16 May, 2022

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Promotion Of Non-State Non-Profit Universities In Lanka: A Welcome Move

By R.P. Gunawardane

Prof R.P. Gunawardane

In the most recent address of policy statement made by the President of Sri Lanka in the Parliament on January 18, 2022, he has highlighted the importance of non-state universities in Sri Lanka and proposed a policy guideline to promote the establishment of such universities in the country. Although the importance of such a scheme is well recognized, all previous governments have failed to implement such a program due to narrow political reasons. This proposal has been long overdue and it is a most welcome move by the President after going through a very difficult period of governance due to the effects of the worst pandemic faced by the humanity in this century, many reversals of misguided policies and unscientific decision making concerning many vital issues at the highest level of the government.

As a person who has been promoting this idea for over several decades without much success, this article is presented making a strong case for the facilitation of the establishment of such institutions in the country, giving its direct and indirect impacts to the nation and also specifying the role of the government to make it a success.

Need for Non-State Non-Profit Universities

It is evident that the state monopoly on university education hinders expansion, diversification and innovation in our higher education institutions. As a result, a large number of deserving students are denied opportunities for university education. In this situation many students are going abroad seeking university education in other countries draining colossal amount of valuable foreign exchange annually. Some parents do this with utmost difficulty by mortgaging their only house or property with enormous sacrifice.

Private and non-state non-profit universities including medical schools are operating in parallel with state universities and medical schools in our neighboring countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Our students go to these countries and in addition to East European countries, China, Malaysia, Cuba for their undergraduate studies in all the fields including medicine.

All top universities in the world including Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and all Ivy League universities in USA and even Oxford, Cambridge and London universities in the UK are completely independent non-state non-profit institutions. Although they receive some funding from the government for specific teaching and research projects none of them are state controlled.

Private and non-state non-profit university level institutions in Sri Lanka do not come under the purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC). As such they are not required to abide by the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 which has centralized powers and decision making at the UGC. Thus, these institutions have a tremendous advantage and full freedom to expand and diversify programs with innovative approaches without any clearance or approval from any government authorities.

Free Education and Non-State Universities

Some interested parties are bringing a general issue against the establishment of non-state universities in Sri Lanka. They claim that it is against the free education policy in this country. Consequently, it has become more of a political issue. It is surprising that those who are opposing non-state universities are not protesting the non-state sector participation in the education, health care and in many other sectors in the country. It must be realized that the state sector and non-state sector institutions can coexist and compete without harming state policies as it happens now in the education, health and many other sectors.

Almost all Montessori preschools are run by the private sector. There are many private sector primary/ secondary schools operating throughout the island while we practice free education to all. Some of these private schools are of extremely high standard. A large number of students especially in urban areas now attend private schools paying very high school fees because of the difficulty in finding places in popular government schools. Those students who study in the government schools spend colossal amounts for their tuition classes. This amount in some cases exceed the school fees paid by those who attend private schools.

There are many non-state sector universities and other degree awarding institutes operating in the country for many years with recognition granted by the UGC. High quality private hospitals operate side by side with state hospitals providing valuable service while we practice free health care to all in the state sector. Government doctors are free to practice in private hospitals although some tend to abuse this freedom. Similarly, private sector organizations operate in competition with the state sector in the transport, insurance, banking, media, fuel, energy, trade and in many other fields giving people enough choice and thus benefitting the customers. Under such circumstances, why the fuss about non-state sector and private universities and medical schools as long as they comply with common rules stipulated by the regulatory bodies including the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC)?

Non-state sector university level institutions are fairly well established in Sri Lanka during the last two decades. There are over 22 such institutions approved by the UGC. One such institution of high quality is Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) with links to top universities in Australia, UK and USA. They are also performing an enormous service to the country by providing alternative avenues for university education to our deserving students. These institutions also can supplement the state university system by cooperating in different ways. Thus, these institutions also should be guided by an accreditation and quality assurance mechanism provided by the government. Properly constituted Accreditation and Quality Assurance council if established in Sri Lanka can assure the quality of degree programs offered by the state universities as well non-state sector institutions.

Under such circumstances why not allow particularly non-state and non-profit universities in this country? These institutions can not only provide high quality university education to local students but also attract foreign students bringing in much needed foreign exchange to the country.

