29 October, 2020

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Blundering Politicians Continue Their Assault On Higher Education

By Shanie –

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way

With blossom’d furze unprofitably gay,

There, in his noisy mansion, skill’d to rule,

The village master taught his little school;

A man severe he was, and stern to view,

I knew him well, and every truant knew;

Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace

The days disasters in his morning face;

Full well they laugh’d with counterfeited glee,

At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:

Full well the busy whisper, circling round,

Convey’d the dismal tidings when he frown’d:

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

 in The Deserted Village

It is said that in this poem Goldsmiith was referring to his own tutor in the village in which he grew up and where his father was the Anglican parish priest. Goldsmith apparently had a very high regard and respect for this village schoolmaster; but the schoolchildren, as kids everywhere, were quick to recognise their teacher’s varying moods and kept him in good humour and avoided inviting his wrath, It appears that our university administrators today are following what schoolchildren have been doing, before and after Goldsmith’s time. They seem to think, rightly or wrongly, that they owe their positions to politicians and  bend over backwards to show their loyalty to the politicians who have placed them in the positions they hold. Sadly this malaise has even spread to members of the University Councils who also think that they must do the bidding of the politicians who have placed then in their positions. Their decision making is therefore warped by this mind-set.

In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included the right to education. Primary education was to be compulsory and free while higher education was to be accessible to all on the basis of merit. The same Article 26 in the Declaration of Hunan Rights further states: “ Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

Sri Lanka has had a long tradition of learning. The village Buddhist and Hindu temples produced scholars in all disciplines of study including science and medicine, but particularly in the fields of art, literature and religion. But some years before the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.. Sri Lanka had introduced free education not just for the primary stages but right up to university level. Compulsory education was also introduced at the same time but it took a while to be implemented because of inadequate facilities. But following the Kannangara reforms, there was a surge in the provision of well-staffed quality schools in all parts of the country. The same held for university education. Access was on merit but not available to all. owing of inadequate material resources There was then only one University of Ceylon. Even wIth many more now, we are still not able to meet the demands for higher education. There is also a wide disparity between the universities in the quality of education each of them provide.

Issues facing higher education

These are the deficiencies and issues that the Ministry of Higher Education should be addressing. Free education needs to be strengthened; the Universities should be provided with adequate material and physical resources to meet the demand for higher education. The autonomy of the Universities should safeguarded and the Vice Chancellors and academic staff should be selected on merit and research encouraged.

It was not very long nago that we had a prolonged and unprecedented trade union action by the university academics. It was resolved only when the university authorities and the Ministry of Higher Education agreed to implement the major demands of the striking academics. But none of the major demands of FUTA appear to have been have been conceded and the Ministry seems intent on gearing up for another confrontation with the University teachers.

It is now generally accepted that the recommendation of the UNESCO that member countries of the United Nations should aim at allocating 6% of the GDP for education to ensure that that the minimum standards in education are met. But to our shame, the present allocation in Sri Lanka is only 1.9%. Politicians are fond of saying that Sri Lanka will become the educational hub of Asia. This is pure rhetoric. In fact the Budget, instead of increasing the allocation for education, actually reduced it, presumably to provide for the huge increase in allocation for the Ministry of Defence. If Sri Lanka is to move forward to becoming an educational hub of Asia, there must be definite commitment by the government towards the end of allocating of GDP for education. This cannot be achieved by the Ministry issuing diktats on political bases. The Kannangara reforms came into being after considerable public discussion through the media and through direct consultations with academics. No such discussions take place now. The Ministry must give up its  ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, that only it knows what is best. All stakeholders, including the academics and parents, need to be drawn into the decision making process. This will make for healthy democratic governance not only in education but in all areas involving people’s lives.

The introduction of compulsory training in military camps for new University entrants was also an unacceptable unilateral decision. This was perhaps not a brainchild  of the Ministry of Higher Education but a decision forced on it by the ideologists of the Ministry of Defence. It appears that the curriculum is more an exercise in indoctrination, in disregarding our pluralist past and highlighting our narrow present. Obviously those who formulated the curriculum did not think in terms of the LLRC recommendation that we should be fostering reconciliation.

