12 December, 2017

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Are Sri Lankan Universities In Dire Straits?

By Hema Senanayake – 

Hema Senanayake

Hema Senanayake

“Over the last 30 years, our universities, failed to carry out any world class research, any validated scientific study, or produce a noteworthy publication, to capture the attention of the international academia.”

The above observation appeared in an article which was written by Darshani Wimalasuriya under the caption of “Sri Lankan Universities In Dire Straits.” True, I agree with her but disagree with the most of the reasons she cited for above situation. Why? Because the most causes she identified are not the causes but the effects in the University system if we investigate the problem under the principle of cause-and-effect.

The real cause of the problem is how the University Administration envisions the role of Universities. For example, if the UGC chairperson professor Kshanika Hirimburegama does not envision that Sri Lankan Universities should produce research publications that capture international attention, then you would have the outcome mentioned above. Instead if UGC envision that our students must carry out world class researches then Kshanika would facilitate students to follow the advice given by Galileo Galilei.

Before we go into the Galileo’s advice let us first investigate about the role of Universities. What is the role of Universities? I have always been fascinated in explaining things with the correct word. Sometimes I do make mistakes too. However, in regard to the above question I found a good word to explain it. Hence I shall explain the role of Universities as follows:

The role of Universities is to contribute to the development of the noösphere (= noosphere).

The word noosphere was coined by Russian Physicist Valdimir Vernadsky. We know similar words such as biosphere or geosphere. Rich biosphere and geosphere are important to produce things for the wellbeing of society. But in the new world, Vernadsky argues that noosphere is the most important. He defined noosphere as the “sphere of human thought.” Why it is important? Let me give you a quick example to explain it.

n early 1970s a car drove 13 miles per gallon of fuel in the United States. By 1985 the mileage done by one gallon of fuel was 27. In both situations geosphere provided fuel. But fuel efficiency of the vehicle is purely related to the development of engineering knowhow which knowhow belongs to the “sphere of human thought.” In other words advanced engineering knowhow is an element of the noosphere. The wellbeing of the modern society is heavily depended upon the ever expanding noosphere. Therefore, am I wrong when I define the role of University as I defined above? Does this how Professor Kshanika defines it? The understanding or the definition of the role of Universities is important, because it sets your vision for the University system.

Perhaps some may define that the role of universities is to educate the future leaders of the government, businesses, services and industries in keeping with global trends. This definition is not bad. But if this understanding set the vision of the University administration then we cannot expect our students carrying out world class researches and engage in publication of latest findings that attract international attention because university administration does not envision that our students should contribute to the development of noosphere.

But Sri Lankans do contribute to the development of noosphere when they work elsewhere in abroad. One such notable person who lives in the U.S. is Dr. Bandula Wijeratna. In the list of Mahinda College alumni, which has been published in Wikipedia, Dr. Wije has been identified as the “Inventor of Angioplasty Balloon Catheters & Cardiac Stents.” This is an example of the contribution towards the development of global noosphere by a Sri Lankan scientist. Why Sri Lankan Universities cannot do such contributions? My answer is that UGC has not envisioned it.

Darshani who made the observation mentioned at the very beginning of this article has a different answer to above question. She has identified different set of reasons for the lapse. Some of those are: ragging and violence, student unions, medical doctors with poor English knowledge and “Majority of Sri Lankan University Professors, and senior lecturers do not have the desire, to improve, the quality of the local universities, or stop sadistic ragging.” I am sorry to observe that with this kind of analysis we will not go anywhere.

Can the UGC be inspirational at the same time functioning it as an administrative body? Or should the UGC be inspirational facilitating faculty members and students to envision their life with new hope? My answer is “yes” to both questions. Was professor Kshanika appointed as the Chairman of UGC to do this? Or is she doing that? I do not know.

But, what I know is that if professor Kshanika is envisioning that our University must contribute to the development of noosphere then as I said above, she must facilitate students to follow the advice given by Galileo Galilei. What is the advice of Galileo?