However, it must be stressed that further opening and regularizing the university education to non-state sector should necessarily be accompanied by, (i) an independent accreditation and quality assurance mechanism and (ii) need-based financial assistance to a certain proportion of students by the institutions. In addition, it is desirable to have a low-interest loan scheme for such students by a state bank or by the Mahapola Trust Fund.

Benefits to the nation and its economy

Introducing an element of competition to the tertiary education system is expected to improve quality, provide more variety and reduce the cost of training. With the liberalization, the policies should be directed towards facilitating the expansion and diversification of tertiary education to reach about 25% (age cohort) participation rate by the year 2025.

When those who can afford have the opportunity to enter non-state sector institutions, it is possible to increase access to others in the state system. Thus, state funds can be targeted more towards helping the disadvantaged gain access to high quality tertiary education. It is most desirable, as far as possible, to have a merit-based admission and need-based financial aid for all those who are admitted to all universities. This will ensure fair play and justice and will not leave out any candidate for university entry because of financial hardships.

One group of Sri Lankan students has been eliminated from our university admission process. They are the students who are studying in private/ international schools, which do not offer Sri Lankan GCE A/L but instead prepare students for London (UK) A/L exam. These students are in international schools mostly not by choice but by necessity due to unavailability of places in reputed government schools in urban areas. They are also true Sri Lankan citizens who have legitimate expectation to gaining admission to state universities, which is denied to them. Some of them are following hybrid degree programs of overseas universities involving initial on-line courses which can be done at home in Sri Lanka followed by in person component in the foreign country. But the total tuition fee has be paid in foreign currency draining our precious foreign exchange. This group also will benefit from the proposed non-state non-profit universities in Sri Lanka, while saving considerable amount of foreign exchange to the country.

This plan if properly implemented will considerably increase access to university education for a large number of our students. Furthermore, they can receive high quality higher education in the home country at much lower cost without going abroad for university education. Since a large number of students from neighboring countries can be attracted to these institutions it will bring in a fair amount of foreign exchange annually to this country. In addition, our students are also exposed to students from different cultures in a local environment.

Action Plan and the role of the government

As such, in line with global trends, the tertiary education sector should be opened up to non-governmental and private sector with a national accreditation and a monitoring scheme. Once a comprehensive proposal is prepared it is necessary to invite prestigious universities in the developed countries, international non-profit foundations and professional organizations of international repute to set up new universities or campuses of existing prestigious universities in the world. This should include a package of incentives, facilitating policies, any tax incentives and most importantly the central contact point or authority in Sri Lanka for this purpose should be identified.

It is not sufficient just to announce the intention of promoting non-state non-profit universities in Sri Lanka by the President in his address to the Parliament. This announcement should be followed up immediately with a properly formulated action plan. For this purpose, a suitable high-powered Presidential Committee consisting of highly qualified persons with experience in the higher education sector should be appointed immediately to work out an action plan with a time frame.

The main purpose of this Committee is to work out an action plan to promote the establishment of high quality and well-equipped non-state universities in Sri Lanka. They also could identify some organizations and universities abroad for this purpose. The action plan should include proposed incentives, policy guide lines and assistance and facilitations provided by the government to establish such campuses in this country. To facilitate and expedite the implementation, there should be only one central authority or institution dealing with the applicants or specific proposals regarding this matter.

The role of the government in establishing such institutions should be limited to issuing some basic guidelines and also facilitating and promoting the establishment of well-equipped and high-quality institutions. Consequently, the central government should not get directly involved in the establishment of such institutions. But adequate incentive should be provided to attract high quality and prestigious universities. However, the government should specify that such institutions should offer need-based financial assistance to at least 10% of the total number of Sri Lankan students enrolled in the university. This way the government can ensure students from low-income households are not completely excluded.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    Promotion Of Non-State Non-Profit Universities In Lanka??

    I will see pigs fly in the sky before that happens in Sri Lanka.

    Haven’t we learnt our lessons after what ended up with the two private medical colleges at Ragama and Malabe? Why waste resources anymore when JVP, Peratugamiyo and the general uni population will be hell bent to stop any such move as exactly as happened in the last 30 odd years?

    • 6
      0

      Jit,
      Even if, by some miracle, private universities are permitted by Gota, I am sure Sajith will go to town against them. That’s how things work in Paradise.

