15 December, 2019

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Futility And Academics’ Strike

By Anonymous

In Sri Lanka, academics in the island’s state-run universities (except those in the faculties of Medicine) have been on strike for over a month. They call for better salaries and working conditions, demands that visibly fall on completely deaf ears. Their plight is shared by the remainder of dissenting fringes in Sri Lankan society, together with segments of school leavers, senior school students and their parents. The latter groups’ willingness to support the academics stems from repeated problems in administering the Advanced Level examination, Sri Lanka’s prized secondary educational qualification.

The demands of academics are, by any count, certainly justifiable. The able, multilingual elements of Sri Lankan academia rarely decide to work in the island, making their way to greener pastures overseas. The remainder of academics could be considered as the primary constituents of the island’s knowledge base. Many of them have PhDs from overseas seats of learning, have foreign experience, and some of them are multilingual.

Yet another commonality among all of them is that, pace less than a handful of exceptions, they are all alumnae of Sri Lankan universities. For reasons of their choice, they have decided to stay back and work in the system of education that nurtured them.

Academics have been working for low salaries over many years, and it is high time the problem was duly addressed. Unfortunately, the campaign with this objective could not have occurred at a worse time. The executive branch of government is headed by a family with visibly the lowest regard for educational achievement in the entire history of post-1948 Sri Lanka. Yet, one can intermittently notice a willingness to hire reputed academics to work with the ruling establishment, and to solicit the services of educated multilingual citizens. These exceptions have one commonality: they are allowed only as long as the appointees are willing to work for the establishment, and the slightest dissent is promptly dealt with.

The present government of Sri Lanka is largely ruled by Bretton Woods institutions, which are keen on financial discipline, austerity and the curtailment of the public sector and state services. In this context, the system of education represents a major sector in which the state is keen to curtail public spending. None of the offspring of the political elite attend state-run universities, and the ruling class is therefore unaffected by cuts in education. The emphasis on private universities, the appointment of a quintessential village thug as the Minister of Higher Education, of an ‘education businessman’ as the Minister of Education are all steps of a subtle process that leads to lesser and lesser state engagement with primary, secondary and tertiary education.

The phenomenon can be explained by the zest to start private universities. There is no doubt that non-state higher education institutions are a necessity. It is a sensitive issue in the Sri Lankan context. When dealing with such matters, a responsible government adopts a cautious strategy, whereas the MR government has been acting irresponsibly. Instead of a concerted effort, the government has been trying to scratch the soaring wound by encouraging criticism to private education. This creates the impression that the state’s hard work to improve education is being hampered by pitiful detractors. This is all but an illusion. The reality is that the state is interested in developing an education business, to find ways of getting maximum commissions and related profits through foreign investors in higher education.

One could claim the above statement false, citing the Minister of Higher Education’s keenness to reiterate that the public education system will not be compromised by the new trend. This is a pill too hard to swallow. Had a concerted, consistent plan been implemented to address the burning issues in the state higher education sector BEFORE the elaboration of a project for private education, one could have considered the Minister’s claims as sincere.

What is happening is the exact opposite. The state wants the gradual weakening of the educational system. When academics go on strike or go into exile, smart kids go abroad, the Department of Examinations makes one blunder after another, all this culminates to facilitate the ultimate goal of weakening the state education system. This, in turn, would enable concerned politicians to reap plenty in commissions through private investors, and the executive could gleefully ensure the satisfaction of its Bretton Woods benefactors.

The ongoing strike of academics is thus to the tremendous advantage of the ruling establishment. It has enabled the state to portray a crisis situation and close down universities until further notice. This decision would have been a more challenging prospect had the strike not taken place.

The academics, high schoolers and their parents need to understand the following: the ruling establishment will not raise a finger as long as the issue does not affect them. Unless the present strike is transformed into a massive popular political movement that seeks to topple the government, the academics’ strike risks verging on futility.

*Due to a special request of the author, identifying details have been withheld. 

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Latest comments

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    I feel this article brings some sort of enlightenment. For ordinary citizens like us the academics are a kind of upper middle class entity. (I agree that they have their own economic grievances)Their intention is upward mobility.

    Therefore I strongly believe that considering plus and minus points of the academics they are unable to push a mass movement to topple the ruling family(Arab spring does not apply here)

    In long run their strike will push the undergraduates to find other avenues of ” private higher education”.

    The ambition of an average undergraduate is to finish the academic years and to find a job and get married.

    According to my view even the free education in Sri Lanka catered a certain class not the poor. Take the Royal College for example. The affluent classes enroll their children to it where ordinary Gunapala or Appuhamy has no chance for his son at Royal.

    People never consider the academics as political leaders. The support the academics get from non strategic UNP and JVP at this juncture will not create a mass movement.

    I had a discussion day before yesterday with a lecturer in the Kelaniya University and she does not know the reasons behind the strike.

    A segment of these striking academics are link to the so called Inter University Students Federation. They tolerate “Ragging” inspired by that organization.