Galileo said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

How do we make our students to stand upon the shoulders of giants? Facilitate them to access the work that “giants” have done. This means that our students must be able to know the latest research findings published anywhere in the world. These findings are published in “peer-reviewed journals.” About six years ago I happened to ask from a professor of chemistry as to whether his students had access to “peer-reviewed journals” in chemistry. He said no. Giving access to peer-reviewed journals cost a little bit of money. But such accesses are necessary. I do not know how his students inspired at least to come up with internationally valid research question/s. If this situation has changed now then it is good. If it is so, then it implies that UGC is now envisioning big.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    How true and that man Galileo, his words mean so much more now in a constantly technologically changing world . It is time we take a cue and inspire our best and brightest and show them the way.

    All our students have it in them, but no one gives them the magic to explore their potential. Its not too late to start now.

    Time to explore our natural curiosity, and allow it to develop, that is so suppressed in our education system today.

    • 1
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      The root of the problem is the POLITICIZATION OF THE UNIVERSITY.
      1. The academic staff are today as uneducated, UNCULTURED, CORRUPT, CRIMINAL and moronic as the Rajapakse brothers regime and their clown-stooge S.B. Dissanaiyake – so-called Minister of Higher Ed. who is an insult to our intelligence – that appoints the university academics, on the one hand.
      2. On the other hand the Students are controlled by the vile JVP – which kills creativity and innovation among students in the name of engineering social EQUALITY within the university where the dominant culture is one of ENVY and JEALOUSY of English-speaking classes who are more open minded and liberal.. This is the same with regard to the Swabasha-educated academic who hate English-speaking Tamils in particular, as well as, with regard to the students.
      The university should be a space for free thinking, experimenting with self and life-style and ideas, but students are rather forced to CONFORM to the JVP’s putrid Sinhala petty bourgeois nationalism and rendered FROGS IN THE WELL – just like the third rate lecturers who join the third rate Sri Lankan university. The Sri Lankan university hence does not generated critical thinking – “outside the box” which is where innovation and creativity comes from for GOOD RESEARCH. Rather, the Sri Lankan university KILLS innovations and originality and stifles the intellect. It destroys the best and brightest who either flee or commit SUICIDE..

  • 1
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    Close down that damn Jaffna University. It is only for Tamilians.

    • 3
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      Just because you aren’t intelectually capable of University education, don’t be jealous of others who are.

  • 0
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    Yes, Sri Lankan Universities are in dire straits because of years of Human Rights violations by the JVP inspired Inter University Students Federation and the University lecturers condoning the sadistic acts commited by members of this union. At present most universities are open prison camps. Moratuwa University is an exception. The Minister of Higher Education is making slow progress with his efforts to transform these open prison camps to become mediocre universities. The graduates who pass out are only as good as their tutors.

    What is the role of Sri Lankan Universities? We do not have the resources to engage in World Class fundamental research of no use to our country. We need to fund research relevant to our country and the UGC must be instructed to appoint a committee to evaluate all research projects relevant to Sri Lanka. The most important role is to produce graduates who are employable in Sri Lanka and preferably any part of the world. In stark contrast to our universities, the professional training institutions are producing world class professionals. The institutions coaching students for foreign universities are also producing employable graduates.

    Our task is to develop a Balanced Score Card to measure the performance of our universities, similar to the measures of performance used to issue international ranks to universities. This does not mean that we give up the international ranking of our universities,which is a necessity.

    • 1
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      This is a bunch of tosh! The FROG IN THE WELL is trying to become a technocrat to hide his fundamental IGNORANCE about what knowledge production is!

  • 3
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    The biggest damage made to Colombo University by former Arts faculty family dept VC. He recruited all his kin and kiths as Lecturers and sent them to their friends in aboard and helped to get bogus PhDs and now whole University is destroying this fake professor group. Grade A theory. If you get C grade people in to system you end up with Z grade people. See Colombo Econ. Dept case.