      • 3
        0

        Unless these proposed institutions are closely supervised, I have a sneaking suspicion that they may end up up like the private hospitals, many of which have nothing but profit on their minds. “Non-profit” is the key word here.

        • 2
          0

          OC
          I think that you are spot on.
          Had they not use the term “Non-profit” they would have been a little truthful.

      • 5
        0

        OC, I do not believe Sajith has any cognition power to understand what it is about and even if he did, a backbone to oppose the idea!

    • 3
      1

      Problem is non State universities will sell their degree programs(many do even now) by using various marketing mechanisms. Many of the students also pay high fees to follow courses.

      Problem is that the staff in these institutions do not engage in research? No promotion of resaerch either. where will be the contribution to national developoment?

      They also do not teach about national history,culture,values,art,music,literature eihter? So the process of alienarting our students will increase and Sri lankans will be turned into someone else. is this what we want?

      • 5
        0

        “……Problem is that the staff in these institutions do not engage in research?….”
        The way Sri Lankan state universities make those random people associate or full professors with their lackluster work of poor research quality, and of course along with ‘dola pideni’ to the hierarchy including politics, do you think it will not be at least somewhat better in private universities? After all, most ivy league universities in USA are private.

      • 4
        0

        Siri,
        “Problem is that the staff in these institutions do not engage in research? No promotion of resaerch either. where will be the contribution to national developoment?
        They also do not teach about national history,culture,values,art,music,literature eihter?”
        I wouldn’t have expected such a retrograde statement from someone like you. After all, you do teach in Australia?
        What seriously important research have the state unis done?
        Seriously? All I can see are many lacklustre time-servers afraid to rock the boat. Take archaeology for example. Apart from a very few, there is no serious inquiry into events beyond the alleged arrival of Mahinda. The Mahavamsa is sacred writ, apparently. As for modern history, why with so many universities, is there no film about the Bandaranaike assassination, even 60 years later? For contrast, look at this Australian doc about Gough Whitlam’s dismissal. There are excellent university teachers in the country, but the tone is set by cranks and fakes like Nalin de Silva and Jayasumana.
        “the process of alienarting our students will increase and Sri lankans will be turned into someone else. is this what we want?”
        Are you serious, Siri? What is our “national culture”? Is the music we listen to nowadays “national”? When did it become “national”? I am sure you go about in shirt and pants, and wear shoes.

        • 1
          0

          OC
          “I am sure you go about in shirt and pants, and wear shoes.”
          Do you think that the “national dress” is really national? Both the Sinhala ansd Tamil versions (length and collar being the difference) are borrowings from Bengal, borrowings inspired by the anti- colonial struggle there early thus century.

          • 2
            0

            SJ,
            I didn’t want to embarrass anyone by mentioning that very scanty item which is truly national.

            • 1
              0

              OC
              At times some need a timely reminder.

            • 1
              0

              Oh come on OC, please don’t disparage our beloved ‘amude’ ;)

        • 5
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          “………but the tone is set by cranks and fakes like Nalin de Silva and Jayasumana…..”

          OC, it happens all the time in SL, doesn’t it??

          Nalin De Silva was very much active and batting right around the field when we were students too. He was criticizing western research methods and education process big time while drawing his earnings from the same system which I am sure went straight to his pocket without any criticism! It was the UNP government and he was expelled for preaching that crap Jathika Chinthanaya to students in the time he was supposed to teach mathematics. Then the news media particularly a racist rag like Divayina went to town defending Silva and whacking the government. It was quite a debate that followed in the media and society and later he was quite capable of delivering heaps of similar crap like imaginary god Natha, even when he was not having any political power. To me it says a lot about our society and politics as well, because what most people always love to believe in our society is such crap!

  • 4
    0

    If GR highlighted the importance of non-state universities in Sri Lanka and proposed a policy guideline to promote the establishment of such universities in the country, he seems to have seen the light now. Although he expanded the Kothalawala Defence Academy into an exclusive University for the children of those in the armed forces but later admitted fee paying outsiders as well, the Rajapakse regime was silent when the GMOA & leftist trade unions & politicians opposed SAITAM, even though it was formed during MR’s watch. When the GMOA mafia objected to NCMC, there were fee paying foreign students as well but the closure meant local students, at least, those who could afford, going abroad, using scarce foreign reserves. The NCMC students who left the country are doing extremely well as consultants & professors, although, the GMOA & leftists, including opportunistic academics like Carlo Fonseka, who were happy to prostitute their integrity, believed the NCMC standards were below par to be allowed the same qualification & identified with Colombo Medical faculty, even though the exam was the same. The selfish actions of the GMOA caused the local students 5 years of their career but the Rajapakses were silent.

