31 October, 2020

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‘Mahinda Chinthana’ And The University Crisis

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr Laksiri Fernando

21 August 2012 will go into the history of Sri Lankaas a Black Day for the whole education system. The most stubborn Minister of Higher Education, SB Dissanayake, has decided to close down all universities, except medical faculties, exposing the government’s complete inability to resolve, clearly a straight forward salary issue and a policy dispute with the academic community.

Academic strikes are not usual in any country let alone Sri Lanka. The academics would not have resorted to trade union action if there were other avenues to resolve their grievances. They are one of the most temperate sections of our society. The grievances that led finally to the current strike have been accumulating for over three decades. All the negotiations before and after the strike have failed, due particularly to the intransigence of the Minister. He is apparently trying to emulate the Army Commander or the Defence Secretary, tragicomically, in combating the academics in a warlike fashion.

It is not long time ago that overwhelming majority of the academics decided to support the present government at the last national elections in 2010, presidential and parliamentary, considering the circumstances, and believing that the government would deliver the promises that it gave in the Mahinda Chinthana, the election manifesto of the current President. I vividly recollect the mammoth meeting of academics attended by over 3,000 at the Temple Trees makeshift meeting hall in January 2010 prior to the presidential elections.

Mahinda Chinthana    

Mahinda Chinthana 2010 talked about five hubs and one of which was a ‘Knowledge Hub’ that has now become a standard joke. In explaining this hub, a whole section was devoted from page 75 to 77 on university education admitting correctly that “University is the centre of generating and disseminating knowledge.” The ‘Chinthana’ however was not truthful in saying, “I provided the necessary infrastructure and human resources to establish new universities and to develop the existing local university system during the past four years.” No new university was established under the incumbent President and the last one, Uva Wellassa, was established in June 2005. More appalling has been the deteriorating funding for universities that has been clearly explained by theUniversity ofMoratuwa Teachers Association in their presentation, “Miracle of Asia and Higher Education.” During the period, while the student population has increased from 62,000 to 70,000, the annual expenditure per student has decreased from Rs 120,000 to Rs 105,000.

Previously, the funding difficulties were understandable given the war situation in the country and the academics in good faith believed that the promise in the second ‘Chinthana’ would be fulfilled with ‘necessary infrastructure and human resources’ for the universities. However, the situation has deteriorated by commission and omission. The following was what it said about the ‘knowledge hub.’

We have the opportunity to make this country a knowledge hub within the South Asian region. I will develop and implement an operational plan to make this country a local and international research and training centre for knowledge within this year. With a view to achieving this objective and to enable the structural necessities, I will restructure the University Grants Commission.

Not that all academics believed what ‘Chinthana’ said about the hub, but wanted to give a chance for some reforms and improvements. It was within a year that an ‘operational plan’ was supposed to be developed for the hub! It also promised a restructure of the University Grants Commission or the UGC, but it is the same old UGC that is functioning even after two years today. Reform of the UGC was necessary for very many reasons. For example, there was no representation of FUTA or any other union within its structure. If the organized academics were represented properly within the UGC, many of the controversial issues could have been smoothly ironed out by now or even before the strike broke out unnecessarily. First and foremost, the UGC should have been separated and independent from the clutches of the Ministry of Higher Education. Even its location within the same premises has become a great impediment, the Minister poking his finger into all academic matters.

There were other promises. There was rather an extravagant promise to give all academics houses! Another one was to provide scholarships to lecturers to pursue their postgraduate education in leading foreign universities. Of course this was necessary, but never fulfilled other than what previously available through the National Centre for Advanced Studies (NCAS), yet limited in funds and selection. As a result of this lacuna, only 40 per cent of present staff has PhD qualifications. Most abominable are the staffing shortages. There are over 7,000 estimated academic cadre positions, yet the universities are forced to work with only around 4,000 academics. The list and the grievances can go on and on, but what is important is to find solutions.

FUTA Demands

Without depending on mere demands, FUTA has even come up with a policy formulation. That is to increase the allocation of funds to education up to 6 per cent of the GDP. In this respect the present leaders of FUTA have been quite constructive. If one goes through the promises of the Chinthana on education in general from page 70 to 75, with expanded infrastructure for science and language laboratories and libraries, even this allocation might not be sufficient. It also talks about giving postgraduate training for all principals and education administrators!