But it is the Ministry of Higher Education that is solely responsible for the politicisation of our Universities. The University administrators and the University Councils have also to take their share of the blame for not resisting the naked politicisation of our Universities The appointment of a new Vice Chancellor for the University of Colombo has been embroiled in controversy. Attempts are being made to appoint the spouse of the former Vice Chancellor who is now the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission, when among the short-listed candidates is a senior academic with unmatched academic qualifications. But the spouse of the favourite candidate has been a loyal political favourite and was herself rewarded by being appointed to the Chair of the UGC.

The crisis at Peradeniya

The appointment of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya has also been mired in controversy. The person chosen was the least qualified among the short-listed applicants the appointment was obviously a clear political decision. So also was the Vice Chancellor’s choice of a Deputy.  These are leading to a real crisis situation in the University system.

In a hard-hitting statement, the FUTA has written: “Having minions of unscrupulous  politicians  at  key  positions  in  administration  is now taking its toll of the entire Sri Lankan University system  as  Vice Chancellors are appointed not on academic merit but solely on political connections. These institutions are now depicted in the public’s eye in negative hues due to unprecedented politicization and deterioration of autonomy. This is despite the efforts of FUTA and its sister unions to enlighten the public and exert relentless pressure on the administrators and the government to realise and respect the importance of university autonomy and academic freedom.

When the last TUA action of FUTA ended, it was agreed to have senate meetings at each university on autonomy, academic freedom and politicization. Despite this, the government continues to attempt to violate the autonomy of our universities taking political interference to an unprecedented level…..

The University of Peradeniya is one of the oldest and most prestigious of Sri Lankan  universities has also not been spared. The government appointed the least qualified candidate as Vice Chancellor highlighting bad governance and vested interests.  In an attempt to exert pressure on the VC to comply with existing procedures, the  Federation of Peradeniya University Teachers’ Associations (FPUTA)   officially  met  the  newly  appointed  VC  and  communicated  the  importance  of winning the trust of the academic community he was appointed to lead. But this was not to be: the Deputy Vice Chancellor appointment at the University of Peradeniya  which followed  also reflected the will of government-backed administrators rather than that of the academic community. The person appointed had antagonistic relations with both academics and students due to high handed and unethical behaviour and no right-thinking administration would have selected such an individual to a position of great responsibility. In protest, the Peradeniya Academic community through the Union submitted a petition signed by members of all faculties, requesting the Vice Chancellor to replace the Deputy Vice Chancellor. This was ignored. To stall these unprecedented breaches on autonomy, the Peradeniya Univesrsity Community through FPUTA staged a one day token strike. As there was no positive response from the administration, the members withdrew from all the voluntary positions that directly dealt with the Deputy Vice Chancellor. FPUTA also resolved that its members will resort to agitations at crucial events/junctures, as deemed necessary by the academic community to protest the deterioration of university autonomy and academic freedom. The academic community is also considering boycotting the convocation procession and the dinner this year.  This is a final resort since the academic community is fully aware and sensitive of the importance of this occasion for students. This step is being considered reluctantly to protest against the deplorable lack of sensitivity towards the will of the entire academic community of University of Peradeniya by the politicized administrators.”

Lowering academic standards

Also at Peradeniya recently, there were surreptitious moves to admit ten students to the Medical Faculty without going through the competitive GCE Advanced Level examination by which other students are selected for the MB BS programme.  Sadly, there were university academic administrators who colluded in these moves. It is believed that the ten students were selected not on their academic records but they were coming in as fee-paying students.   FUTA in their statement say: “It is learnt that interested political masters and their flunkeys have threatened and intimidated academics who protested against this decision. The authorities concerned clearly wanted to change the Peardeniya Medical Faculty into a degree shop and sadly, university administrators are letting it happen.  Despite this, the Faculty Board of the Medical Faculty stood resolutely by their principles and have been able to defeat this well planned initiative. Similar stories of unprecedented ill-deeds are regularly disseminating from the entire university system.

We believe, now it is time for the academic community of Sri Lanka to step up their fight to safeguard the university system in what is possibly the darkest period of university education in this country. It is now time to stand united against the tides of darkness that threaten not only our institutions, but also our dignity. It is  now  time  to fearlessly stand up for what we believe is right.”

