30 January, 2023


A Policy And Structural Change In Education For A Better Tomorrow

By N. T. S. Wijesekera

Prof. N. T. S. Wijesekera

This article is a summary of the key points delivered at the public seminar on the theme “National Education Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, conducted by the University of Moratuwa Teachers’ Association (UMTA) at S De S Jayasinghe Hall, Dehiwala on 18th July 2012.

Every ‘Nation’s Dream’ is to achieve the status of a ‘Great Nation’ that can stand on its own.  In the quest for a great nation, a sustainable education system is indispensable.  It is more so for our nation because we do not possess the commonly known valuable resources of the world except the invaluable human resource with a very high literacy rate.  A sustainable education system would pave the way to produce responsible citizens, ensure ample support for the development and hence to build a strong economy.  Further, a sustainable education system will positively contribute to make prudent decisions that will ensure the sustainable wellbeing of the global ecosystem at large.

Presently the University Academics are requesting the government to provide a compatible remuneration to attract the best that are moving to the industry, plus a substantial commitment from the government to enhance the status of their working facilities and upgrading the status of the students presently filtered through the primary and secondary education systems.  This has been put forth as a request for the promised salary increase and for a commitment to enhance the public expenditure on education to a level of 6% of GDP.  In this instance, the GDP is taken as a unit of measurement keeping to international standards.  Therefore it is important not to be mistaken as 6% from GDP.

Many can raise a reasonable question as to why the University academics in this country up to now were not concerned about the sustainability of the entire education system of the country.  Answer though implicit, leads to the point that at this juncture, the university academics have realised it is high time for the Sri Lankan academia to come forward and start a constructive dialogue about the core issues of the education system and appeal the nation to take a serious note of this major crisis that causes catastrophic consequences for the forthcoming generations.

Role of the University

In order to rationalise a sustainable education system, first of all, it is necessary to identify the role of a university.  In the literature, a university is defined as an entity to ensure that every student, no matter the wealth of parents, has a chance to enjoy the ‘Nation’s Dream’; educate the leaders in a democratic system; provide advanced learning and knowledge through faculty research and giving students the opportunity to broaden their minds even when learning does not seem immediately relevant to their careers; teach students to interact with people and appreciate the differences and diversity; and help students to find a passion and even a purpose in life.  Universities of a great nation produce good workers who would earn foreign exchange with their products and services.  They would also produce good graduates and leaders who would directly attract foreign exchange of international markets to provide cutting edge services and products.

Due to these characteristics, Universities in general are considered as the Backbone of a Country.  In very simple terms the universities produce citizens who can exercise influence on behalf of Humanity and Civilisation.

It is no secret that for universities to thrive, academics and students who work together to achieve the aforementioned objectives are a clear necessity.  Thus, a university should ideally be composed of good academics, good students, good facilities and possess a conducive-environment for education.  In the remaining part of the article, aspects of academics and students who shoulder the pillars of a good higher education system are in focus.


A good university system needs to look after its academics by providing good salaries and a good supportive environment, which includes good infrastructure and good support staff.  A survey carried out in July 2012 at University of Moratuwa revealed that at the present salary scales of an academic (academic positions are filled by the cream of a batch of students) who had obtained a PhD degree would get only 31% of what his or her counterpart who opted not to pursue studies, but to join and work in industry. A Senior Professor who is an Icon of Wisdom would get only 27% of what is earned by an industry parallel (Figure 2).  This pathetic situation has discouraged the best graduates joining the academia.  A reversing of this trend which is to attract the best graduates to join the academia is an absolute necessity.  Other than this it is also necessary to incorporate measures to retain the attracted staff for the purpose of ensuring a sustainable university system contributing to the delivery of a Nation’s expectations.

Figure 2: University - Industry Salary Comparison Deteriorates with Time and Experience

A comparison of international value of a university academic, from the information of the book “Paying the Professoriate” indicated that the most opted greener pastures across the oceans provide much greater remuneration packages.  The review of this book on the web presents a good salary comparison utilising a common indicator.

Therefore it is important that the university academics are at least given a salary compatible with the local market.

University Facilities

When one considers the university facilities, it is evident that the infrastructure status is very poor and rapidly deteriorating.  The research support is nonexistent, laboratories lack new equipment, lecture room space is inadequate and student accommodation needs refurbishment.  The current financial figures from state universities reveal that per student expenditure is reducing at an alarming rate simply because the state is increasing the student numbers without increasing the commitment for infrastructure .

