2 December, 2020

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Colombo VC Suspending Dissent Says Students For Human Rights

Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo is using “Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act of 1998” to silence student dissent against arbitrary administrative action, says the Students for Human Rights.

Vice Chancellor Kumara Hirimburegama

Vice Chancellor Kumara Hirimburegama

Issuing a statement on the recent student suspension the Students for Human Rights said today; “This also brings into open, the real repressive quality of the laws and regulations governing the universities. Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act of 1998, was enacted to eliminate ragging within universities not to silence students dissent. There had been no reports of ragging at the protest, in fact even the parents of the first year students were present during the protest action. However, the content of the Act, which is claimed to have been enacted to protect new students from ragging, is used by the authorities to force a different form of ragging on the new students. Under Section 3 of the said act, intimidation of students, with the intention of causing fear in the victim or compelling the victim to do any act which the victim is not legally required to do, or to omit to do any act which the victim is entitled to do, is defined as an act punishable under the Act, which means such an qualifies as an act of ragging. Looking at the incidents unfolding in the University of Colombo it is none other than the VC who appears to be the biggest bully of them of all since he is using suspensions as tools of intimidation to create a fear within the student community to stand up against the hostel cuts and the dispossession of rights that they are entitled to.”

We publish below the statement in full;

20 students from Faculties of Arts,Law and Education of University of Colombo have been suspended by the Vice Chancellor Kumara Hirimburegama citing violations of the Conduct Code of the University and anti-ragging laws. These suspensions are the fresh additions to a series of suspensions issued by university administrations to silence student dissent against arbitrary administrative action.

The Hostel Problem

The reason for these 20 suspensions is a protest by the students of the three faculties against a hostel fee hike. The previous hostel fee of Rs.800 was increased unprecedentedly to Rs.3000 in spite of strong objections by the students. However as students persistently protested and objected the decision, the authorities including the Higher Education Minister, agreed to lower the hostel fees to its previous amount. Therefore it came as a shock to the students when the new students were asked to pay Rs.3000 as the hostel fee.

In universities of Jayawardanepura, Peradeniya and Kelaniya the hostel fee does not exceed a nominal sum of Rs.800. Hostel facilities are provided for the students at the cost of the state. A small sum of money is taken from students only as a nominal fee. However, University of Colombo is trying to change that policy and shift the burden of the hostel expenditure to the students by increasing the hostel fee to an unusual Rs.3000.

University administration has also failed to construct sufficient hostel facilities for students and most students are therefore compelled to travel from home, wasting a lot of money and time. Some students have to spend as many as five or six hours back and forth in getting to the university and getting back home. It is not realistic to expect high academic excellence from students when they are exhausted after long bus rides and train rides. Because the university fails to provide sufficient hostel facilities most students have to be boarded in the suburbs of Colombo. Inadequate hostel facilities therefore increase the cost of living of students, either through transport or accommodation. The meaning of free education is considerably compromised by this unfair, inequitable decision of the University of Colombo to maintain the university as a non-residential university. At the heart of a city, where cost of living increases every day, the decision shows the extreme insensitivity of the administration towards students’ problems.

Hostel facilities are reduced each year, and the limited number of students who actually get the facility are forced to pay a whopping fee of Rs.3000. This comes as another step of the state policy in adopting a market model with relation to education. University administration has started talking the language of a business establishment, instead of an educational institute purposed to provide free higher education for students.

Student Dissent 

As a result of the administration failing to keep its word on the hostel fee, the students of Faculties of Arts, Education and Law launched a protest action in front of the hostels in Nawinna and Ratmalana on the day of first year students’ registration to the hostels. The protest action managed to compel the authorities to register first year students without charging the fee, but the Faculties of Arts and Education were closed as a response to the successful student agitation. The 20 students were suspended by the administration with relation to that particular protest action.

The suspensions are in violation of the students’ right to freedom of expression and association that is guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution. Students must have the right to voice their discontent and objection to the one sided, arbitrary decision by the administration. Students are directly affected by the decision of the administration but the decision was taken without any consultation with the students. If the university wants to promote higher values of democracy and equality, it must start with practicing them within the university. It is highly undemocratic of the authorities to reach arbitrary, unilateral decisions on matters which have direct consequences on the student population. A democratic administration should have paid enough attention to the objections expressed by student council with regards to the hostel fee hike.

