By R.P. Gunawardane –
Postgraduate Institute of Science (PGIS) of the University of Peradeniya was established in the year 1996 under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 fulfilling a long-felt need in this country. At the time it was expected that this new postgraduate institute of the Sri Lankan university system will promote, stimulate and organize postgraduate education and training in sciences at the national level. Among the programs envisaged were MPhil/PhD by research, MSc/Diploma/Certificate courses, in-service training/short courses, extension services to the community and consultancy services to other institutions and local industries.
Discipline oriented Postgraduate institutes have been proven to be successful in Sri Lanka because they are highly effective in mobilizing expertise and resources in the same discipline to one forum in the organization of PG courses, research and training in that particular discipline. In the Sri Lankan model, the PG institutes are attached to a national university for the purpose of granting degrees and maintaining high academic standards through its senate. These institutes have their own Boards of Study and Boards of Management consisting of professionals representing different areas of study. The degree of autonomy given to these institutes allows them to practice innovative approaches and implement novel programmes expeditiously depending on national needs.
Peradeniya University was considered as the best location for the proposed PGIS at the time in view of its excellent research record in sciences, diversity of faculties, and its proximity to many other important scientific institutions in addition to its scenic location.
When the PGIS is celebrating its Silver Jubilee, it has now become the institution which produces the greatest number of PhD, MSc and M Phil graduates in sciences in Sri Lanka, while maintaining the highest standards. Its research output in terms of the number of research grants, publications in reputed journals and patents has reached enormous proportions earning wide national and international recognition.
Looking back the achievements of this institution and the tremendous service it has rendered to the higher education and scientific research sector in the last 25 years, it is very clear that the decision to establish the new institute and its location are excellent and its achievements and the service rendered to the nation are well beyond expectation. Even the most enthusiastic dreamers of 1996 could hardly imagine how exactly that the dream has been realized. It has now developed into a prestigious national center for postgraduate education and research in scientific disciplines in Sri Lanka with international recognition.
Achievements of the PGIS
The first set of PG courses was inaugurated in October 1996. Among the pioneering Masters Programs initiated by the PGIS specifically geared to urgent national needs were Masters in Science Education with the option of specialization in Chemistry, Biology, Physics or Mathematics education, Medical Physics, Gemology, Postharvest Technology, Environmental Science, Analytical Chemistry, Industrial Chemistry, etc. It is currently conducting about 30 M.Sc. and Postgraduate Diploma programmes of wide-ranging disciplines of national importance employing about 400 highly qualified professionals from Sri Lanka and abroad. Many more programmes are in various stages of preparation and implementation. Some of these are Masters in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Biomedical Sciences, Pharmaceutical Science and Technology, Science and Technology Management and Laboratory Management and Practice.
Starting with a few short courses in 1996, the PGIS conducted over 20 short courses in 2013 and this number increased gradually over the years. Except during the peak period of Covid-19 pandemic, a large number of short courses mostly geared for specific professions and groups were conducted regularly. These courses are conducted in addition to the short courses held regularly for postgraduate students at the PGIS such as Scientific Writing, Initiation of Research Projects, Patent Drafting etc. Typical examples of short courses are Medical Statistics for Physicians, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and its applications for officers in the state institutions, Scientific Data Analysis, Industrial Waste Management, Weather Forecasting, Natural Disaster Management etc. and a series of short courses for A/L science teachers such as Electronics for Physics Teachers and Molecular Biology and Biotechnology for Biology teachers. Total number of participants trained through short-term training programs in some years exceeded 1000.
Among the most popular short courses is the GIS program conducted regularly by the PGIS for various professional groups including the Police, Armed Forces and Customs Officers. It is so popular amongst the professionals in that its 120th short course was held recently. The founder and the coordinator of this program is Dr. Jagath Gunathilake of the Department of Geology at Peradeniya, who deserves special recognition for his continuous dedication, untiring effort and hard work in fulfilling this urgent national need.
The progress and achievements of this national institution over the last quarter century are remarkable and outstanding among the Sri Lankan higher educational institutions. Postgraduate student numbers were gradually increased over the years. The University of Peradeniya awarded a large number of research degrees (MSc, MPhil and PhD) to PGIS students during the last two decades. Number of PG degrees awarded increased to a total of 232 in the year 2020. This number includes a total of 32 PhD and MPhil candidates.