This statement of FUTA reflects a growing disappointment with the way that some political supporters of the government, including ministers and bureaucrats, are helping the people to openly distance themselves from the government. The country now needs a Mandela-type leader who will not fight evil by evil, one who will embrace the other without abandoning principles and stand firm on ensuring democratic governance. Is there such a leader on the horizon?

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    None of these irregularities are blunders, all these illegal admissions take place due to corruption. Existing rules grossly violated. Indifference to corruption would completely destroy higher education in the near future, higher education and university admissions have already been completely messed up. Future of all children living in Sri Lanka will be bleak. It is the responsibility of all authorities to rectify them. The future of academics, professionals, lawyers, Judges, researchers and their children would be the most affected. Colombo telegraph has shown that there illegal and admissions done outside the existing rules repeatedly as information was given by various students affected. Completely wrong and illegal method of calculation of Z score was not a blunder. Additional secretary responsible for admissions is not a Montessori student to recommend admissions on a wrong z score.
    Three is a degree awarding shop in Malambe, state universities are not a place for business and illegal fund transactions. To admit students with lesser and questionable qualifications on a fee while there are highly qualified deprived and Sri Lankan citizens how much of underhand funds involved is only known to the person responsible for University Admissions. Only 0.5 percent is allocated for diplomatic staff serving abroad, therefore only 5 or 6 students can be admitted on this basis. There is no provision for 41 students to be taken on the basis of fee. Therefore vacancies for 35 students who are Sri Lankan students and citizens exist and not given to them. There are at least 8 vacancies at University of Peradeniya for Medical faculty as they are not filled by Sr Lankan students, they are citizens of this country with fundament rights for education. Three are more than 50 students with 3 A grades and 2 A grades and 1B deprived of education they have a an z score of 2.1 of above always admitted to medical schools historically. They are the most eligible tax payers children and Sri Lankan students who are going to serve this country in the future as their parents, certainly not the expatriates who leave the country. Following information gathered in Colombo Telegraph gives further evidence on the extent of corruption badly affecting good and qualified students in present generation.

    1.
    o The adverse implications on the lawlessness on the entire nation are enormous, thousands of students were deprived of further education, 50000 missed due to open and blatant violation of rules and regulations by the corrupt UGC. Following information now emerging to the student population are shocking news items. UGC officials have destroyed the entire examinations based and merit based method of University admission. Why are they so corrupt?

    Fousiya – May 2, 2013
    10:25 pm
    Reply
    2. Not only on our knees, but the ruling regime and it’s long list of family, friends, and partners in crime, have made sure we are a helpless nation, but they have made sure NO ONE dares to question or criticize their crimes and questionable policies.
    The arrest of Azath Salley for speaking against the ruthless regime, ended with him being dragged into their custody. This picture of a police officer saluting a suspect in a murder case tells all.
    There is no justice in Sri Lanka. it is ruled by a gang of greedy, ruthless, low lives, who have terrorized the country.