This also brings into open, the real repressive quality of the laws and regulations governing the universities. Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act of 1998, was enacted to eliminate ragging within universities not to silence students dissent. There had been no reports of ragging at the protest, in fact even the parents of the first year students were present during the protest action. However, the content of the Act, which is claimed to have been enacted to protect new students from ragging, is used by the authorities to force a different form of ragging on the new students. Under Section 3 of the said act, intimidation of students, with the intention of causing fear in the victim or compelling the victim to do any act which the victim is not legally required to do, or to omit to do any act which the victim is entitled to do, is defined as an act punishable under the Act, which means such an qualifies as an act of ragging. Looking at the incidents unfolding in the University of Colombo it is none other than the VC who appears to be the biggest bully of them of all since he is using suspensions as tools of intimidation to create a fear within the student community to stand up against the hostel cuts and the dispossession of rights that they are entitled to.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    Can the VC interpret the law the way he prefers?

    Why are students suspended even before an inquiry is held? Have they committed such a serious crime?

    Has he served charge sheets to students who are suspended?

    Why were the two faculties affected, the Arts and Education, closed immediately after the incident over the hostel? Was there any serious threat to the conduct of sessions in the university?

    Were the concerned faculties consulted in making such a hasty decision?

    Is it true that while the two faculties are now opened for the fourth year students, they are boycotting lectures in solidarity with their fellow students who are suspended without charge sheers or an inquiry.

    Students should get lawyers to address the issue raised in the above statement.

    Can’t members of the Council advise the administration?

    Here is the list of external Council Members appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Some of them are political appointees of Minsiter S. B. Dissanayake and former VC Kshanika Hirimburegama.

    Non political appointees among them should take the lead in resolving this issue in a just and fair manner.

    Mr. Rajan Asirwatham
    Mr. K. Kang-Isvaran (PC, Bar-at-Law)
    Mr. Thilak Karunaratne (B.Sc (Sri Lanka), PG Dip Bus. Mgt. (NIBM) Fell. of Institute of Chemistry Chairman/ CEO, Multiform Chemicals (Pub.) Ltd. ,Past President – UOC Alumini Association)
    Mr. C. Maliyadde
    Mr. HMN Warakaulle (BA (Cey), Dip in Tert. Ed. (N.E.) Registrar, Informations Institute of Tech, formerly Addc. Secretary/ UGC, Registrar /OUSL/UOC, Dir/IHRA)
    Mr. PW Senaratne (B.Sc. (Col.), M.Sc. (UK), Dip.RICS(UK), MRICS(UK), FIV (SL) , FPCS (UK), Chief Valuer, State Valuation Dept. President ,UOC Alumini Association)
    Dr. Harsha Cabral (Ph.D, P.C)
    Dr. Cuda Wijeyeratne (M.B.B.S.(Cey), Dip. in Psy. Med. MRCPsych, FRpsych. (UK))
    Mr. Amitha K.U.Gamage
    Mr. A. P. Gunaratne (B.A.( Cey) Dip. in Ed, Educational Management Consultant, Formerly Principal, Ananda Collage, Colombo)
    Mr.Samantha Rajapaksa
    Ms. Lesha de Silva Chandrasena

  • 1
    0

    I had been a student of a couple of Australian universitites and I am now a teacher in one of these universities. But, I have never been subjected to any ragging or seen any ragging in the Australian universities.

    Why do the Sri Lankan University students engage in this inhuman and degrading behaviour towards fellow new students?

    I know that some Uni students in Sri Lanka start ragging the moment prospective students are notified of their selection to a place in a Sri Lankan University. They violate privacies of these new students by even going to their homes and forcibly entering their premises. Even parents of the new students used to be in trepedation and would not report the culprits to the police or Uni authorities because they fear
    reprisals against their children once they start going to the University.