This situation creates a serious constraint in effective teaching and research delivery by a university academic when attempting to fulfil the expectations of a nation.  This leads to displeasure and frustration among the academic community.  Even though the salary of an academic reaches the world standards, this issue remains a great factor contributing to an Academic leaving the system.  Such departures would certainly jeopardise the sustainability of the system and the dreams of a Nation.

University Students

Looking at the situation with respect to the status of students; they are recruited from the list prepared from the results of the GCE Advanced Level examination and the Z-Scores.  Only 15-17% of those who sit for the examination get qualified for university education.  Many can raise the question, Aren’t they the best out of the group?, Aren’t they adequate to produce good graduates?

Figure 3: A Recent Book on Salary

Surveys carried out among the university academics expressing their level of satisfaction on the students presently admitted as university entrants, revealed a major flaw in the attempt to achieve sustainability of the higher education and the education system as a whole.  In this survey, several factors from the view point of academic staff were qualitative evaluated.  The factors used in the opinion survey were: Willingness to study/learn; Students not exhausted; Conceptually sound (Knowledge of subject basics); Experienced in group work and Honestly indicating the member contributions; Good speaking and writing in university media of instructions; Experienced in using basic office-software; Good in speed reading; Having good social values; Trained in timely submission of outputs; and Having a good vocabulary.  The study of a staff member sample of 45 at the University of Moratuwa revealed that while the first factor just exceeded the 50% satisfaction level of the academics, the rest were between 25% and 50%.  The speed reading capability (Figure 5) has been at the lowest of expectation level.   The same survey carried out with a sample of 75 staff members from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura revealed similar results.

In order to capture how the students felt about themselves nicely fitting the aspirations of the university academics, the same survey was carried out using a sample of 90 students of university of Moratuwa and the results are shown in the Figure 5.  The averages of the results provide a good indicator that reflects a compromise between high staff aspirations and student psychology overvaluing the true position.  These results indicate that at best the students would be reaching the 50% level of expectations and hence the primary and secondary education systems require a take a look at its roots without further delay.

Primary and Secondary Education

Considering the primary and secondary education system, some issues that reflect badly on the sustainability of a nation and its aspiration to become the ‘Knowledge Hub of Asia’ are; the number of teachers, teacher training, school buildings, school facilities and low staff salaries.  In this connection the following factors also have been evidenced, researched and some are published in Journals.

Figure 4: Comparative Statistics Reflecting the Deterioration of Student Facility Availability

After passing GCE Ordinary Level, typically a student takes a minimum of 4 years to enter the university.  This is a time loss at prime age.  At the Advanced Level, the way IT and English are taught, examined, and results are delivered to the students, reflect the care and interest taken to familiarise these two subjects.  Further, more than 50% of students do not experience the grip of science as they get the knowledge without a practical exposure. In most education and administrative forums, Advanced Level subjects are recommended to be geared towards employment, without even considering the real objectives of primary and secondary education.  The present Advanced Level and Ordinary Level Syllabi are attempting to cater to those who fail the examination and not for those who aspire success and further.  The chaos of IT education is well reflected in a research which identified that in a survey of schools, the principals say that student computer usage is 20hrs/week while IT instructors of the same school say it is 6-10 hrs/week: Research pertaining to primary and secondary education system has also recognised that unmanageable student numbers in each class, poor management of class rooms and problems with increased subject contents are critical issues. The dependency on tuition, lack of faith in regular school teachers, negative attitudes of the parents and students on school teachers is a serious negative phenomenon that characterises the plight of the present education system.  Research also has indicated that there is deterioration of math knowledge in the university entrants and this can be attributed to the reliance on private tuition system.  Lack of student centred activities such as project explanations, field work, opportunity for creative work, and team work make a serious impact on the expected potential of a student reaching the university system.

A recent survey of a student’s lifetime in the Ordinary Level Classes revealed that 37.5% of time is spent for system survival (such as eating and sleeping) and 55.2% is spent on education, tuition and transport for education.  A similar survey indicated that Advanced Level students use 29.3% for system survival while 66.7% of time is spent for studying for examinations and travelling for education.

Only icing, no cake?

The universities are presently adjusting their curricula and coaching classes to address the issues or deficiencies that are arising from the primary and secondary education systems. In addition, the universities are also adding cosmetic programs to satisfy the industry requirement of “A readymade practitioner”.  However, what is important to note is that the duration of a university’s academic program remains unchanged at either 3 or 4 years.  Therefore it is inevitable that the University’s core curricular needs to be curtailed or by this sandwich effect.  Therefore it is obvious that the graduates do not obtain an education they or the country deserve.  Figure 6 is an attempt to illustrate these concerns.