    Dhaksha – May 2, 2013
    7:25 pm
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/on-your-knees-ladies-and-gentlemen-on-your-knees/
    o These revelations are shocking news for present generation of students. Now it is easy to understand why thousands of students derive university education.
    ‘Additional secretary responsible for university admissions. UGC failed to inform students changes made on method of university admissions prior to the examinations. They submitted a totally new irregular experimental method to the Supreme courts, and they blatantly violated the last supreme court orders as well. Indisputable evidence documented in Supreme Court submissions highlighted here can be use by the students affected and seeking compensation.
    University Grant Commission (UGC) has not finalized and not filled the large number of vacancies in medical faculties yet, students have appeals requesting the Additional secretary Mr. M.M. P. Premakumara to admit students according to the Island ranks as compensation for highest ranking students affected due to errors made in calculation of z scores by the UGC and due to the fact that several legal issues resulted as A/L results were issued for four times since the 2011 examinations due to alterations done after the examinations without giving prior information.
    Kandy District has been given the highest cut off mark to enter faculties of medicine in the Island. This is also the historically highest recorded for medicine. Numbers of students enter medical schools from Kandy district have been reduced in this year compared to the previous year 2010, and the students affected have not been compensated.
    There are legal issues, similar students affected in Colombo district with high ranks Z score above 2.1 range have been compensated without obtaining any court order by the UGC. Additional secretary at the UGC has compensated high ranking students in Colombo district arbitrarily outside the court order, wonder whether it is considered as contempt of courts issue on the last court order according to SRFC. No. 418/2012 at least 23 students who would not have been taken to the medical schools have been taken in by the additional secretary without obtain a court order, where as similar students with high ranks and z score above 2.1 from Kandy district have not been taken despite making several appeals by the students affected to the UGC and the ministry of higher education. Similarly students were affected in Kurunagala, Kaluthara, Jaffna and Mathara districts as well.
    According to P2 document submitted in SRFC 563/2012 legal document, UGC has violated the court order and there is evidence at least 23 students were taken to the faculties of medicine while depriving similar students with z score ranks above 2.1 in Kandy district.
    We request all these documents on number of students taken on merit basis and district allocations to be provided for scrutiny from the UGC.
    A according to the results cut off marks and allocations given on UGC website and according to the court order on allocation of students stipulated in P2 document extracted from the Supreme Courts following observations can be made. We request the UGC to provide all details on allocation of places for faculties of medicine in all districts.
    According to P2 Document stated on page 4 All Island merit percentages allocated for Fresher’s is 44%.
    For the Repeaters – 59%
    Proposed Intake would be 1175- 18 (special Intake) = 1157
    Merit quota is 40% ( 1157×40% = 463 Places)
    Places reserved for first timers on merit basis is ( 463x 44%) 204
    Merit quota for Colombo District (Those above the Island rank 204 ) would be 61 or approximately – 61
    District quota (according to page 11 on document P2) is 79
    Percentage for fresher’s (according to page 14 on document P2) is 47%
    Therefore district quota for fresher in Colombo is (79×47% ) is 37
    Total number of places for medicine available for Colombo district for freshers is 61+37= 98
    UGC has manipulated the cutoff mark and lowered the cut off mark to 2.1777 to illegally accommodate at least 23 additional students who are not eligible for medicine according to the court order. Cut off Z score given for Colombo is 2.1777 which is an altered figure to accommodate large number of students arbitrarily, therefore this irregular method gives plenty of room for corruption.
    The District rank of the student with the cut off mark should be 98 according to the court order for the Colombo District. It is impossible for the students above the district rank 100 to enter medical schools. Instead the student whose district rank is 122 (Index No.1041240) has been selected to medical faculty of Rajarata. The District rank of the student with the cut off Z score 2.1777 is 122 according to UGC website.
    While 122 students from Colombo district were allocated for medicine among the fresher’s only 24 students from Kandy district were allocated for fresher’s large number of students above z scores 2.1 and high Island ranks were deprived of university education.
    Extra 24 students have been taken from the Colombo District out of the court order none of the students were compensated from Kandy, Galle, and Mathara Kaluthara and Kurunagala districts.
    As there is well documented evidence, Student named Chathurika District rank 116 have been admitted illegally to Ruhuna faculty of medicine. The index number 1070827 rank 102 in Colombo district has been taken to the faculty of Medicine in Kalaniya University, this student is one of the students signed SRFC 563/2012 document, as this student was not getting admission to faculties of medicine under this newly devised method based on percentages. Several other students below the rank 99 and the index number 1070827 rank 102 have been absorbed which is not correct and the admissions are irregular. There are contempt of courts as well as compensation issues. These types of irregular method based on percentages were never informed to the students prior to the examination.
    These malpractices may have been done without the knowledge of the UGC chairperson and the Minister of higher education, there is no point in charging them as the officers responsible for malpractices get the help of superiors to defend court proceedings and try to escape when the others are also charged with malpractices. Contempt of courts issues and compensation need to be seek from the Additional secretary who was responsible for irregularities.
    Similar manipulations may have done in Gampaha District with old syllabus students, students have to request the UGC to provide all data. These irregularities need further investigation in other subject streams and other districts. Colombo district admissions to faculties of medicine is an instance where the students affected in other subject streams can prove with indisputable evidence that additional secretary has violated the court orders and they all could seek compensation. This corrupt method devised by the Additional secretary was not recommended by the supreme courts to use in future examinations , UGC has violated this court order as well according to a notice given in the UGC website for next year admissions. UGC has not compensated thousands of students affected in 2011 examination and they have not filled large number of vacancies in peripheral faculties in all subject streams yet.’
    This is a disgrace for the university and academic community.