    The writer has perfectly analysed the intentions of the authorities. They will get huge commissions from education business.

    I feel that both government and the academics have contributed to the present state of affairs. Politicians acquire a large component of public money whereas academics are denied.

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    The academics want a bigger part of the pie, but the fact is at root their demand is for a different kind of development – one that is more egalitarian and more people-centered. But they have not been able to get this second point, that is contained in the demand for 6 percent across to the people – who if the Dons communicate effectively will agree with them as there is an INNATE RESPECT for educated people in Lanka. And the Rajapaksa’s are SINGULARLY UNEDUCATED!
    It is true The regime has the lowest regard for educational achievement in the entire history of post-1948 Sri Lanka, because all the Rajapassa brothers lack degrees, not one of them has a degree from an accepted university, and the as a result the brothers have NOT got a clue about what development means in real terms. For Rajapassa Bros and sons development is infrastructure, buildings and road carpeting to for car races.
    But development is really about human development and human resources, knowledge, and skills development which are largely invisible and too abstract concepts for people who like the Rajapass bros who have no education. The family’s only achievement thus is that they have defeated the LTTE, a small band of terrorist and thugs whose invincibility was exggerated in a TINY island whose people and leaders are give to delusions of grandeur through brute force! A payback for this they have been looting and bankrupting the country and people need to wake up and the Dons need to lead the way in educating the people to think differently and BE THE CHANGE – i.e. not be brainwashed by the regime and its spin!

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      Next time FUTA has a protest, please, all the MR posters and cut outs should be spray painted over, rotten eggs and tomatoes thrown at Rajapassa and cut out taken down by the students!
      Residents of Colombo are tired of the visual pollution in the city with Rajapassa posters.
      Enough visual and noise pollution is caused by the paranoid brothers and their posters and speeding killer convoys that people in Colombo are subject to daily

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        FUTA must demand the closure of the Rakna Lanka paramilitary outfit that is Gota the white van Goon’s private militia that has been put in charge of security in campuses– to protect students and democracy in Lanka and stop the waste of education funds on militarization to protect the Rajapakse dictatorship.
        All the crooked deals of the crooked president of Lanka and his family and cronies are protected by a paramilitary outfit named Rakna Lanka which is really a private militia for the Rajapakse family dictatorship. The Rakna Lanka paramilitary outfit that protects the criminal family that runs the country MUST BE SHUT DOWN.
        Rakna Lanka militia is a means to intimidate and silence critical voices and exposure of the endless crimes of the regime and its looting of public wealth and assets.
        The existence of Gota the great goon’s private militia is very dangerous for democracy and it is a total waste of tax payers’ money given that it is subsidized by state coffers… and the education sector which needs to pay a private militia for university students to undergo military training! What a bloody joke of the highest order when the state cannot even afford to keep the universities functioning!

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    6% on GDP and salary hike are two different things. I hope FUTA takes on issue at a time. Don’t mislead the public. Why faculties of Medicine don’t strike? University teachers have their own role to uplift university education and research standards and university rakings.

  • 0
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    This is a rather superficial analysis..
    The Hyde Park rally was very successful – and the show of Police and military strength in Colombo and closure of roads in the area on Thursday showed how worried the regime was!
    Also, starving the academics is not a good idea – “A hungry man is an angry man” (Bob Marley) – and this movement of change and a more equitable and less corrupt and people-centered (rather than white elephant infrastructure) development will probably snowball into something very big..
    FUTA has succeeded in uniting an academy that had been divided and ruled by the regime as never before – this is a huge achievement! The next steps will follow – academics are public intellectuals who are opinion makers and knowledge generators, although the role of the academic as a public intellectual had not been apparent because of the politicization – this seems to be changing with the current FUTA action as well. The demand for the different, less corrupt and more equitable development paradigm is now in the public domain..
    So the jury is out on the Sri Lanka Academic Spring – let’s wait and see!

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      Good points! Time to end regime impunity! The Don’s as public intellectuals are best equipped to do so by rallying the people.

      In addition to massive corruption, and in-debting of Lanka for generations to come on white elephant infrastructure, the rajapaksse regime that does not know the meaning of the word ‘education’ or ‘development’ is on a roller coaster ride called DEVELOPMENT THAT DESTROYS: The latest disaster is the oil washing up on shore in Bambalapitiya turning he ocean black for miles and destroying marine life, while the Ministry of Disaster Management has just spent Billions of bucks buying 8 nuclear warning devises for an imaginary disaster rather than dealing with the real problem- the sinking shipQ!
      Wonder who got the kickbacks for so many nuclear disaster warning devises in tiny Lanka (one would have been enough) while the oil spreads?!

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    A HUNGRY MAN IS AN ANGRY MAN – students and teachers are being intellectually and materially starved by the regime of war criminals and cronies!
    People must “GET UP, STAND UP, FOR THEIR RIGHTS!” At the next FUTA rally lets here some Bob Marley lyrics to rally the students — in addition to the rousing Russian propaganda music!
    Keep up the struggle FUTA – Be of good courage!

