I am sure that the title would be a shock to many in the country but it is true and it is the reality. The grant of a lifetime pension to the present Governor of the Central Bank who is stepping down to make way for a successor who is also a predecessor caused me to reflect. Little do people realize that it is a High Position in the Protocol of Sri Lanka but with hardly any supporting benefits except the glamour of the title ‘Vice Chancellor’ which gets its ‘halo’ from its appreciation globally. Many may not realize that they are next to the Governor of the Central Bank in the Table of Precedence issued in 2018 by the Government as protocol. I served as the Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University, Sri Lanka for three years and ended my term on 21 January 2019 and retired from the Post of professor of Botany on 30 September 2020. I was motivated to write this article when the Hon Minster Ajith Nivard Cabraal spoke of the Pension for the Governors of the Central Bank.
“It would have been nicer if this was written by a non vice Chancellor, than me, but unfortunately it never happened; even the provisions under UGC Finance circular 4/2015 had been denied by the UGC though it had been in principle approved by the treasury and endorsed by the Minister of Higher education at an Internal meeting and also forwarded by the CVCD”
Vice Chancellor is a 24/7 job working with the thousands of young to make their life better accommodating their anger and frustration as youth over the years at the University. A Vice Chancellor has a salary point of a Senior Professor initially which to many who are Professors at the appointment makes no difference as they get their same salary only. Most of the appointments are made from the same university and thus the above is applicable. University provides ‘no pay leave’ and does not allow ‘sabbatical leave’ to be taken for this purpose, where you could get paid separately for your academic position and Vice Chancellor position separately. In many cases as they reach this at their pinnacle age, they do not get to use their sabbatical following their term as Vice Chancellor. It was granted to one candidate in the past but as I understand this had not continued subsequently, and this is a case which I have raised with the Human Rights Commission for myself in a case which is pending. I see no justification when this is granted to one, with reason and justification, why this should not be given to the others too on the same category. It may have been an incentive if they granted pay leave to staff to take up position as Vice Chancellor or allow them to utilize their sabbatical for the purpose. Double pay is a term that is used for the negative but those who serve as various capacities in the Universities as coordinators and Directors are paid up to 25% of their salary along with their salary itself, and thus this objection holds no water. Many of the Vice Chancellors do their teaching even during their period in office, I did, as it is their pleasure and their strength as senior academics and continue to supervise students often in Postgraduate study and thus paying makes sense.
The VCs receive a meager allowance of Rs 500 while even a Head of Department gets an allowance of Rs 1000. I never understood the rationale. The Research allowance is only granted if you abide by the regulation of an academic to research, publish and therefore cannot be really considered as part of the Vice Chancellor fee, but your own for performance away from the duties of the VC. When considering this the take home pay of the Professor would be higher than of the VC. There is an allowance for entertainment (15% basic ) which is utilized fully often for meetings of the VC. The VC does not get paid for statutory meetings as it is part of the duties of the VC. There had usually been that provision was made for Lodge (residence) and Vehicle (for official and private purpose) which had been seen as a luxury. It is that way the advertisement was when I applied for the position of the VC. But there were changes in regulation which made it taxable income for the house, vehicle, driver and the house keeper whose total cumulative salary is added to the VC’s salary and the tax is calculated. Would you believe that I had paid nearly Rs. 130,000 per month as taxes; I gave up the Lodge (I was a resident of the area anyway) and other facilities to mitigate my taxes. My claim for tax rebate from the Council was not successful. I may have addressed the issue to courts as a contract that was entered into by advertisement had been broken by the Council but for reasons of propriety I refrained from it. It is those who run official vehicles would understand that you almost totally sponsor the driver and thus paying tax for his salary was seen as ‘hard to believe’. (The 1% tax suggested, for those who evaded tax at present may be a case for us to claim rebate on what we had already paid as sincere public servants to 24% or more!)