Figure 5: The Status of University Entrants

Figure 5: The Status of University Entrants

This creates two problems. The straightforward one is that the country does not get the desired outputs because the subject contents tend to reach below par.

The other is that the university academics find the students would require postgraduate education to carry out the kind of research required for world class competition.

Since the government presently does not support postgraduate education, the most likely result would be the frustration of academic staff which inturn affect the sustenance of Higher Education System.  These factors are presently in existence.

There is a huge disparity in the state expenditure for various undergraduate study programmes .  This disparity among various programs cannot be noted in developed countries.  Therefore it is important to revisit these curricula and facilities and then upgrade them to such levels that would ensure quality outputs that can match the knowledge-hub aspirations.  It is good to take a close look at the foundation qualifications of administrators and planners who are yet to understand the present plight of the education system in the country.  It may be prudent to provide an improved status to relevant degree programmes hoping that the outputs from such degree programs would provide a better service to the education system in the future.

There is a big problem at hand. As academics, it is time to come forward to speak out in order to save the nation and strengthen the on-going efforts by pointing out the planning and implementation deficiencies.  The University academics are undoubtedly the best brains in the country that can provide the leadership to the betterment of the country’s education system.

Booster Dose is a Must

The foregoing discussion clearly points to the fact that in order to ensure best academics in the national university system, it is necessary that not only the salaries are comparable but also the entire education system is revitalised.

Figure 7: High Disparity between the Outputs

A look at the historical public expenditure figures on education pertaining to those nearby nations and the nations that have achieved developed status revealed that such countries had gradually increased the public expenditure on education to reach a point 6% of GDP or more.

It is evident that our nation also requires such a system-boost to clear this big hurdle.  In most countries public investment appears to decay after a peak, but this is guessed as the stepping in of private sector collaborations once the system is in place. Thus, it is quite clear that we need a booster dose in education expenditure and when the system has reached sustainability, it is possible to fearlessly open the system to private collaborative opportunities.

In conclusion, the academics and the public in general have a noble task to carryout in order to secure a sustainable education system.  It is not an easy one. It is necessary to congratulate the wisdom of Sri Lankan academic community for stepping out of traditional trade union framework to provide leadership to a visionary struggle targeting the country to become a better place to live and also to become the ‘Knowledge Hub of Asia’.

Figure 8: Comparison of Input to Education as a Percentage of GDP - The System Booster

*Professor Sohan Wijesekera,

Senior Professor,Dept of Civil Engineering –  sohan@civil.mrt.ac.lk University of Moratuwa


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Latest comments

  • 0

    Some very interesting points, but I don’t think the academics alone can be the solution to Sri Lanka’s education and social issues. Sri Lanka needs a cultural shift, where secondary school students are given more options than just aiming for university.

    No society will function if all secondary school students move onto a university education. This is perhaps a problem in many developed countries, where many end up with Mickey Mouse degrees and can’t find employment.

    This article touches on what I think is the key issue. Our secondary school system. Presently, it is expected to train students for university. Yet how many secondary school students in Sri Lanka go on to enter university? Hence the system also has the added pressure of trying to provide an education that is practical and useful for a majority of the students (quite rightly). Sadly, what that means is that it waters down the secondary school education system into a one size fits all. It is a lose/lose situation for all…

    All Governments need to identify what faction of their population need education at a university level, and provide the necessary resources for producing those experts/ professionals. But they also need to identify what level of practical/ trade/ technical/ non-academic workers their society needs, and provide sufficient methods for youth to go about obtaining training in such fields, whether it be via technical institutions or internships with existing businesses.

    Business must play a major role in the education system, after all, a graduate who is no use to business, is no use as an academic or professional. Businesses drive a key component of the educational requirements of society, therefore communication between business and the education system is key to getting a nation’s educational requirements right.

    The main problem societies like Sri Lanka face is the fact that as children, we are all taught that University is the only way. It is important that instead of treating anyone who doesn’t get into a university as a failure, we treat them as a resource for society as any other, and provide them with the necessary opportunities for bettering themselves through trade and technical skills whether it be via technical institutions or internships (this needs to be driven by Government, and at least partly funded).

    What is required is a two tier secondary education system, where students (say aged 14-15) are given the opportunity to choose between a university oriented academic path, or a more practical trade/technical path. This will ensure more students are provided with the right type of secondary education for their schooling objectives, and reduce the pressure on the secondary schooling system to provide an education that meets both academic and trade expectations. This will then also provide the university system with suitably trained secondary school students for higher education, and suitably trained high school graduates for industrial/ trade purposes.