  • 0
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    The country has been hijacked by a select group. The constitution and laws of the country are been amended to cater to their wishes. The legislature is under their control. The military and law enforcement authorities are under their control. The economy and wealth of this country are under their control.

    The ordinary people can be hoodwinked and lead up the garden path. However they cannot deceive the educated masses. They may buy over a few with money and positions but the vast majority have the wisdom to think and decide on their own. They can decide what is right and wrong.

    Let us hope that the educated people of this country who are priviledged by virtue of their education will fullfill their obligations to society and stop the destruction of the country not just be satisified with a salary increase or 6%. Speak up and do what is right for every humble citizen of this land irrespective of politics, language, race or religon.

  • 0
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    The Rajapakses have got the message unrest in the Universities, with Dons in the fore, can be a tricky thing. Even the Kandyan prelates are taking the side of the Strikers. The Rajapakses have already relented and the Big Boss has agreed for talks. The formulae – predictably, yielding most of what is demanded while they themselves reportedly told the Ministers concerned not to give in.

    In the Tamil majority areas, the closing of the Universities, which did not engage any unrest at all, will be viewed from a different angle. The argument there is why they should suffer for the mess in the Sinhala South.

    What farce is being doled out under the name of governance and order.

    Senguttuvan

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    When will the Schools and Students join the strike – at which stage
    the so-called Education Ministers will be directed to give-in, for
    fear of Regime change in the making.

    How quickly was the FTA anti-pension strike settled in Katunayake.
    MOD attack will be tried out in the first stages before the “Give-in”
    order is made…. A trial for full blown Dictatorship.

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    Some European colonial governments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Asia and Africa pursued a policy which had its origins in the belief that denying a people the access to knowledge and means to gain wisdom was key in unfettered control of their destinies at the whim of the colonial powers.

    It was perhaps the British who went one step further and rather than stifle the broadening of peoples’ discretionary capacities,steered them towards an artificially highly valued “British” system of administration,values and lifestyles, that still characterises Sri Lankan attitudes.

    The colonial powers such as Spain,Portugal, France,Germany and Belgium had to use violent repression to contain people’s uprisings (ie from hunger and hopelessness) and cost millions upon millions of innocent lives to sustain,due to the policy of promoting apathy in a dumbed-down society.

    Sri Lankans must strive towards maintaining education as key to advancement,development and ultimate survival if it is to prosper as a viable entity,and not give in to commercial interest or self interest by a small group of elites who do not represent society in general.

  • 0
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    Read following article

    http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2012/08/26/new01.asp

    Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan’s argument is very childish and make a joke. He compared today’s expenditure on Education with 1970’s figure. He does not take inflation, devaluation of rupees and opportunity cost of non-investing of required in past years. FUTA is demanding for 6% allocation of GDP. Then, government may give 4%. If FUTA asked for 4%, the government allocate only 2%. Sri Lanka needs capital investment for building, research centers, purchase databases and research paper databases, recruitment of qualified stuff (PhD holders). Further, regional universities suffer physical resources and qualified academic staff. We know Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan has released from the university and accept a government position with many financial and non-financial benefits. He does not published influential journals such as SSCI. Try to mislead the public using state media.

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    Dons who are the country’s intellectuals to demonstrate on the streets like ordinary workers and hold the undergraduates, considered the country’s future human resource, to ransom.

    At this moment it is the bounden duty of these Dons to give up work stoppages, picketing and other protest campaigns and settle down to impart knowledge to the nation’s children who have to take charge of its future well-being.Academic staff were granted the highest salary increase in university history recently and it was unfair on their part to press for another salary increment. The university academic staff should assist that endeavour by acting in a more responsible manner with a sense of national conciousness. They should focus on research and other academic activities for uplift Sri Lankan university rankings.

  • 0
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    GMOA and FUTA against to private universities owned and operate by Sri Lankan people. What is your stand for Indian University study centres. Annamalai, Baradidasan, Madras, Alagappa, Madurai are some of the Indian state Universities set up study centres in Sri Lanka. These universities are not good university rank in Asia or World. Their education are very low quality in Sri Lanka. Most of Indian degrees are not well recognize developed countries such as USA and Canada. If a student has Indian BSc or BA degree, wants to do master in US, and he has to passed first year master degree in Indian or other university. It means this Indian degree is not well recognized. Sri Lanka does not have any law to regulate these institutions. I believe that Sri Lanka needs proper law to regulate all degree offering institutions. As a policy, Sri Lanka should allow to setup campuses or study centers of well established universities. These university rank (QS or Time rankings) should be less than 200 in Asia and less than 800 in the world. UGC has to look up this matter soon and FUTA and Professors have to raise their voice. Most people in Sri Lanka believe India and Indian intelligent service behind this higher education crisis and want to destroy quality Education system in Sri Lanka.

    Look following link for more details:

    http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=60496

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