By Oleap Fernando –
Enhancing the knowledge hub and producing Chemistry graduates at much lower cost to government/UGC without any delay
Recent events and happenings in Sri Lanka’s tertiary education sector have caused much alarm and consternation. These include the decreasing contribution to Education from the Government Budget, the inability of the Government to enhance the emoluments of University academic staff, and the inordinate delay in students being admitted to and passing out from Sri Lankan Universities. The latter cause has got aggravated this year due to strikes and other events that have resulted in an over 4 month additional delay. The University admission list based on the 2011 A/L examination is not yet released due to the Z score problem and the consequential Supreme Court decision to enhance the University intake by 25% . Compunding the problem, there is an unprecedented delay in the release of the 012 A/L results as well.
In this context, I am writing to bring to the notice of the Sri Lankan educational authorities and the Sri lankan public, a relatively simpler mechanism to effectively deal with the problems associated with tertiary education at least in the field of such a popular and demanding discipline such as Chemistry. Similar examples and experiences may be available and/or similar situations may be developed and organized in other areas as well.
The College of Chemical Sciences(CCS) , which is the educational arm of the professional body of Chartered Chemists in Sri lanka ( Institute of Chemistry Ceylon , incorporated by Act of Parliament No 15 of 1972) has since 1979 conducted a Graduateship Programme in Chemistry at the level of a Special (Honours) Chemistry degree . About 900 Graduate Chemists have passed out with increasing frequency (30 batches so far) and the current annual pass out number ranging from 75-90 Graduate Chemists corresponds to as much as 45% of Sri Lanka’s total output of about 180 Special Degree level Graduate Chemists including the output from 6 conventional universities. Graduate Chemists passing out of the College of Chemical Sciences , though not possessing a formal university degree , have been recognized and accepted for PHD/MSc degrees and for employment in many countries right round the world including USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand etc. Our UGC as well as Universities have also accepted the professional Graduate Chemist qualification awarded by the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon .
What is most significant to note in this connection is that through this programme Graduate Chemists are produced by the CCS without any delay whatsoever within 4 years of their admission . Admission to the programme is possible as soon as A/L results are released unlike in the state university system in which the normal time lag could be even one year .The cost incurred by a CCS student is presently in the region of only Rs 3.5-4 lakhs over the entire 4 year period which surely must be the lowest cost for a degree level programme of any type in any part of the world. The quality of the CCS Graduate Chemists is very well recognized and question papers are moderated and answer scripts remarked by UK professors under the coordination of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK on a regular basis..
Numbers of qualified students seeking admission to the CCS have reached gigantic proportions in the current year and in order to accommodate all who wish to register for this high quality and well recognized programme , the College of Chemical Sciences has decided to run an additional duplicated programme on week-days as well. The state Universities find it impossible to increase the number of special degree chemists they produce to more than about 100 annually. The average cost incurred by the government through the UGC to produce a single Graduate Chemist over 4 years through the state Universities is reported to be around Rs 1.5 – 2 million which is about five times what is needed to educate such a student to a similar level at the CCS. It is therefore obvious and pellucidly clear that if the Government/UGC wishes to increase the number of special degree chemists produced in Sri Lanka in a very convenient , effective and economical manner, then one easy method would be for the UGC is to select a reasonable number of A/L qualified students ( through whatever system it desires and adopts )and send any such willing students who desire and opt for this alternate path to the CCS . The government could thereby enable an additional number of students to pursue an equivalent degree level programme at the CCS at a cost that would be about 20 % of what it now spends at a state university.Particularly, in the current context when the UGC has to take in 25% more students for every programme, a selected coterie of students could be admitted by the UGC using this very convenient opportunity available at the CCS which is now able to admit and satisfy an additional number with no difficulty whatsoever. The CCS could take in at least 100 students in January for its week-day programme. Similar opportunities may be available or providable at other institutions and in other disciplines and areas as well.
The time has come when the educational authorities of Sri Lanka should think out of the box with a wider horizon and vision and look for similar unconventional opportunities in unconventional institutions in unconventional ways in order to minimise its present problems in an unconventional manner at a very economical cost . This type of alternate mechanisms should satisfy all stake-holders in a very viable and pragmatic manner.
*Professor J N Oleap Fernando, PH D (Imperial College,London); Chartered Chemist; Chartered Scientist, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka and Past General President, Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science and Honorary Rector and Honorary Professor of Chemistry, College of Chemical Sciences, 341/22, Kotte Road, Welikada, Rajagiriya (phone: 011 286 1231)