    The problem is that University authorities in Sri Lanka do not strictly enforce the laws against ragging. Now when some bold University Vice Chancellor tries to enforce the law, they cry foul and call it a violation of their human rights.What an irony!

    The best way to stop ragging is to simply dismiss those students found guilty of ragging and to permanently bar them from the Universities.

    • 2
      0

      “The problem is that University authorities in Sri Lanka do not strictly enforce the laws against ragging”.

      Law and order problem is not only within university. It is all over Sri Lanka. Judiciary is corrupted. Politicians are corrupted……

  • 0
    0

    Hirimburegama duo, puppets of MR(although i have the great respect of her expertness of the field). That is why the same autocracy is there, as it induces through the strings.

    • 0
      0

      What is her expertise?

  • 1
    0

    Ragging need to be severely dealth.
    Those who get caught ragging need to compensate the victim in addition pay full fees for the entire duration of his major or kick them out..
    In the case of insufficient grades, no second chance for the raggers.

    This is all to do with FREE education………….
    These student do not value nor have any respect for their colleagues.
    They are saddists.
    kick them out.

  • 0
    0

    Why is that post graduate studies are also suddenly suspended in the middle of sessions for the last two months now due to an issue related to the undergrads? Grad students have not created any problem what so ever for the university administration. We have paid large sums of money and planned our work schedules, holidays etc. all of which are now thrown into wind due to this arbitrary and unfair suspension of our courses. Pl. resume post graduate course immediately.

  • 1
    0

    I am not sure what some writers talking about. Also I am not sure about the situation with Australian institutions. I am not much enthusiastic about “ragging” but if done in moderation I think it is no harm.
    This is outside people, and people not qualified to go to the state universities and their parents are talking big on this issue. You need to understand in the United States also you have similar activities such as “Hazing” in the unitversities. Students had died due to these activities. In Army and other forces they have these type of activities. I think VC need to work on hostel issue with humanitarian mind , not with political agenda. You cannot ruin student life due to your political affiliation.I hope soon or later he will realize that.

  • 0
    0

    JVP idiots have finished the university system of Sri Lanka, thanks to their ragging.

    when SL is purified without JVP idols and smelling Muslims, this will be a paradise

    • 0
      0

      rakitha, only JVP and Muslims? Why not
      christians, and Hinuds too?

  • 1
    0

    Discipline begins at home .Unfortunately the current economic status with parents or extended family having no time to spend with their offspings results in breeding a generation who has no moral values and concentrate only in their selfish gains. When these students enter into the university ,thanks to the free education they expect everything to be provided free from the state and expect the state to give into any fancies they demand. When the universities try to disicipline the students unrest evolves and political parties spring to action for their benefits. The VC has to install discipline, moral values to the students who behave like spoilt kids.The students should realise that ‘everything in life ‘does not come free. They have to be productive to the country to gain benefit. The VC and his wife have given their life to the universities. When most educated people who have benefited from the free education system in Sri Lanka have migrated for economic reason these two have dedicated their lives to the country .

    • 0
      0

      kumari do you think the VC is acting justly within the law when he uses the anti-ragging act to suppress the dissent of the students even if it is misguided?

  • 0
    0

    In Sri Lanka, Students get free education. So many did not get the opportunity to come to the university. These guys are waste to the country and to the other people who lost that chance.

    Just ban them from the University and see whether they want to change. If they do it a second time, ban it for life.

  • 0
    2

    Kumari’s amateur sociological analysis of the situation is highly over simplistic. You seem to think the issue of one of discipline. Even then while discipline may begin at home young people like undergraduates may emulate political leaders in society. Are they disciplined? Do I need to go into the details? You know what I mean. Just read the newspapers and watch the news. They are the leaders and henchmen of the regime the VC and his wife former VC present UGC Chairperson serve with gusto. You are correct that the current economic situation in the country in pushing the adults out of their homes to work extra hours to make ends meet.