Annually the PGIS organizes about 20-30 national and international conferences/ workshops and training programs. Among them were International Conferences on Science Education, Visions of Futuristic Statistical Methodologies, Water Quality and Human Health, Environmental and Medical Statistics, Environmental Monitoring and Management etc. As a new initiative, PGIS held a national Symposium on Traditional Medicine and Research and a workshop on Artificial Intelligence in 2019. The PGIS Research Congress (RESCON), which was inaugurated in 2014, continued every year afterwards. It was held even during the pandemic period without interruption strictly following the health guidelines. Every year a large number of research papers were presented by the graduate students at the RESCON covering a wide range of scientific disciplines.
During this period, the PGIS was able to attract many national and international research grants. By the year 2015, PGIS administered 19 local research grants and 5 foreign grants amounting to Rs. 16 million. The PGIS was also able to establish links with number of prestigious universities in countries such as USA, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Brunei, Taiwan, China and Thailand. PGIS also collaborates with all the other universities in the country and with local research organizations such as ITI, NIFS, SLINTEC and GSMB.
From 2018 up to date PGIS affiliated researchers have published over 135 research papers in indexed journals in addition to several patents filed on new products and technologies developed by these scientists. PGIS awards research grants every year to academic staff affiliated to the PGIS. In addition, PGIS is currently administering 36 local and foreign funded research grants. High quality research and innovations are strongly supported by the PGIS. In order to promote this, PhD students at the PGIS are required to publish at least two research papers in reputed indexed journals for the award of the PhD degree.
It is important to highlight the fact that most of the activities of the PGIS continued without serious disruption even during the period of Covid-19 pandemic during 2020-2021. All teaching activities of the Masters programs were conducted through an on-line Learning Management System (LMS). In fact, there was a remarkable increase in number of applications seeking registration at the PGIS during this period mainly due to their inability to proceed abroad for PG studies.
In line with achieving academic excellence, diversification and expansion of programs, the infrastructural facilities at the PGIS have also improved considerably. The PGIS moved to its new building in 1999, a new wing to this building was completed in 2009. It also has developed a well-equipped Computer Science Laboratory and a Rock and Soil Mechanics Laboratory.
The PGIS reached another milestone in research by establishing a new Instrumentation Laboratory in 2015. A second building with fully equipped laboratories and lecture/ conference theaters was constructed and opened in 2019. A new Data Science Unit was also established. Strength of the administrative, technical and support staff increased to 24 and two visiting professorships were also included in the cadre.
PGIS established an Industrial and Entrepreneurships Unit for industrial outreach to assist industries in problem solving and for training personnel. It collaborates with industry in 17 research areas including advanced materials, biotechnology, cosmetics, data science, pharmaceuticals, polymer technology and waste treatment. The PGIS has recently initiated supporting its students and alumni in commercializing their research findings.
PGIS is also launching its official Journal, a new International Journal on Environmental Issues (IJEI) during this Silver Jubilee year as one of its new initiatives to disseminate knowledge in Environmental Sciences. It is an interdisciplinary journal covering all aspects of environmental issues in the world. Its inaugural issue is in the final stages of preparation.
As described above the achievements of this institution over the last 25 years are remarkable in spite of many obstacles. The leadership provided with dedication, untiring effort and hard work by all previous directors particularly, Professors Kapila Dahanayake, Lakshman Dissanayaka, B.S.B. Karunaratne and Namal Priyantha and the present Director Professor H.M.T.G.A. Pitawala in bringing this institution to the current level is gratefully acknowledged. Excellent coordination of all the academic work of the PGIS done by Dr. N. Champika Bandara with utmost dedication and commitment over a period of two decades is greatly appreciated and deserves special commendation.
Plans for the Future
The PGIS of the University of Peradeniya, after over a quarter century of its existence, expansion and development, has now become a center of excellence in postgraduate education and research in sciences in this country with international recognition.
In the future, the PGIS will give further emphasis to develop multidisciplinary research programs in collaboration with prestigious international institutions. It will continuously improve the quality of the existing programs and introduce new programs of national importance. As guided by the UGC, it is also working towards minimizing state funding and reaching self-financing status. Although a considerable progress has been achieved in this regard, it is essential that partial financial support should come from the government, as currently being practiced, in order to maintain the highest standards of the postgraduate programs offered by the PGIS. It is the responsibility of the government to encourage and support the training of scientific manpower of the nation undertaken by the Postgraduate Institute of Science.
In coming years, the PGIS is planning to expand and diversify all its academic, research, training and outreach activities maintaining the highest standards to satisfy scientific manpower needs of the nation with special attention to strengthening international recognition. In this connection, the PGIS will give utmost priority towards establishing more linkages with prestigious institutions in the world for research collaboration and exchange programs.