It is true that there is a considerable gap between the present allocation of 1.9 per cent and the demanded 6 per cent of the GDP for education. But the present allocation is a pathetic result of keeping the education in the backburner throughout years or decades for various reasons and on multitude of excuses. That is mainly why we have all problems in education at present from A to Z. In the 1970s, the allocated percentage was not far behind and often exceeded 5 per cent. What is necessary at present is the political will. What the academics are asking in fact is to convert the promises of Mahinda Chinthana into actual practice.

There is a close connection between the quality of general education and the quality of university education. When I went back to university teaching in 1997 after working abroad since 1984, what I found was a deteriorated standard of university entrants compared to the previous experience. The skills, abilities and even attitudes of new entrants were poor and worsening almost year by year until my retirement in 2010. This is apparently the result of poor conditions of school education largely due to the lack of resources, human and material. These are matters that the teacher unions should take up in conjunction with FUTA.

The demand for allocation of 6 per cent of the GDP for education should be a common demand of all teachers, universities and schools alike. It should be the demand of all parents and students throughout the country especially considering the deteriorating standards of examinations, increasing mistakes in exam papers, Z score fiasco and other ailments in the education sector. It was good news to hear that the Commissioner of Elections has taken firm steps to prevent the ongoing A/Level examination being disrupted by partisan election campaigns. The country is fed up of senseless electioneering without much attention to social and citizens’ needs.

Of course FUTA has placed other demands as well. Among them, except the demand for scholarships for the children of academics, other demands appear reasonable and rational. The scholarship demand perhaps was a slipup considering that a union has to deal with different interests and opinions. I understand that it has now been withdrawn. On the salary matter, the academics are asking for 20 per cent increase on the basic salary because that is what would count when it comes to calculating their pensions at the end. Various santhosam allowances may be acceptable, but that is not what they are focusing on.

Freedom and Autonomy

Two other key demands are ‘no university reforms without consultation’ and ‘no political interference on academic matters.’ Both demands are to deal with academic freedom and autonomy of higher education institutions, very dear to any academic in the world. As one of the authors of the UNESCO recognized ‘Lima Declaration of Academic Freedom (World University Service, 1987),’ I was particularly delighted to see these demands being taken up by our young colleagues. The first demand would remind us how democracy started in England demanding ‘no tax without representation.’ It is the same logic and dynamic to ensure democracy within the university system without reforms being over determined from above by bureaucrats or under-educated politicians.

The second demand may be more important in the present context, ‘no political interference on academic matters.’ As FUTA and many academics have explained through multitude of articles, the proper functioning of Senates of many universities and even the Councils are hampered by political interferences. More alarmingly, academic decisions even regarding courses and curricular are taken at the Ministry and not at the universities. Perhaps for these encroachments, some academics themselves, including myself, might be culpable. Believing that ‘new era’ has dawned under Mahinda Chinthana, many academics tried to work closely with the government ultimately without any proper results. I remember how the UGC and the Vice Chancellors got involved in election campaigning in 2010.

Conclusion

The Minister and many government politicians have accused the present academic strike as politically motivated. It may be, or maybe not. If it is political, it is definitely different to petty party politics. The academics have now learned a lesson and that lesson has taught them that without major changes in governance at least in the education sector, the whole education system is in danger and would collapse. If this strike fails, the main loser would be the country and its education system.

Some people have asked, without much imagination, how the government could find money to increase the allocation for education up to 6 per cent of the GNP. The University of Moratuwa Teachers Association (UMTA) has again given the answer. They clearly show that the reduction of defence expenditure by 4 per cent could double the recurrent expenditure on university education. This is only an example. This is apart from stopping waste of money due to corruption or misuse like hedging deals and other contracts. Rajapaksa government has got their priorities completely mixed up. There are many other ways of finding money if there is political will.

There is concern expressed that the academic strike is not that popular among the people or effective. Of course it is not ‘effective’ like a strike in the transport sector for example. That is in fact not the purpose. Since 4 July academics have clearly shown to the country, even forgoing their salaries, that things are not quite right in higher education. This is loud and clear. The whole academic community is around 4,000 people. The Minister initially said that only 30 per cent are on strike. But now he has closed down all universities admitting the strike as an unqualified success. There was a time when even the victimisation of the FUTA President could not move the academic community into action. Those days, the academics were a lethargic community. But now it has changed because of the pressing needs. The next stage of the struggle perhaps should be to bring the whole education sector into action and force the government to resolve the crisis without harming the education of university as well as other students.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Quite right a new war has begun in Lanka with the black day on which universities were closed!
    The closing of the universities by the clown who passes as a Minister (no doubt on orders of Gota the white van Goon) due to the planned protest on Aug 23rd has inaugurated a new war in Sri Lanka which goon Gota had been preparing for and dreaming about by militarizing the country after May 2009- albeit not in this form!
    The Rajapassa regime will not win this war. The military boys will not shoot academics – Mahachariyas or disrupt their pelapaliyas as we saw today.
    The military presence on the streets of Colombo as the protest today was on going was a bit like black July… which inaugurated the LTTE war…

    • 0
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      Rajapaksa Government is incapable to run our country and in total disarray !!

