Please tell us about yourself

“As the Chief Economist at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Anushka Wijesinha was certain about what area of specialisation he intended to follow as part of his graduate studies. Selecting a multidisciplinary university such as the University College London (UCL), to pursue a degree in Economics was deliberate, given the fact that it is located in the heart of London, a constituent Member of the University of London and a Member of the Russell Group. Having obtained a BSc in Economics, Anushka proceeded to read for a Masters Degree at the University of Leeds.

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Educated at St Thomas’ Preparatory School and at the Colombo International School, pursuing graduate studies in the UK was a life changing experience, being involved in wide ranging activities, which included photography, volunteering at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and writing to the student newspaper in the university. Living alone in cosmopolitan London on a limited budget and attending UCL that had a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary student fraternity laid the foundation for character building. The biggest take away from his London experience was the openness to ideas that prevailed among faculties that enriched the learning process.

What was your background prior to attending the Leeds University Business School?

I did my BSc (Economics) from University College London (UCL) and MSc in Economics & Development at Leeds. I noticed that the econometrics lecturer (Prof. Yoncheol Shin) had been at the forefront of some leading research on the latest Time-Series Modelling techniques, and had even contributed to the research of Nobel Prize-winning economists (Robert Engle and Clive Granger, 2003). Subsequently, I used some of these techniques in my Masters dissertation.

I was encouraged by the flexibility offered by the course as I was able to take optional modules outside the Business School. I exploited this to the fullest, and studied two modules which covered fields that I have always been passionate about, but hadn’t had the opportunity to pursue at an academic level – the education sector (Education in Development, at POLIS) and the transport sector (Transport Economics and Development, at the Institute of Transport Studies). The education module and the lecturer who taught it inspired me quite a bit; so much so that my final dissertation was a hybrid between economic theory, econometrics techniques and education in developing countries.

What was the best part about your studies here?

The best part of my studies at Leeds was unequivocally, my course mates and peers! I made some of the most amazing friends during my time at Leeds. I had a superb international group of friends on my course; from Switzerland, Norway, Nigeria, England, Bangladesh, etc.

The group was great – from heated intellectual debates, to nights out on the town, we all had a very fulfilling experience because of each other. And it’s great to know you have an international network once you leave college, and a couch to crash on in any of 10 different cities!

I also made quite a few Indian friends, many of whom studied business courses at Leeds University Business School, who I have since visited in India; in Mumbai and Delhi.

How has your career progressed since leaving the Business School?

Before I came to Leeds, I was firmly committed to the area of development economics, and I needed to gain a Masters to boost my credentials as a professional economist. My intention all along was to return to my home country of Sri Lanka to engage in development practice and economic policy once I finished my Masters, and that’s exactly what I did. Quite randomly I came across an article written by the Director of Economic Affairs of the Government Peace Secretariat. This institution functioned directly under the President’s Office and was involved in peace-building and rehabilitation activities in the conflict-affected North and East Provinces. Although I was no expert in the peace-building arena, I discovered that there was an Economics Affairs Unit that was trying to use development and economic recovery as one of the instruments in conflict-transformation. This excited me, and without knowing where to contact, I randomly telephoned the gentleman whose article I had read. A couple of weeks later I get a call back. They had discussed it at a Director’s meeting, and decided that they will in fact hire someone for the unit, and so I was called for an interview!

During my time there I researched heavily on the economic opportunities of the North and East Provinces, as no work had been done on this. We created private-public partnerships for the enterprise sector and civil society to engage in the development efforts kicking off in the post-conflict regions.

I moved on to a new job in August last year, to an organisation where I had done a brief internship at one summer. It is the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), the apex economic policy think-tank in Sri Lanka. Here, I am a Research Officer, working on several areas of economic policy research and policy advocacy.

How has your experience at the Business School helped you in your work?

My experience and learning at the business school helped me with my current role in many ways, but chiefly it taught me the importance of being eclectic in your reading and your thinking, and unlike what most other economics faculties would propound – the need to take a multidisciplinary approach to economics and development, not getting stuck in ideology and dogma.

The experience of working in a multicultural environment at the Leeds University Business School came in useful in non-work activities too. At two recent forums I was required to engage with people from different cultures and countries, and the international feel at LUBS certainly helped. Last year I was fortunate to attend the UNESCO Asian Youth Forum held in Gwangju, South Korea, as Sri Lanka’s delegate. It brought together nearly 40 young activists from across the Asian region. Subsequently, I was asked to attend the main conference in Paris later that year, alongside delegates from over 100 countries.

I think the confidence factor was definitely enhanced through my study here. For a few modules, presentations and critical discussions were a key element, and that certainly helped; now, through various projects I am involved in, I am required to make presentations at national and international forums and I have appeared on panel discussions and television programmes. I also really enjoy teaching, and recently took up a visiting lecturer position at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies.

What advice do you have for current students or alumni wishing to pursue a similar career?

Firstly, my advice would be – get a Masters. The training you get on a Masters programme will definitely come in useful, and proves to employers that you have undergone a rigorous training of that nature. The economics masters at Leeds University Business School had a heavy econometrics component, and despite it giving all of us endless sleepless nights and frequent nightmares (really, it did!), in retrospect, I can say it was well worth it. Although I haven’t yet fully used some of the complex econometrics tools I learnt during the course, I know that I have them in my arsenal, and can be confident about using it if the need arises. Having a strong quantitative component in your degree can set you apart – you are not merely someone ‘working in the development field’ – you have the analytical and quantitative skills to back it up.

Secondly, do internships in relevant organisations. I interned twice at the local World Bank office in Sri Lanka and got the opportunity to co-author two publications during my time there. These internships gave me a clearer idea of what kind of work I wanted to do after graduation.  Internships help you to know what to work towards, and what employers are looking for in terms of skills and interests.