    Fousiya – May 2, 2013
    9:54 pm
    Reply
    3. MY COUNTRY MEN AND WOMEN,
    “IT IS BETTER TO DIE ON OUR FEET, THAN LIVE ON OUR KNEES”

    AYMAN – May 2, 2013
    8:20 pm
    Reply
    o AYMAN,
    GOOGAL’S JOKE OF THE DAY OF today [2/4/2013] is this;
    “Politicians and diapers have one thing in common.
    They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.”
    THEY ARE FULL OF SxxT.
    For sri lanka THAT IS THE REALITY.

    JULAMPITIYE AMARYA – May 2, 2013
    11:09 pm
    Reply
    4. There are absolutely correct clarifications on this matter, why 50,000 graduates did missed it, on the web article published below. UGC seem to have continuously violated fundamental rights of the students. The officer responsible has shamefully and blatantly violated Supreme Court orders.
    oneislandtwonations.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/indisputable-evidence-on-violation-of-court-orders-compensation-claims-and-contempt-of-courts-issues/
    It is fully worth reading this article and obtaining legal advice seeking a relief as it relevant for students affected in all subject streams, this corrupt method has implications on students from all subject streams.

    Fousiya – May 2, 2013
    8:39 pm
    Reply
    o Shameless violation of law and order situation violation of supreme court orders is a serious crime, all students from all subject steams will have to seek Justice from the Supreme Courts, these bungling of results and violation of law and order has affected mathematics , business studies, management ,IT, arts, agriculture, law, science and engineering students mostly.

  • 0
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    The rot started in the very heart of governance a long time back. It has now touched every aspect of our life. There will be a time soon, we will not know what is right. This is the impending tragedy. To regain what we have lost will be a daunting task requing decades of visionary leadership. To stop the rot continuing to erode our lives, is the immediate need. Who will bell the cat? Are the mice aware of has happened, is happening and is bound to happen?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
    0

    Shanie,

    The biggest challenge we face is the unemployable graduates churned out by substandard universities. According to the 2012 Annual Report, the Revenue as a percentage of GDP is only 12%. Most of it is used to pay the grossly overstaffed Public Service. The over staffing is caused by thousands of unemployable graduates absorbed in to the Public Service to reduce social tensions. What is left allows only 1.9% of GDP or 15.8% of the revenue.

    Are there any researchers in our universities who are measuring the extent of unemployment among the third class graduates churned out by some universities? Over ten years ago I was involved in the measurement of unemployment by University and speciality, through an organisation established to help the unemployed graduates. It revealed that the most unemployable graduates were produced by the Peradeniya University, of which I am an Alumnus, when it was much better in the early sixties.

    I was also involved in an honorary capacity in training them to make them employable. They did not possess any leadership or soft skills. Private Companies use expensive Out Bound programmes to improve the teamwork and leadership skills of their employees. The university leadership training programme is based on these concepts.

    Look at the unemployment statistics. The only people unemployed are the graduates produced by some faculties in our universities. Resources from these faculties should be gradually transferred to the universities and faculties producing employable graduates. The professional educational institutes and others affiliated to foreign universities are producing the young people we need.

    Best wishes to the brave Minister of Higher Education in his efforts to transform our higher educational institutions to produce the people we need in a service oriented economy.Thanks for expressing your viewpoint. These issues need discussion in forums such as this, to create greater understanding.

  • 0
    0

    An interesting thing is government violating all rights of citizens and killing education but Moratuwa University Teachers Association decided to boycott to 21st strike and support to this corruptive government. People must get together and exposed Moratuwa jokers (Lecturers) and condemned them and spite them publicily for surrendering/betraying sole struggle of FUTA for few Rs.