      He is dragging our country from one crisis to another.. If he fails to do something and things get difficult he puts the blame on international conspiracy, Diaspora, etc… That’s an easy way to get out of the situation and hoodwink the uneducated and the gullible..

      • 0
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        Today at the highly successful FUTA protest in Colombo, that started at Viharamahadevi park, Gota the white van goon had got the tractors and police out to carpet the road (Green path) which was carpeted only last year for Namal Rajapassa’s drag races! Gota the goon in charge of defense and urban Development (which he knows nothing about), is WASTING PUBLIC FUNDS of the Colombo municipality and loans from the shameless World Bank that is susidizing the defense ministry, while people are staving and the Dons have not received salaries for 2 months.

        Goon Gota wanted to show his strength and what a great job he is doing cutting down all the ancient and historically valuable trees of Colombo and turning an already hot city into a desert, to carpet and pave roads that do not need such attention. All so that Namal and his friends can car race in the middle of the night and feel like SUPERMAN in Colombo 7 and of course for TOURISTs who Rajapassa thinks are his main vote bank now! The Hambantota mafia has lost the bloody plot! And beware- a Hungry man is an angry man – as Bob Marley sang! LONG LIVE FUTA – WE NEED REGIME CHANGE! Let the war games begin and we shall give Gota the whipping of his life and then pack him off to the Hague for a War Crimes trial!

        • 0
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          Truth got out, dear Truth Out … Your name is perfect ….
          ” LONG LIVE FUTA – WE NEED REGIME CHANGE! .. “

    • 0
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      “THE BLACKDAY”. …
      There were so many in the past … Say “A BLACKDAY” …
      Don’t write like LTTE RUMP’s do … Current Sri Lanka is not the worst even in recent histotry as many of these ‘highly educated professionals” portray … There were times that just to complete a basic degree required a decade … Yes, guys a decade … Not due to failures in the exams … But, due to university closures ….

  • 0
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    Rajapaksa Regime is mismanaging Sri Lanka economy.

    There is no money to pay for education, healthcare and people’s welfare.

    But there is plenty of money for guns, bullets, soldiers.

    In Sri Lanka the militarization is preferred , police state is a norm…. plenty of money to build more jails and military camps but not for schools, hospitals and childcare

  • 0
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    The Sri Lanka rupee has depreciated by 20 percent in less than a year due to Rajapakse regime and its cronies at the Central Bank borrowing and looting public funds, so the Dons would need to ask for a 40 percent increase to get a REAL salary increase since the first 20 percent would only bring them to the level they were at before the strike! Time to challenge the regime’s development and economic policies and stop the looting of public wealth.

  • 0
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    As always, uneducated village idiots from our government utter nonsense to deceit us and shut our universities down.

    God help our education system! :( :( :(

  • 0
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    I think the minister wants to replace the uni-lecturers with unqualified, minimum wage assistants reading lessons from a script.

    • 0
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      Beg your pardon.. Is that not what most academics do, reading from an old script?

  • 0
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    There are all kinds of programms today in the country, mahinda chintanaya, Gama naguma and all kinds of naguma.. but no fair investigations against increasing crimes, no law and order enforcements, no amendments to the laws as it is necessary to strengthen the quality of life of the general public – so for what purpose, to have all these programs ?

    I believe, our memories about the past are relatively better than what we are compelled to see in the country today.

  • 0
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    AS I STATED EARLIER, WHY DO WE NEED UNIVERSITIES?.
    ONE COULD OBTAIN PHD’S WITHOUT EVEN ATTENDING KINDERGARTEN CLASSES.
    WE HAVE A BUNCH OF AACHCHARYA’S AND MAHAACHCHARYA’S IN OUR PARLIAMENT, PROVINCIAL, DISTRICT, URBAN & VILLAGE COUNCILS WHO HAVE OBTAINED PHD’S IN LOOTING, MURDERING, RAPING, MOLESTING ETC.

  • 0
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    Dont blame the Govt. when the UGC volunteered to elect MR as the
    King and set an example to the village idiots to follow suit in
    Voting MR.
    To create a democratic Dictatorship, Education is a stumbling
    block and the Regime is following the correct path with its
    hidden agenda.
    Dont be surprised in the Govt. giving in whole-sale when cornored,
    as it will never, never give room for Regime change, which is
    suicide.

