Every intake of students to Sri Lankan State Universities and other Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) have in one way or another highlighted the breakdown of value system and discipline in our society through an increasingly phenomenal menace called “ragging”. The enactment in Sri Lanka of legislation entitled the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998 has not succeeded in curtailing this phenomenon.
Despite the enactment of legislation, during the last two decades we have seen many new entrant students dying or suffering serious injuries due to ragging. Many students have reportedly dropped out of these state universities and higher educational institutions, and many other eligible students have refrained from opting to study in these institutions due to ragging related abusive conduct. This has not only adversely affected the students and their families, but also deprived the state of valuable human potential that could have been harnessed for national development.
It is in these circumstances that on the instructions of the then Minister of Higher Education, Hon. Dr. Bandula Gunawardane, that a Committee was appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the chairmanship of Justice Dr. Saleem Marsoof PC to specifically address the issue of providing appropriate relief to students who have been deprived of their education due to ragging in State Universities and HEIs coming within the purview of the UGC during the academic year 2014/2015 onwards. This Committee was also required to propose a regulatory mechanism to prevent ragging to ensure that the affected students do not suffer the same fate when re-admitted to an academic institution. Due to the onset of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, the initial time frame of 3 months from 31st January 2020 for the submission to the UGC of the Report of the Committee was extended by another 3 months. Accordingly, the Committee submitted its Report on Monday, 31st August 2020.
The Committee consisted of Justice Dr. Saleem Marsoof PC (Chairman), Senior Professor Janitha A Liyanage (Secretary), Ven. Professor Magammana Paññananda Thero, Rev. Dr. Benet Shantha Fernando, Senior Professor Narada Warnasuriya, Dr. Chandra Embuldeniya and Mr. Prasantha Lal De Alwis PC. The Committee gathered information by interviewing students affected by ragging and ragging related violence in and after the academic year 2014/2015, and concluded that the primary factors that inhibited the implementation of anti-ragging measures contained in the Prohibition of Ragging Act of 1998 was the existence of a long standing and deep rooted ‘culture of ragging’ in the campuses of Sri Lankan State Universities and HEIs.
The Committee has in the Foreword to the Report included a ten-point summary of the conclusions and detailed regulatory measures that should be taken to curtail ragging in state universities and institutions of higher learning, which read as follows:-
1) Ragging is a manifestation of prevailing social conditions and issues that fall outside the scope of this Committee’s terms of reference;
2) The primary responsibility for curbing ragging in universities and other higher educational institutions coming within the purview of the UGC vest exclusively in these universities and institutions;
3) The UGC as well as the academic institutions themselves should develop policies and procedures for the elimination of ragging and ensure due compliance;
4) Security and discipline should be strengthened in all state universities and higher educational institutions and the heads of these institutions should create incentives for due compliance and disincentives for failure to comply;
5) Greater co-ordination between police and academic institutions should be established on a permanent basis;
6) It is necessary to create wide public awareness of the disruptive consequences of ragging, and the UGC, state universities and other institutions should take steps to develop such awareness and set in place anti-ragging measures;
7) For discouraging ragging it may be necessary to be proactive than reactive, and academic institutions should put in place programmes that enhance awareness of human values and potentials, human rights, personality development, vocational guidance etc that can help in redressing the underlying causes of ragging;
8) Relevant institutions should review the management and regulation of hostels and canteens, the hotbeds of ragging;
9) Counselling and other guidance systems should be put in place; and
10) As an essential part of compliance and due diligence, periodic training programmes for all university and institutional staff on ragging must be conducted regularly.