4 December, 2020

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Are FUTA’s Demands Regarding National Policy On Higher Education Within The Mandate Of A Trade Union?

By Shamala Kumar,University of Peradeniya –

Three university academics, who are currently under State patronage, Jagath Wellawatta (Chairperson, State Mortgage Investment Bank formerly, National Child Protection Authority, Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau), Rohan Rajapakse (Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education; formerly Executive Director, Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research), and Ranjith Bandara (Chairperson, Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and Senior Economic Adviser, formerly, Director of the Financial Service Cluster, Strategic Enterprise Management Agency) discussed the trade union action on the evening of the 1st of June, 2012. It is disappointing to note that FUTA was excluded from this discussion.

The panel agreed that FUTA was acting beyond its mandate as a trade union by demanding change in government policy on education and higher education. This perspective however is false because these policies affect how universities are run, and therefore directly affect the university teachers’ capacity to serve their mandate to society, through the provision of quality education. Therefore to say that the issues addressed are only tangentially related to our jobs is a misrepresentation of our role. It is also false because it is not unusual for unions to have broader demands than those related to pay. In Sri Lanka it self several teachers unions, the GMOA, and other trade unions have addressed policy level issues to safeguard their professions. Internationally also teachers’ unions are addressing such issues. To illustrate, currently in theUnited Kingdom, the University and College Union has two principle campaigns that fight against funding cuts and the privatization of tertiary education.  In Australia, the National Tertiary Education Industry Union campaigns to increase funding for Australian higher education, and in India, the All India Federation of University and College Teachers in their June 2012 newsletter lists their struggles against commercialization of higher education (although this seems minor in contrast to their main campaign for increased pay). Finally in theUnited States, the American Federation of Teachers includes in their objectives the goal of campaigning to ensure that students receive what they need to succeed and to ensure that teachers receive what they need to facilitate learning. As the university system in theUnited Statesis not under an umbrella organization, a parallel organization to FUTA is not available. In each of these cases, unions are addressing policy that directly affects their ability to perform their job today and in the future. Addressing policy and the needs of future generations of students is fully within the mandate of FUTA as these policies hinder our ability to do our jobs.

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Latest comments

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    Thanks for this clarification. In any case university Dons are and should be different from other trade unions because they are the intellects and thinkers of a nation who analyses issues in depth including PUBLIC POLICY and governance which are subject of research. University Dons MUST in fact look beyond the given frames, engage is critical thinking and debate and should SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER.
    What the Dons are doing today is totally appropriate and should have been done a long time ago to prevent the rot in the education system and indeed the whole of Lanka which has been mortgaged and indebted to CHina and the IMF by a family of looters 4 Rajapakse brothers none of who has even a basic university degree. Sri Lanka is run today by a family with a criminal record and no education and it is totally appropriate that the Dons challenge the education and governance policy and the regime’s puppets and SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!

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    Teaching is a NOBLE profession. If the FUTA does not speak up about the rot in the system who will?! The business community in Sri Lanka is only into making money under a corrupt regime, entertaining Nivard Cabral that crook at the Central Bank in 5 star hotels, while inequality and poverty rises, and keeping its mouth shut about all the corruption – so the teachers must speak up. Finally FUTA has woken up to the calling of the teacher. Thanks Be!

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    The new entrants to universities should be medically screened for physical & mental fitness.
    This “leadership training” should be cancelled. Instead they should be informed of social obligations and good health practices like jogging & exercises – flyers could be distributed.
    The sadistic ragging should be controlled by seminars and discussions.
    FUTA do have the right to suggest changes in education policies and be remunerated according to their qualifications and duties.
    The discipline in Ivor Jennings’ time deteriorated much later,when students were allowed to engage in politics.
    Political activities should be kept strictly outside campuses.

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    Shamala Kumar, What the heck are you talking about? When did the GMOA demands a budget allocation of 10% of the GDP for Health? They won’t do that, it’s not their job to define numbers or the policvies of nthe government. In Britain, it is not the university teachers who take the government on for funding cuts, it is only the students. The teachers may have written an article or two but in major universities, the teachers are happy the tuition fees have been increased. They never fight against any privatisation, do they? British universities are publicly owned but very much like private ventures. How serious the Indian academics could be, when all the private education shops,(or Engineering collegs as they call them)are affliated to state universities? The degrees are offered by state universities, though the students pay and learn at the shops. But how could the Sri Lankan academics compare their issues with British academics? In Britian, teachers acre about students, spend proper time at the university teaching-tutoring-helping students, do research and bring funding to the university from external sources. More than that, they work hard to make the students employable. Each university treasures the informnation like how many of their graduates get jobs. Do our lecturers care whether their students get jobs or not? They only care about their pay package. When they are on strike, a lot of them are now running mas tuition classes for A/L.How unethical they are!

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      Dear Rubert Vanderkoon, Sorry pal, I need to ask this simple question from you? “HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SRI LANKA?” At least to get cover from a passing rain storm…

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        You are very correct CK. I think this gentlemen has never been to a university, even during a rain!!!

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    Dear Dr. Shyamala. I appreciate your social activism, which is a role to be played by university academics. Sri Lankan academics needs a better (competitive and meeting decent family neeeds)salary and trade union action is obviously one way to ask for it from the pay masters. However the academics may consider that there are social institutions in place to address diferent social issues. Social decisions on national polices that gets partly reflected in national budgets must be influenced though national politics. Thus academics may consider regular active involvement in national politics to influence national policies in the longterm. Trade unions too could do the same. However strike action seem to me rather an inappropriate and extreme means for such demands. Well the government may strategically acceed to such a demand on paper, but consider the transaction cost of following it up for sustained implementation. University academics may have to be on strike after each national budget is presented. Further it is not proper to blame governments (irrespective of the politicl hue)that the state university education was neglected through capital investments. My living memeory is of the phenomenal increase in the number of state universities in Sri Lanka. The capital investments may not be idela but intentions and action is appreciable. What is perhaps required is more of improving the quality of education in the state universities. That responsibility is more in the minds, hands and action of the university academics than the politicians.

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    Dear Dr. Shamila,
    Yes I accept the fact that university academics should be facilitated with appropriate package as social symbioses of society. With all due respect to you I have my own thoughts that does not necessarily fall in line with yours. I think when compared with with other professional spheres uni academics do receive a healthy package. When salaries are taken into account, academic freedom, sabbatical benefits, retirement age, provision to work with other institutions concurrently etc should also be considered. Further, it is apparent that TU actions are related to certain political interests than the benefits of the society at larger. Finally, appreciating your contribution towards the education in Sri Lanka, I wish to state that you too are not exceptional from others who talk on social concerns bearing personal interests. Although you are on TU actions, you teach in private universities not only during weekdays but also on every Friday. Is your behaviour ethical or acceptable? I very much doubt. Anyway, you have all the freedom to fool people.
    kasun (Australia)

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