    • 2
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      Why government is not appointing retired High Court Judge to have an full inquiry about the Colombo University Economics Dept emeritus and his all ills. How his son became lecturer in the same dept and how he got first class and how his friends become lecturers in that dept how he marginalized good lecturers who gave low marks to his son. How his first son entrered Kalaniya University medical faculty without Sri Lankan A/L and later entered Sri Lankan government medical service. How his daughter became lecturer in the same University? You see Law college Principal sacked because of his son gave good pass. Why not implement law against this Colombo University former VC. All the lecturers recruitment for this dept done in out door connection and most henchmen lecturers sent to aboard through his foreign contacts and got bogus PhD and now run Colombo University. There are very many other things against this corruptive VC. Robbing foreign funds to many other ills. Another century Colombo University has to suffer for the all the ill doing of this corruptive man. Interesting thing is all the people who gave cover-ups for him are still working in this University even after retirement.

      • 2
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        If this is true Emeritus professor position given to this man must be cancelled and get him penalised with his clan and sack people helped him Dean and Head of Dept etc.

  • 1
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    This articles loses sight of the fact that the teachers and students as well as the members of the UGC do not have it in them. Today, the UGC is a political institutions manned by people whose knowledge of higher education seems non-existent. Vice Chancellors are appointed on the basis of their political affiliations and not on personal merit. It is obvious even to a casual overseas onlooker.

  • 1
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    NO. I do see problem of Universities in a diffrerent way. …………….
    (1)no place for truly genuine brain to come up the ladder, only those who pay bodily pay i:e: most pretty girls ready for romance get 01st class & lecturer posts & no any damn quality ever come from them , as they are the ones to become so called professors (cheap)……(2)… On the other hand though our universities gather brainy young ones all over the country they face economic problems, as to how they stay in Colombo & environs with little help from Mahapola or other scholarships money & no help from poor parents , so they cannot put 100% for studies , may I add that there are & have been female Uni’ students resorted to selling their bodies to help them stay in Colombo & pursue studies, so it says more than volumes of unwritten novels…………(3).. The govt. if at all & the University authorities who are really genuine brains, expect our universities to be on par with best in the world , should look at above………I rest my case.

  • 0
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    This is a rather silly article and polemic. Dharshini Wimalasuriya has correctly identified that there needs to be an ENABLING CULTURE and ENVIRONMENT for research – among students and teaches in the university. The UGC Chairperson and internet access to peer reviewed journals via JSTOR and other academic search engines will not help as long as there in NO CULTURE for RESEARCH and respect for those who pursue knowledge rather than running behind politician as most who hold post in the university do among the useless, half-baked swabasha university lecturers who are the great majority of lecturers in the Third Rate Sri Lankan Universities…

  • 4
    1

    As a university lecturer, who returned to Sri Lanka to serve the country and contribute to our students’ education I have noticed many drawbacks in our system. When we do have publications accepted in world class international conferences the university is unable to fund us to attend these conferences. Lecturers are expected to find funding on their own to finance these trips. The UGC advertises schemes to support such travel but never really respond to the applications. The NSF does a good job and helps out researchers to go ahead with their work. Students on the other hand have very limited facilities to conduct internationally acceptable research. Most students prefer to go overseas for higher education which also limits the number of students available for research based degrees. Of those who go overseas only very few return. And even when they return very few join the academia in state universities due to low pay, limited facilities and politics. Those who remain in the academia are deprived of facilities to provide the students with quality education and the others have given up trying and just join the band waggon to go with traditional decades of centuries old system. Laboratory schedules, lecture material are very seldom updated due to many reasons. Classic example was to get internet up and running and readily available in our offices took a couple of years after i joined my university. Out of desperation to provide my students with quality lecture material I prepared all my lecture material in my own time, when I had access to internet and accessed peer reviewed journals etc through other friends and family. Most lectures are not conducted in english in some universities and this has put our students at a major disadvantage at job interviews. This also poses difficulties on students who have not studied in the Sinhalese medium. There are so many issues surrounding our state university system, and as a person who genuinely cares about the students and their education, I believe its about time the government and the academia join hands to rectify these issues. There is no point in blaming the government or the academia or the students or the jvp. Everyone has their role and unless these roles are played correctly our state universities will head towards disaster while the private universities will take over, not because their education is of better quality but it appears to be more attractive, easier to access and provides pathways to leave the country! We must do something about boosting the quality of our university education.