  • 0
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    Sri Lankan politicians like Karu Jayasuriya who wants the government to close the army camps in the north and the east are jokers. Sajith is the son of R. Premadasa who gave arms to the Tigers is another comedian. Then comes the White Flag Fonseka who is another comedian. Then comes the latest joker former judge Warawewa, who wants to save Sri Lanka from the Rajapakses. Then Mangala Samaraweera anothet comedian,who wants Gota the architect of the war victory over the Tigers to resign because Gota told off the female funny lady Frederica Janz where to get off. Sri Lanka beats the world in Joker politicians. Sri Lanka cannot achieve true reconciliation because too many jokers obstruct the process.

    • 0
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      So what is your opinion on rulers who seems to be silent even if deterioration of society has reached to the level of appalling states as Ivan pointed out lately ? Are they all according to you – non-jokers ? As every sane would feel, ruling regime is the worst sofar..

      Btw, Defeat of Ltters ONLY WITHIN LANKEN TERRIRORIES was not because of MR s magical powers but because all other factors together incl. break down of LTTE internationaly and their inner crisis. If MR was that magical, he could have done lot more for the betterment of the nation even earlier.

      If the Magical MR´s efforts was the core reason to defeat terror, why is that the governance under him seem to fail all other crucial issues like university problem, standing against crime and others today ?

      Why is that over 40 or more of the current cabinet MPs and ministers are reported to have connected to all kind of abuses as some radio senders reveal (illegal business, drug trafficking and even running sex industry)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUX_BO_HsLg

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx2CGXhHfCs

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnYvgGV2bqA

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqr5D2vDiio

      This kind of senders reveal the real pains of the nation, but ones like you who remained brainwashed, not only the current regime but also you people are accountable for what the country faces today.

      Further, not to forget, Roads and other developments were started in the previous govt. And Ban of LTTEers internationlly and purchase of heavy weapons were also finalized by the previous regime. More of the truth you please study first before coming to add low grade of comments to this thread.

  • 0
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    Ok,So where is Ranil baba’s reaction,Sajith baba’s reaction or Karu mama’s reaction to this?
    Are not opposition politicians (funded by us)meant to react to all the present lot (funded by us)? Or do we wait for a press statement in 14 days time,and a few commitees??

  • 0
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    More of your like people should take the responsibility to have voted for the marauders of unique kind.

    So what is your opinion on rulers who seems to be silent even if deterioration of society has reached to the level of appalling states as Ivan pointed out lately ? Are they all according to you – non-jokers ? As every sane would feel, ruling regime is the worst sofar..

    Btw, Defeat of Ltters ONLY WITHIN LANKEN TERRIRORIES was not because of MR s magical powers but because all other factors together incl. break down of LTTE internationaly and their inner crisis. If MR was that magical, he could have done lot more for the betterment of the nation even earlier.

    If the Magical MR´s efforts was the core reason to defeat terror, why is that the governance under him seem to fail all other crucial issues like university problem, standing against crime and others today ?

    Why is that over 40 or more of the current cabinet MPs and ministers are reported to have connected to all kind of abuses as some radio senders reveal (illegal business, drug trafficking and even running sex industry)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUX_BO_HsLg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx2CGXhHfCs

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnYvgGV2bqA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqr5D2vDiio

    This kind of senders reveal the real pains of the nation, but ones like you who remained brainwashed, not only the current regime but also you people are accountable for what the country faces today.

    Further, not to forget, Roads and other developments were started in the previous govt. And Ban of LTTEers internationlly and purchase of heavy weapons were also finalized by the previous regime. More of the truth you please study first before coming to add low grade of comments to this thread.

  • 0
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    What is the view of FUTA on continuous ragging in the universities

  • 0
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    See MR’s family. No one can find A/L passed person. They got attoney at Law (NR and MR) after went to parliment without A/L and without entrance exam. Both cheated in the exams. They are jelous with educated people (who have passed A/L). Around 60% MPs do not passed A/L and they do not need any education qualification for their job. MR cheated university teachers and showed the “Knowlege Hub”. Do you expect he does create knowledge hub? This writer clearly says MR regime does not open single new university and has to fill many vaccancies (only 7000 academic positions but employees 4000) and how to find money for investment on university education. MR and his goverment shameless. Some people writes and talks against their future generation without shame. FUTA should take one issue at one time (6% GDP or salary issue).

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