Allowance to the Vice Chancellor (CEO) and rejection by UGC
I had already lodged a Human Right Complaint over the allowances due to Vice Chancellor and the sabbatical leave that was not granted to me as equity with the Human Rights Commission two years ago in May 2019 and await their final decision. It is often said that it is the ‘mother in laws’ speak more of the ‘dowry’ though they have gone through the process in the past as the new bride into the families. True or not it is unfortunate that those Academics who become Chairman/Vice Chairman of University Grants Commission, Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education, Minister of Higher Education had never taken the issues of the Vice Chancellors in effect. CVCD which is a legal body of the Vice Chancellors is too tame to speak on their own behalf though I made representations on these to the UGC during my period as a member through the CVCD, in 2017and 2018.
Most of the people in society including in the University do not even understand that the Vice Chancellor does not have any benefits even at end of term, pension, duty free vehicle etc. Stragenly enough the Chancellor, who is only a symbolic position holder, at least has a duty free vehicle on appointment but not the Vice Chancellor.
UGC Finance circular no:4/2015 of 7th August 2015 adopted the Public Enterpreneurship circular PED 3/2015 of 17 June 2015. Titled “payment of allowances to Chairman, Executive and Non Executive Directors and Observers” and signed by Chairman/UGC, states as follows in the circular;
a) Copies of circulars in enclosed herewith for compliance by all Universities and Higher Educational Institutions with effect from 1 July 2015.
b) The monthly allowance that should be approved by the appropriate authority as stated in paragraph 2 of the circular will be notified in due course.
To this day the UGC had not informed of a rate. The Council of Eastern University, Sri Lanka after consulting the Minister for Higher Education, and Secretary to the Treasury at that time approved a fee of Rs 125,000 per month as allowance which was rejected by the UGC which never gave an alternative to the date, to my knowledge. This is very unfortunate as the UGC Chairman at that time was himself drawing on that circular, an allowance.
Recognition in Honour or a relief in life
As I sit in my lounge now, I see that there could be many changes in the system to accommodate the Vice Chancellor and adequately and appropriately honor them in terms of international standards (not dollar terms but comparative) including some of the following as a package;
a) Grant them a salary equivalent to twice the salary of a senior Professor (take home pay)
b) Grant them Pension benefits at the end of successful completion of a term, on retirement from the University (if pension is not available if so which even the larger would prevail).
c) Grant sabbatical leave to them until retirement, making a deviation from academics, that they cannot be awarded sabbatical after 64 years of age considering that they were in university service as CEO for a period.
d) Grant them free housing and transport and if there are taxes to be borne by the University itself, while in office. Income tax on their earning is their concern.
e) Issuance of a Vehicle permit, may be a useful incentive during their service period and this also may avoid/reduce the official vehicle use.
f) Increase the working age of Academics Including Vice Chancellors to 70 years extendable to 75 in annual agreement. When the Government appointed Prof W. D. Lakshman, as Governor of the Central Bank, at his age 15 years after his retirement from the university, it saw the talent and it is there in many academics in the country wasted in the wayside.
g) Allow insurance by Agrahara for life to Vice Chancellors, as we have none today after retirement,
It is not to state that these are conditional for the service as a Vice Chancellor but it is a recognition as much as;
a) The benefits given to the President of the Country
b) The pension given to the members to Parliament
c) The Governor of the Central Bank
d) The benefits given to the Officers at sea and
e) The benefits given to higher officers of the State, Chancellor, Chairman of Boards, Commissions etc.
They have been recognized in the Protocol above many and placed immediately below the Central bank Governor in order and above the Chief of Defence staff and the Solicitor General and High Court Judges and due honor being given is not a mismatch. I feel proud that the stature of Vice Chancellors as being at the helm of education had been recognized by the state on the whole, irrespective of any consideration for other benefits associated to it.
This may not be the time to seek for benefits when millions are seeking their next meal, but some unsaid verses go unnoticed. It is the recognition and approval in principle that they seek. If there is concurrence to the positive, let there be withheld benefits which may be presented when the tides turn, small or large it may be. At least let them (me included) have at least the insurance by the ‘Agrahara’ as a token to the former Vice Chancellors. I had served the system for 43 years including being the Vice Chancellor for a term, which will fill my heart and many others similar to me, the gesture itself.
*The writer is a Rtd Professor of Botany and Former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University, have served the Higher Education system for 43 years.