study programmes in Sinhala medium is on the decline. The above feature and the availability of several non-traditional, yet technologically superior courses leading to specialized degree programmes have left a positive mark upon the university, thus highlighting the distinctiveness of SUSL within the national university system. Examples of the courses offered only by SUSL are the B.Sc. degrees in Surveying Sciences, Agri-Business Management, Food Science and Technology, Tourism Management, Physical Education and Sports Sciences Management, Eco-Tourism Management, and many more. In addition to the above SUSL offers B.A. Degrees too and conducts postgraduate studies related to subjects such as Ayurvedic Hospital Management, Indigenous Community Studies, Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation etc. Students who follow these degree programmes certainly benefit from these courses and this acts as an incentive for the university to continue to introduce more innovative courses.
Though SUSL is relatively new, it has a young, energetic, creative and highly qualified academic staff. Many staff members already possess Ph.D.s in a wide range of disciplines. Apart from benefitting the student community, the academic staff’s services are also increasingly used by the research community, private universities and institutes, international development agencies and government and non-governmental sectors. Such vast academic experience is made possible because of the university administration’s encouragement in terms of granting leave and providing guidance as well as funding. The University organizes thematic academic syndicates for its academic staff to pursue research and obtain additional qualifications. This is undoubtedly why SUSL’s academic staff’s contribution to the research paradigm and publication has been recognized by both academic communities at home and abroad. In fact, research articles produced by its academic members have been cited more than one hundred and fifty times. Moreover, island-wide research work by SUSL academics have been highly appreciated by the local community, owing to their contribution towards national development. Apart from the above, certain community services and extension work conducted by the university academics have earned SUSL an island-wide reputation.
The university has signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with other reputed international universities, and national and international organizations, with the primary intention of collaboratively raising standards of academic excellence. In fact, such collaboration has significantly resulted in enhancing SUSL’s ability of realizing its current achievement levels, and in retaining international standards for the primary purpose of maintaining academic quality. Among the international institutions that have ventured into partnership with SUSL via MoUs are leading educational bodies such as Durham University-UK, Guilin University of Technology-China, Shivaji University-India, Gombe State University–Nigeria, andGothenburg University, Sweden.
The SUSL is located in the former Japanese expatriate village of the Samanalawewa Project. Hence, from the inception of SUSL, some of the Samanalawewa project buildings became available for the university. After expansion and renovation,this village became the hub of the university. Compared to its past, the university has achieved an astounding level of infrastructural development, including modern, state-of-the-art building complexes for its faculties. Management Studies, Social Sciences and Languages and Applied Sciences have already received new building complexes, with up-to-date technology and facilities. Upon the invitation of Prof. Mahinda S. Rupasinghe, the Vice-Chancellor of SUSL, the new building of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and the second stage of the faculty building of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages were ceremoniously declared opened by His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakshe, President of Sri Lanka on 31st March 2012. Also present were the Hon. S. B. Dissanayake, Minister of Higher Education, Hon. Nandimiththra Ekanayake, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and other honored guests.