    • 5
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      Thanks to your comments.
      Most you added meet with my thoughts. All these commentators just add their low remarks not knowing the gravity of the problems that lecturers in general face today. Some talk about numbers of publications, some about not having PhDs. But as you made it clear – lack of resources and funds are the key factor them to stay without progress.
      Apart from that I believe the attitude of our people in general should be changed drastically if they want to face today^s competitive world. You should have known all these while going through your research by LEAVING the country. Most in EU, America, Aus and other places, they work very hard for their research. When they are in academia they sacrifice their rest of life by reading and extending their research tasks. Do we the average in SL maintain the same courage, enthusiasm, hard working character even if the facilities were provided to them ? It is the mentality of them to be changed above all – this is what I feel whenever I meet local researchers.

    • 3
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      See, leaving aside University problems in the country,
      What comes to each of our minds instantly we read these malpractices, is the lack of rigorous law and order as it should be due.. is it not the case, be it related to the Higher education, school education, other public services, law and justice related bodies – do we have a fair system by which the punishable acts have fairly been investigated prior to moving to the next step ? NO.
      Latter should be the foundation, above anything else.Those who have obtained their PGs by coming to EU, America, Canada and all other developed world should have experienced all these well apart to their academic goals.
      Even teachers or lecturers of lanken Unicolleges today behave as if they dont respect any actions taken by relevant authorities going through prevailing laws, ones that are linked with ruling politicians behave violating all laws while the others stay blind and deaf. As some commentators made it very clearly to this and other threads, if some lecturers have been appointed through family connections, why the authorities stayed silent/ indifferent ?

  • 3
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    Both Darshani and Hema have lost the most important point. That is, the entire administrative system has become politicised. Vice Chancellors are appointed purely on political merit and not on academic merit as a researcher or having experience. They work according to the whims and fancies to please their political masters. All non-academic posts hare filled by the political lists of the minister. They work according to their own timetables and the administrative officers have to turn a blind eye to all their doings because they are “ministers men”.
    A agree with Darshani that ragging is a major factor why we cannot reach international level. Vice Chancellors do not take strong punitive action even when the culprits are caught for fear of losing their jobs due to subsequent student agitations.

    • 1
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      I thought ragging is no longer there today after listening to SB^s several times.
      But I can imagine, ragging could destroy everything- PSYCHOLOGISTS CAN BRING ANALYSES ABOUT LANKEN KIND OF BRUTAL RAG EVENTS.

    • 0
      0

      very well put.

  • 0
    0

    Mr Senanayaka, what exactly is the point you are trying to make? Has the University system in Sr Lanka gone to the dogs as implied by Ms Dharshani or are you saying University Education is irrelevant?

    • 0
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      NO!!! He is saying that he has a bigger idickea that that Ms. Dharshani and Ms. Darshani’s “kind of analysis we will not go anywhere”.

  • 1
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    While agreing mostly with the article, I would like to add that Sri Lankan university students do not spend enough time on studies. They are sucked into politics and in house rivalry be it ethnic, caste or religious.

    I was awed by undergraduates in the US and UK who relentlessy pursued their goals and who even worked throughout the nights to complete their studies. US campuses have 24 hr coffee shops for students taking exams. Partying was certainly going on but studying was serious since the cost of university education was enormous and since it is the students’ wish to pursue higher education they cherish the opportunities given to them. Whereas in Sri Lanka, it is the parents who are mostly affluent provide the means for their education.