    I am a civil engineer myself. I have qualified from a university, however almost every day I come across ‘unqualified’ contractors with great understanding and knowledge of construction works, gained primarily from their experiences working. They are just as critical in the engineering process as those of us with a ‘degree’. Such people need to be respected and provided with as many opportunities to better themselves as academic high achievers. After all, the saying ‘only as strong as the weakest link’ applies to all professional works.

    University education should therefore not be the only option available for a secondary school student to aim. We need a more all round education system that meets the requirements of our whole country, not just those of our traditional aspirations of all becoming doctors and engineers. Such a system will provide students with more choice, improve the productivity and efficiency of society, and make way for a fairer and more equal future.

  • 0

    Did you see the two clowns – S.B. Dissanaiyake and Bandualla G – tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum interviewed on Rupavahini yesterday? What a pathetic joke education in Lanka is today! They are clearly so foolish, incompetent and unable to think logically or abstractly – a national disgrace and embarrassment. They are unable to listen to a questions without harassing the speaker – especially if he is a student. They lack basic listening skills – never mind solving complex problems! They lack the basic skill of being able to LISTEN to a Logical argument, let alone grasp a problem or complex concept. They are clearly unfit to be Ministers of any kind let alone education. These two are an insult to all teachers and academics – and should be asked to resign immediately by FUTA and the teachers union. Tweedle dee and dumb are still in denial that there is a huge crisis in the education sector and talking rubbish about “conspiracies” by students, parents and teachers etc! They clearly have not a clue how to sort out the problem of double batch intake when all the universities are shut and are delaying and exacerbating it rather than working on the problem in dialog with real experts. Their pseudo-experts panel for the Z score were clearly incompetent and caused the problem and now they are paralized.. meanwhile the students and university system are in a royal mess.
    When asked why a Z-Score FORMULAR was not prepared in advance tweedle dee and dum said that they had to wait for the results of the exam to be out to develop the formular! A formula is a theortical construct to address a higher order problem – waiting for the papers to be marked and the results released is not necessary to develop a formula to address the problem related to two different populations!
    Rajapakse’s stategy to destroy the education system in Lanka and make Lanka a HUB OF IGNORANT CLOWNS is clear. Appoint the most idiotic and foolish to be in charge of the Education sector and then politicze it and deny people the right to information, while turning elections into circuses. Latest news is that, Brother basil Mr ten percent – Ministry of Economic Development is going to be building schools, and is taking over education infra-structrue so even less money will reach, while Brother Gota the white van goon has taken over curricular training of students in military camps. This joke called education in Sri Lanka must stop immediately and the only way to do it is for all academics to unite and demand the resignation of the Tweedle Dee and Dum and the appointment of people with higher academic degrees (MA/ PhD) who are recognized educators to rescue education in Lanka. FUTA must be bold and come out strong and debate these two clowns and show the people the kind of uneducated people- starting from MR and his brothers – are running Lanka today and indebting the country – like Spain which is about to crash – while they talk non-sense about building port cities in the sea on fictitious funds to distract the people!

    • 0

      The two clowns S.B and Bandualla MUST be forced to resign as they are the biggest impediment to rescuing the education sector from Rajapassa and the likes of the World Bank

      • 0

        Quite right – FUTA must ask them to GET OUT – SB does not know how to talk to Uni students, and calls university students who are adults over 18 years of age – ‘Daruwo’ or children – and talks down or attacks these students!
        As the author says “a university should ideally be composed of good academics, good students, good facilities and possess a conducive-environment for education. ” He is correct.
        The students have been ragging and behaving like beasts and goons because they have appaling facilities and the Minister, a stupid goon, sets the negative example by telling lies and bullying. The student facilities at most Lankan universities are appalling, even though it is common sense that people behave abominably when they live and work in filthy conditions.. I don’t think rajapassa or his clownish minister S.B. has seen the inside of a good foreign university – he should visit to the National University of Singapore and see the investment in knowledge production, human resources and infrastructrue before talking crap about Lanka being a miracle of Asia or a knowledge hub! The Lanka university cafeterias and toilets and student accomodation are fit for dogs not humans due to under funding of the sector.

