By Hema Senanayake –
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri took a principled position to severe his all relations with Citizens’ Power (Purawesi-balaya) and National Movement for a Just Society (NMJS). The reason was that some of the leaders of those two civil society movements have expressed their support for the Malambe private medical school which is popularly known as SAITM and Nirmal has vowed to appear against the privatization of education.
Nirmal has a strong case if we look at the education model in Canada – And its university education is almost free and publicly funded by spending nearly 5.4% of the country’s GDP and having done so Canada has produced 51% of graduates among its adult population, perhaps the largest percentage of graduates in any developed country.
In regard to private university education, just south to Canadian border, the United States provides a strong example by having most prestigious universities in the world and they all are privately funded, yet the important point is that parents’ income do not matter for best students who seek admission to those universities and this was especially true prior to the year 2008. In general, none of the student who wants to pursue university education is left out in the American system. American system ensures social justice and right to education for all who could perform well. I am not sure whether Nirmal could agree for such a system. Having said that, I am also not sure whether parents’ income did not matter for best students who seek admission to the SAITM.
Whatever the case is, the question about SAITM is not about the quality of graduates it produces. If the quality is poor as argued by GMOA, the quality could be improved fairly easily. But Nirmal’s position has a different dimension. He opposes the privatization of university education.
Therefore, if we think that the education system must ensure the right to education and must ensure social justice, basically both these goals have been equally achieved by the U.S. system and Canadian system.
So, which system is good for Sri Lanka? If we raise the question this way, as we do it now, we cannot come to a consensus in formulating a national policy on tertiary education. Therefore, I think we must raise the question from a macro-economic point of view. First, let me define the U.S. education system and Canadian system from an economic point of view. The Canadian system is basically in the “Consumption Mode” while the U.S. system is in the “Enterprise Mode.” One important difference between the two systems is that the U.S. system contributes to increase national revenue (or proceeds as defined by Keynes) while the Canadian system does not. Please note that “national proceeds” is not GDP and this is a parameter that is not calculated or estimated by the central bank but we use it to analyze and to understand the economic system. Keynes defines “national proceeds” as the sum of total sales.
In view of above, now, we could raise the question more appropriately. Should Sri Lanka put the tertiary education system in the “Consumption Mode” or in the “Enterprise Mode” – And this is the right question to be asked.
Perhaps, readers might be interested to know my answer to the above question before we continue further. My quick answer is that, if we could ensure the right to education and social justice, I support the “Enterprise Mode” immaterial of the ownership of the educational institute which could be owned by private entity or the government.
I strongly feel, that my good friend Nirmal could agree with my position now. If this discourse leads in formulating a national policy on tertiary education, that would be truly advantageous for our country rather than narrowing down the issue to discuss about SAITM.