    • 2
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      This is not the case in any of the universities on the west.

      Except those students in political sciences or the related subjects, all others dont spend a minute engaging with politics. They dont have space in their time tables to do so. That and high cost of living factor and many other factors cause them to do so. If would not do their best in their term end exams, they would not get chance to continue further. Laws and regulations for the students stay very strict, as no any political hand can involve in there.

  • 1
    0

    Was just watching 25 living legends of India on NDTV. The 25 chosen hailed from all communities and religons. Summing up President Pranab Mukherjee said that the commonality between these people was that the hed come up through hard work, honesty, sincerity etc. He also stressed on the education system and said that he was visiting educational institute across the length and breadth of India to improve the future prospects of the country.
    ————————————————————————–
    Can the same be said about our own country where people are appointed due to political connections, family ties etc. How is it possible for any good to come out of bad? So the malaise in education is not only due to our Universities. This is just a sympton of a greater disease that stifles talent and creativity. The assault on Human Rights is the suppression of the human spirit, the crushing of independent thinking and talent.
    ————————————————————————–
    Unfortunately we are late. Any changes in policy made today will take a decade or two to yield results. The changes to be made are formidable, not just in the Education system.

    • 0
      0

      Your comment struck a chord. I cannot help but think that we are losing values such as honesty, integrity, hard work, commitment to goals, pride of achievement, sense of justice, fairness and generosity. Corruption and abuse of power has put to death all these. Why do we have to be honest when the rewards are far greater by being dishonest? We are turning out more and more ‘bad’ people and less and lesser of the ‘good’ ones. You cannot research in a climate of decay. You cannot raise creative, innovative and original thought in a stifling atmosphere. Where are the tangible rewards for good research? Noosphere is out of bounds in the thought controlled political environment of Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    0

    Ragging and the vice-Chancellor

    It was around 10.00 am. Kynsey Road was a sea of heads.Impassable for traffic. Freshman medical students were being ragged. An utterly raucus and chaotic situation it was. The lonely police constable at the hospital gate watched helplessly. Folks waiting to visit their beloved patients had bewildered faces. A car from Regent Street turned in and screached to a halt right in front of the boisterous crowd. Just as from the back seat stepped out the bald headed, white coated Sir Nicholas, all the raggers – the leaders as well as the victims ran and ran away. The rag was over ! Not a word came out of the vice- chancellor ! His cigar stayed between the lips !
    That was the end of ragging in 1956.

  • 1
    0

    Well said.

  • 1
    0

    The causes, the reasons, the whys, the wherefores have been identified and aired but nothing will happen as long as politicians and not merited administrators guide the fortunes of our education system. Those of us who can will send their offspring abroad for their further education rather than allow them to be sucked into the sorry mess that is SL higher education; so much for our much lauded ‘cradle to adulthood FREE education system’. Even our ‘shining knight, man of the moment’ Mahindananda Aluthgamage, defender of women in distress, sends his son to study in the UK (at great sacrifice given his meagre ministerial salary.) When Sirima was asked, in the seventies, why she chose to send to send her children overseas for their ‘higher education’ her simple answer was ‘so that they could come back and give the country leadership’ – says it all!

  • 0
    0

    Whether it is good or bad, right or wrong everybody works for money. The solution is in the hand of the UGC. create schemes to have merit based appointments instead of political appointments by using the good relationship of UGC chairperson with His excellency the President. Change the university promotional schemes to let teachers go up when they are only good in generating new knowledge and transferring it. Ensure that what is documented in teaching time tables are met and the students are forced to use the libraries.
    There is no point in every blind person trying to decribe the elephant from what he or she feels. Excuses cannot take forward this nation anymore as an educated society

    • 2
      0

      but what matters is not having introduced proper systems to lanken University administration. Everyone works for money but that is common to developed and developing world too. The greater difference is that we in the developing world, specially in our country today, no administration can work properly without being interfered by far abusive politics governed in the country.

