Higher education and state-building in Sri Lanka
Highly desired public goods like education are thought to play a key role in state-building processes, but how? This research explores the two-way relationship between university education and state legitimacy over time in Sri Lanka. The findings have challenged received wisdom, showing there is no straightforward link between public services and state legitimation. Further, the way public services are delivered can just as easily de-legitimise states as legitimise them, with implications for stability.
The research zooms in on three critical periods in the history of university education in Sri Lanka:
- rapid educational expansion during post-colonial state consolidation;
- the manipulation of rules of entry and the emergence of a dual challenge to the state; and
- educational decline under an exclusionary, post-war political settlement.
By looking across and comparing these different periods, the research provides a long-term perspective on the role of public goods in processes of state (de-)legitimation.
In Sri Lanka, the relationship between education and state legitimacy has evolved as a long-term, circular process of the state setting expectations, performing (or not) to those expectations, and getting (positive or negative) feedback, with implications not only for legitimacy, but also for stability.
These insights are relevant for aid actors seeking to support legitimate institutions and to ‘do no harm’ when supporting the delivery of public goods in fragile states. Understanding expectations, the normative justifiability of provision among different groups, and especially perceptions of distributive justice, may be vital for developing politically-informed and conflict-sensitive approaches to supporting public service delivery in states with divided societies.
Researcher: Claire Mcloughlin
- State legitimacy – for better or for worse? (blog post, Nov 2015)
- The politics of what works in service delivery (book chapter, Dec 2014)
- Politics shapes services – services shapes politics (guest post by Richard Batley, Jun 2014)
- Politics: the problem and the solution to poor services (blog post, Mar 2014)
Image: Library, Sri Lanka (Gerald Pereira)
- State Legitimacy
- Researching State Legitimacy: A Political Approach to a Political Problem
- The Politics of Public Services: A Service Characteristics Approach
- When Does Service Delivery Improve the Legitimacy of a Fragile or Conflict-Affected State?
- When Does Service Delivery Undermine State Legitimacy? Evidence from Sri Lanka
- When does service delivery undermine state legitimacy? Why perceptions of fairness matter