        • 0

          This is truth. MR and SB should go to the National University of Singapore and Singapore management University. Singapore management university is a new, speacilized university for manaement education and research and it is operate as a private university. However, it has funded by goverment. If government want to promote Sri Lanka is an knowledge hub of South Asia, government can get lot of information from Singapore and no need to go US or Europe. UGC, VCs and university professors are also responsible for current problems face by heigher education system in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka needs innovative and pradime change. Private universities should also introduced to Sri Lanka with proper regulations and monitoring instituion. State universities professors and students need competitors. At presnt, Sri Lanka has private degree offering companies and they are not universities.Truely private universies should have more than 3 faculties, physical resources (hostal, play ground, auditorium, labs and research centers ect) human resources (such as qualified parmement staff). SAITM (Malabe Campus) is near to private university. However, it has lack human resources and some physical resources). FUTA should assist to ministry of heigher education for introduce rules and regulation for private universities. These rules and regulation should pass as a law (by paliment act). Then, private universities are not harm for Sri Lanka education. However, exsiting degree offering companies cheat and hurt to the students and parent. However, there is no law to prevent them.All over the world from US to China/Russia have private universities and private universities are among best ranking universities in the world. FUTA should not oppose to private universities and it does not have right to oppose for private university. Most of their members are working such a institutions and some of its members obtained their PhD, MS from private universities. We hope FUTA act as professional body and not as a trade union.

      • 0

        The Sri Lankan government is taking measures to improve the road to the Horton Plains National Park at a cost of 550 million rupees for Namal Rajpaakse’s sports car rallies! Bread and circuses as usual all in the name of “development” that kills!
        There is no reason to spend such funds on unnecessary road construction projects, except for kickbacks. Three year after the war ended there is clearly need for course correction and a new development paradigm that gives priority to the education sector and funding for human resource development. Academics should challenge the useless and corrupt expenditure of the Regime and its flawed development paradigm which is all about beautifying Lanka to be a tourist banana republic – a development strategy that is bankrupting the country and de-developing it for future generations..

  • 0

    The academic standards of the teaching staff in the University of Jaffna has gradually deteriorated to a very low depth during the last 30 year period. Many vice-chancellors appointed during the era of LTTE control of the region shamelessly carried out the orders of the terrorists. Prof. Thurairajah was the first person who started this trend during his tenure as the vice-chancellor of the University.Since then LTTE guys had their say in every decision made by the vice-chancellors.Prof.Thurairajah shamelessly compromised the independence of the university just to safeguard his position.He miserably failed in the overall administration of the University of Jaffna by overlooking the misconduct of many staff members just because he suspected that these men and women could be the supporters of the terrorists. His actions dealt a heavy blow to the learning culture of the Jaffna society.

    Even today, the culture of political appointments of vice-chancellors is continued by the rulers. Academic and intellectual achievements are not considered while these appointments are made. One professor from the Medical Faculty of the University of Jaffna received her doctorate from the same Uni. without doing any proper research. She prepared her thesis only by cut & paste method. Then she became a professor in the field and also a guide to another woman researcher who did the same method of research to gain her doctorate. Then Both the guide and the student made a brilliant record (worthy of a place in the Guinness Book) of publishing TEN “research articles” within a period of one year. There are many jokes circulating among the students about the quality of English spoken by a science professor who has become the front man in the faculty of science.

    In addition to this, the qualifications added to the caps of many academics of the Jaffna University in the field of social sciences are of very low quality. Many of them received their post graduate or doctoral degrees either from the same university or (mostly) from the Tamil University of Tanjavur in South India. There are so many stories going around in the academic fraternity about the way qualifications are gained from the Tamil University. Bribery and favouritism are rampant there rather than academic or intellectual arguments and serious search for knowledge.Some researchers who went to Tanjavur finished their research well ahead of the prescribed research period and returned. Some researchers returned with so many additional qualifications gained within the same period of research.

    The point I want to make here is that there must be a proper mechanism in the Sri Lankan university system to ensure the quality of the academic and intellectual capabilities of the teaching fraternity. Political interference and favouritism within the university system must be eliminated to develop a sustainable and vibrant culture of advanced learning and research in the country.

    P.S. Is there any provision in law to authenticate the quality of a ‘research’thesis?

    • 0

      P.S. Is there any provision in law to authenticate the quality of a ‘research’thesis?
      At present there is no law. However, quality of his/her work can be measured by his/her research publications in reffered indexes journals. SSCI journals are best quality journals in social sciences and management sciences. Some countries (China, Malysia)/ universities have implemented a law for offering PhD after publishing papers in SSCI/SCI journals.

    • 0

      I am of the view that JD’s comment on Prof. Thurairajah is very unreasonable. Prof. Thurairajah could have easily escaped to a north American or European country to have a good life but instead he opted to remain in Jaffna to serve his own people. Those days it was required to toe the line with the terrorist to survive. Otherwise his fate would be same as that of Dr. Rajini Thiranagama. I knew Prof. Thurairajah as a very kind, very humble, very intelligent and excellent lecturer who was like a father to me when I was studying in the university. As a Sinhalese I know He never discriminated anyone on racial or other basis but treated everyone with love and kindness.

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