By S. Sandarasegaram –
Tamils of Indian origin numbering about 1.5 million or around 7 percent of the population have been living in this country for the past two hundred years and contributed enormously to the development of the country during this period. They were highly disadvantaged in education since their arrival but now things have improved that they have 20 1AB and 80 ! C schools and two teacher education institutes and a technical institute at Hatton , thanks to the efforts made by late leader S. Thondaman who negotiated with the then government which was waging war with the LTTE. We can witness remarkable progress in their socio-economic conditions, thanks to the intervention of the successive governments of Sri Lanka.
The development of university education during the post independent era in Sri Lanka witnessed the establishment of universities in the North and Eastern Provinces that the Tamils and Muslims in those areas are benefitted by this effort and they are able to establish faculties and centres to preserve and develop their cultures. In fact the universities are helping the socio-economic development of the areas and possess the potential to undertake such task for the well being of the people.
Although there are three universities operating in the plantation provinces the upcountry Tamils have no significant benefit as far as their cultural development is concerned. These universities do not reflect this community in terms of their identity and culture.
As a constituent member of the Sri Lankan multi-ethnic society and a community which continue to contribute to the Sri Lankan economy through its labour a demand has been put forward by few of its
Intellectuals for the establishment of a state university in a selected area in the Nuwara eliya district for them taking the examples of the state universities functioning in the North and Eastern provinces.
In view of the circumstances explained above very briefly it is requested from leaders of good governance to consider the establishment of a university of Highlands for the upcountry Tamils where students from all communities can study.
The proposed university will reflect the cultural ethos of the upcountry Tamils and it should be established at a suitable location in the Nuwara Eliya district. The university could be declared as a reward for this community for their contribution to the development of Sri Lanka during the past decades.
Favourable consideration of this request will go a long way as an attempt to expand state university education in Sri Lanka and accommodating a request made by a disadvantaged community which is also backward in higher education in terms of enrollment and output of graduates. It should be pointed out that whatever measures taken by the state to provide opportunities for disadvantaged sections of the Sri Lankan society, they did not reach this particular community in respect of school education and higher education substantially relative to other communities. For example, university admissions were changed drastically by giving up the principle of merit and it was claimed that the change would benefit the disadvantaged communities. But it is common knowledge that the plantation community was not a beneficiary of such changes and the policy makers at that time (in 1970s) were totally unmindful of this particular disadvantaged community.
An encouraging factor in the process of establishing the proposed university is that late Mr. S. Thandaman and Mr. P. Chandrasegaram showed a lot of interest in this project when we proposed it for the first time about more than a decade ago. But unfortunately both of them passed away before realizing this noble objective.
We feel that the establishment of such a university would pave the way for creating a fresh demand for higher education in the upcountry and result in transformation of this community as a proud and much more effective and inclusive community in joining the emerging knowledge society in Sri Lanka under the great leadership of His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka. This move will go a long way in substantially reducing the sense of grievance and discrimination historically prevailing among these people who were deprived of enormous opportunities for social mobility which was available for other communities since Independence through free education and expansion of educational opportunities with state assistance.