  • 0
    0

    invest heavily in education and you will reap the full benefits in the future.there is no point in building ports where ships do not call and airports where planes do not land should this money have been invested in the education sector at least in the future there will be a lesser chance of another ltte or a jvp uprising.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you G. Abenayake for the inside information you have published here. We need to expose this non-transparent UGC admission procedure which makes a mockery of the publicized policy, primarily by the so called Additional Secretary Premakumara. This man who the previous UGC Chairman was completely partial to for reasons known to some, was sent to China for two short stints of 6 months and returned with a PhD! The same UGC Chair then proceeds to modify the scheme of promotion to Additional Secretary for this man, by reducing the 13 years experience needed to just 5 years if the person has a PhD – stuff out of Grimms fairy tales one would think, happening in the highest academic agency in the country. This, the agency that is supposed to assure quality of higher education accepts a third rate degree from China to promote its officer, who now has his sights clearly on the Secretary post – right under the nose of the present, rather ineffective Secretary.

    Premakumara also chooses to ignore or override the automated admission system in place at the UGC. Your data seems to clearly point to this. It is up to the academic community to alert the new UGC Chair to investigate this persons qualifications and meteoric rise to this height and get rid of him before the rot eats in any further. Already he has become a near law unto himself and effortlessly overrides the present Secretary, and very soon may do the same to the Chairperson.

    MoHE don’t say you’ve not been warned…

    • 0
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      Thanks everybody for information. UGC seem to be the most corrupt institution. Nowadays everything is getting exposed, accurate inside information seem to be coming from the UGC itself, may be it is the tip of the iceberg things could be worse than this, probably some honest officers working with them are unhappy. Is it due to unhappy subordinates! Or else, it could be due the newly appointed Chairperson, this Lady may no longer trust this corrupt official.

    • 0
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      Please everybody clean this stinking mess at the University Grant Commission before these individuals destroys entire education frame work within Sri Lanka, you all are doing the greatest service to the nation in this era.

      Future generation will be grateful for all of you. Already it is too late, no body want to see further destruction of higher education. It is the responsibility of present day academics and the Judiciary.

      Government seems to be ignoring the responsibilities.

    • 0
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      Actually 10 expatriates were sent to the medical faculty at Peradeniya only 1 was eligible, there are nine vacancies at Peradeniya for Sri Lankan citizens.

      Island wide out of 41 students planned to send only 6 will be eligible all together 35 vacancies need to be filled by Sri Lankan citizens.

      In addition to that there are vacancies due to under registration in outstations. 35 Sri Lankan citizens have been affected due to malpractices and corruption at the UGC.

  • 0
    0

    All these are simple. Colombo University former VC’s son entred to Kalaniya medical faculty with fake passport without Sri Lankan A/L and now practicing as medical man in UK. Strange thing FUTA is using this corruptive VC as a raw model for public speeches. His all kids University teachers and he destroyed whole Colombo University.

    • 0
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      This time they were caught red handed. At least 41 fee levying non-citizens were sent, they have tried to collect money in grand scale.

      0.5% of 1175 places for medical faculties would be only 6 students, maximum number will be six, they are especially for diplomatic staff Sri Lankan citizens serving abroad.

      Vacancies meant for 35 Sri Lankan citizens with A/L qualifications have been deprived of further education due to wide spread corruption prevailing at the UGC.

      Sri Lankan citizens affected due to corrupt practices need to be compensated in the first place. Corruption need to be fully investigated.

  • 0
    0

    The system of education is outdated, and the lack of opportunities to return to college at at stage of life is hindering the growth of our society. And this return to education should not be limited to the open university and external degrees, and one eligible, willing, and deserving must to be able achieve the heights they fathom. That is the “Real freedom in education”. Having said that, this does not mean that how deep one’s pocket is, and who he calls “Appachchi” is are criteria in evaluating the eligibility. The eligibility MUST be purely merit based, should the University be private or public, and the right to engage in education must be secured by govt. financial guarantees who need them. Now, if you have money, go ahead and pay!!! Drive a Maserati to the Campus and leave on a helicopter on weekends!!!! Thats no problem. This is where things go haywire and politicians try to make things all fuzzy. “Free education” must be “Free education”. How can one “Buy” something that is “Free”?

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