    The school education system introduced under Chandrika regime and made worse under the Rajapaksa regime has become a huge economic burden on parents while it does not prepare the young children to become responsible adult citizens. It is not simply due to the failure of the family if the present young generation has become selfish. To begin with present school education system drives them to think of education simply as a means of finding employment and getting ahead in life. Then the prevailing consumerism promoted by the economy makes children think of themselves as consumers. When they come to university they are guided not to think of themselves as future citizens who would serve the country but as clients and customers where the administration treats teachers as suppliers to students, knowledge suited to find employment in the market. There is no formation of independent individuals who would want to serve the country as you claim the VC and his wife former VC would want to do. What an irony!

    These students many of whom come from poor backgrounds feel that despite the claim of the authorities that they are the cream of the cream in society, they are trained to serve in menial jobs in the so-called global knowledge economy and that they are deprived of the opportunity to intervene to change the conditions in which they live both within and outside the university. It is only someone who does not know the conditions in university life would call that the undergrads demand fancies. Can you name what are the fancies they are demanding? I have seen myself as a parent of a university student the appalling conditions under which these students live their daily life in the hostels and the university premises. It is true that political parties try to capitalize on student politics and it is natural that the general political situation prevailing in the country be reflected among the university students who think of themselves as future leaders of the country.

    What is worse is when university administration itself tries to manipulate students to their own political advantage. I gather that Prof. G.L. Peiris who is a cabinet Minister at present and was a VC of Colombo University before was known to have manipulated student leaders not only to run the university but also to beef up his party politics. The same is said about the present VC s wife the former VC the details of which do not interest us here. So, no point of preaching Vedi bana as the saying goes.

    Discipline to students will come if they feel that they are being trained to become future citizens rather than fodder for the production line for canning mostly lower level employees for tourism and service sector etc. University is no place for instilling moral values to adults. Such thinking can come from feudal minds which see everyone else as immoral expect themselves.

  • 0
    2

    Is it moral for both the VC and his wife to get appointed to the post of VC on both occasions bypassing, with political patronage, the person who got the most number of votes in the Council meeting to select the VC which is the legal body to elect the VC? Is it moral for an academic to curry favour with politicians to get the post of the UGC Chairperson post? So, let us not talk about teaching morality to undergraduates either.

    It is because they have a moral sense of duty towards their fellow students and the collective life they lead in the university and outside that they fight for their demands. Beating them down with the stick like an irate school master is not the way to treat these young people. Those who run down the university students simply because they ask for reasonable facilities at reasonable prices should compare this to the way politicians and bureaucrats are squandering public money it is as if their walauwa dowry.

    There is no one version of how to serve the country best. It doesn’t have to be only the Rajapaksa way. The Rajapaksa regime and its acolytes are dancing to the tune of the World Bank in reforming our education turning it into a commodity to serve the needs of the global capitalist market and the Rajapaksa regime. They call this is increasing productivity.

    The VC and his wife may believe that they are the only two people who have given their life to the universities. Before they came on the scene there have been many in our university system who gave their lives to the universities. Otherwise the VC and his wife would not have been here to make such grandiose claims. Then, what about all the other thousands of academics who serve in the university system? There are many among them who have benefited from the free education system in Sri Lanka and despite having opportunities to migrate abroad have remained home to serve the country. Yet, many who are educated here still leave the country because this system does not make room for them to serve the country. In this sense the Rajapaksa regime is the worst in history as it accommodates only acolytes and henchmen and not independent academics.

    It is not that the students don’t need to make amends. What is required is to take their concerns seriously and try to address them collectively together with the academic staff building trust all around. When VCs are political appointees as publicly admitted by the present VC (unlike his wife the former VC who thinks currying favour with political leaders is her birth right as an academic whereas she prohibits other academics to take their own political positions) and they are guided by the dictates of their masters, building trust with students and academics does not even factor in to the equation. The style of management practiced is using the stick against critics and dissenters and offering carrots to the faithful and the loyalists. Not only the present VC but many academic administrators use this method of management which may beget some results in the short run but not always and in the long run they inevitably fail if the human spirit prevails.

    The present VC’s wife the former VC may think she succeeded in managing by being able to manipulate student leaders to her advantage. What she does not realize is that it is her action that may have given birth to the character of the present day student politics which her husband has to deal with. The present VC also will find out sooner or later whether his style of management works or not.

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