  • 0
    1

    Darshani Wimalasuriya presents one set of reasons for the failure of the Sri Lanka University system and you (Hema Senanayake) present another. But forgot to show why your reasons are valid Darshani’s “kind of analysis we will not go anywhere”.

    Looks like you spent so much building up to what your GREAT IDEA that you ran out of energy and space before you got to rationalize your argument. Lack of experience in scientific publishing in Sri Lankan academics is showing…

  • 2
    1

    If you want to see real situation of low level low quality Sri Lankan Engineering faculties and its faculty and degrees read recent Washington Accord Accreditation report. You never even want to look at Sri Lankan Eng. faculties and its IESL publication based senior bogus eng. academics.

  • 0
    1

    Sri lankan universities are in Dire straits becoz of not having access to Peer reviewed journals ??????????????

    This is total bullshit!!! Yanne koheda malle pol analysis. The writer must be kidding us lol.

    The university system of sri lanka is NOT in dire straits Becoz u need to take into account all the quality bachelors given by The sri lanakn university system. Our Graduates work as professors or Phds researchers in Universities ranging from MIT, OXFORD to NUS. They are all results of our university system.
    I am 4 example Doing a master in EE @ NTNU Norway.

    But universities are stagnating? i do agree with that
    1. Highly underpaid Jobs for academics – In our field we earn 160K/month with 4 years experience with bachelor. But lecturers with Phd get paid 100K/ month max.

    2.Srilankan economy not encouraging Industry. If u have industry then research will automatically happen.

    3. The University system is filled with bull crap degrees with no output to the economy. Thereby the government is less inclined to invest in economy.

    4. Srilanakn Students lag behind the world by 2 years becoz of delays in OL to AL and AL to uni transition.

    5. The governemt is not investing enough in education but as of now cutting the education budget to fund mega development projects.

    A restructuring of the system is required preferably thinking that money spent by the country in education is an INVESTMENT. That is the attitude required.

    • 1
      0

      Hasala@,

      how many of you like candidates those chances to do their PGs in developed world ?

      How many of your batchmates got chances to find job of their choice after passing out ?

      Just because you got a chance to get selected for a schol – based on that can we generalize that average graduate products from lanken Unis are successful.

      Writer should have studied all these closely before coming with this kind of articles I believe.

      You yourself could be one of the best examples – to show the world – that lanken graduates in general lack of broader thinking, though you are said to be doing your MSC in Norway ? ..

    • 1
      0

      Hasala

      “5. The governemt is not investing enough in education but as of now cutting the education budget to fund mega development projects.”

      You have conveniently forgotten to mention the mind boggling year on year increases in defence budget or the 300,000 members of armed forces unwisely stationed through out the island sucking scarce resources otherwise can be used to boost higher education.

      “4. Srilanakn Students lag behind the world by 2 years becoz of delays in OL to AL and AL to uni transition.”

      It has been the case for many decades. If the state was able to fix the war in 5 years why could not it fix the lapses in AL to uni transition? It is one of priorities. Whose job is to fix those malfunctions? You vote for your favourite corrupted politician and expect them to spring miracles. There is no accountability as to their ability, malpractices, and favouritism. Take note of this most important culture.

      “3. The University system is filled with bull crap degrees with no output to the economy. Thereby the government is less inclined to invest in economy”

      The University system is filled with bull crap cheats, teachers, administrators and support staff which is governed by double bull crap ministers.

      Those who in a position to change the system and culture usually have thousand and one reason for doing nothing.

      Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)played a pro active role in innovation and international trade. Within the corrupt political environment nothing can be done unless there is a drastic change in the people’s mindset.

  • 0
    0

    Because the government wastes too much money on the damn Jaffna University.

    Close that damn thing down and every university will see their ranking going up.

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