It is the considered view of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) that the appointment of incompetent persons to positions of authority has been one of the most significant reasons for the deterioration of Sri Lanka’s university system in the recent past. The majority of these appointments have been politically motivated with loyalty to the regime in power, rather than competence or integrity, being the primary criteria for selection to important positions. In view of the new government’s decision to reconstitute the University Grants Commission and University Councils and also due to the fact that this government will be soon called upon to appoint new Vice-Chancellors to posts that are due to be vacated soon, the FUTA calls upon the government to:
(i) Ensure that members appointed to the UGC should be persons with sound academic backgrounds, and committed to good and transparent governance, with a capacity to make a contribution, through consultation with all stakeholder communities as well as creative policy inputs, to the further development of the university system.
(ii) Refrain from appointing to the posts of Vice-Chancellor academics whose political party links and personal loyalty to individual political leaders overshadow their lack of academic excellence, administrative skills, and leadership qualities. This will ensure that the university system will get Vice-Chancellors who are accepted and respected by the university community.
(iii) Appoint persons to university councils who will be independent, with a strong commitment to university values, particularly autonomy and academic freedom and who will not function as mere rubber stamps of the political regime or the Vice-Chancellors. It is especially important that University Council members maintain independence as they are expected to provide a balance to the authority of the Vice-Chancellors and other officers of Universities.
(iv) Ensure that those appointed to positions of authority and responsibility by the government in the higher education sector should also be persons who are willing to engage with all the university stakeholders and be mindful at all times that they represent the interests of the public and that higher education is a precious public good.
We will be watching these appointments closely since they will reflect the government’s intentions with regard to tertiary education in this country as well as their adherence to practices of good governance. We hope that this government will keep in mind that they were elected to power by a popular mobilization across a cross section of society of which the university community was also a part. This mobilization took place due to the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the existing political culture in this country and the consequent serious damage to important public institutions. We sincerely hope that the government will demonstrate its commitment to changing this political culture and rebuilding important public institutions such as universities.
Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
Media Spokesperson – FUTA