  • 5
    0

    Open more state universities and make students pay partly for their education on agreement when they enter using the same list of A/L order of merit. A good example is KDUniversity. Build more hospitals to be used by the existing KDU Medical school.

    • 2
      0

      Almost all the 37 Universirties in Australia(publicly funded) promote and market their courses to international students. Annual income used to be over 40 billion. Sri Lankan universities are treated as a sacred cow(Unrouchable) and not open to competetion. No matter what, the government gives the grant to maintain. No monitoring either. Research money is given to academic staff as an allowance added to salary. It is a mess. In a capitalist society, govt can ask the universities to generate additional income by offering courses to fee paying students from inside the cluntry and from the region. However as in India, those with high marks and from disadvantaged backgrounds should be provided with scholarships.

      • 0
        0

        I thought there are 43 universities in Australia, 36 public, 4 Australian private and 3 international private universities?

    • 2
      0

      Cabaal is looking for funding to order firstly, the Printing Ink necessary to print the extra funds needed for infrastructure build for the new Universities, Hospitals and Medical Colleges as the treasury has no reserve funds to allocate, at this moment at all!!
      All given as Duty Waivers, for winning the election 2019!!!
      Balance paid (taken over by Robber Barons)

    • 0
      0

      Open more state universities? I though we have one per every electorate already!!!

  • 3
    0

    One group of Sri Lankan students has been eliminated from our university admission process. They are the students who are studying in private/ international schools, which do not offer Sri Lankan GCE A/L but instead prepare students for London (UK) A/L exam. These students are in international schools mostly not by choice but by necessity due to unavailability of places in reputed government schools in urban areas. They are also true Sri Lankan citizens who have legitimate expectation to gaining admission to state universities, which is denied to them.

    To solve such problems, we need a properly functioning truly patriotic GOVERNMENT!

  • 3
    0

    There are many errors here:
    (a) The state university system in SL did expand a lot over the last three decades. But that expansion has not been backed up by sufficient investment to sustain quality of education. Staffing levels are poor. Student housing worse. The expansion is motivated by political purposes than by careful planning. It is not just salary that makes staffing difficult; there is too much bureaucracy and poor working conditions coming from a strongly hierarchical society.
    (b) Harvard, Princeton and MIT are not good examples to base any planning on, They have HUGE endowments in cash, land and other forms of investment. Some of the wealth is historically ill-gotten, but they have it and Sri Lanka cannot imitate these. And there is, in the US, a culture of philanthropy on the part of big business (money they should have paid as tax, donated as charity to universities) — a Princeton professor told me every undergraduate they take is a loss (they spend more in teaching than they charge in fees). But they do it as an investment — when the kid grows up and makes a killing in Wall Street, he sings a donation of several million dollars to the alma mater.
    (c) Some of the private institutions in SL have done well (SLITT, for example), but partly because they are well funded from fees, the students tend to be better behaved on average and the institution doesn’t have to go through all the bureaucracy UGC imposes in the state ones.
    Perhaps these could be food for thought to the author.

  • 0
    0

    “After all, most ivy league universities in USA are private.”

    Why, do you want Lanka to go from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between? :))


    Once ye are done with universities ……… you’ll come to the realization that education, religion and culture is nothing but a gang-rape of our minds from infancy!

    Time to join …….. “Me Too.” :))

    And go after …… the culprits who did this to you ……………

    • 0
      0

      “…Once ye are done with universities ……… you’ll come to the realization that education, religion and culture is nothing but a gang-rape of our minds from infancy…”

      Heck no, that doesn’t happen in Illanka!! 99% of them use that to either acquire power, or wealth, or both and keep the others in the dark!

      “…… you’ll come to the realization that education, religion and culture is nothing but a gang-rape of our minds from infancy…..”

      I believe the first factor, if delivered correctly, could ignite the wisdom part of one’s brain to understand the utter futility of the latter two.

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