14 July, 2020

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Proposal To Establish 10 New Universities: Most Unwarranted Waste Of Resources

By R.P. Gunawardane

Prof R.P. Gunawardane

This article is presented with reference to the recent news item stating that the Cabinet of Ministers has approved a proposal to set up 10 new universities in Sri Lanka using a grant/ loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic resulting in serious long-term economic hardships this proposal appears to be unproductive and wasteful of valuable resources. Currently we have a shortage of qualified staff and most universities are ill-equipped and lack modern teaching and research facilities. As I have pointed out earlier in an article appeared in the Island (December 12, 2019), the same objective can be achieved by expanding, developing, modernizing and upgrading the existing university system at much lower cost. By this way the funds can be utilized in a more effective and an efficient manner to achieve the same desired objectives.

The universities are not just buildings and concrete structures. Establishing new universities is not like opening new schools or new meat processing / fish canning factories with name boards. Prestigious universities all over the world are built up over many decades using talented highly experienced staff with excellent teaching and research background. Over the years these institutions are well equipped with modern instrumentation for teaching and research.

Currently Sri Lankan university system consists of 15 state universities in addition to several non-state sector degree awarding institutions. Most of our universities are poorly equipped, underfunded and lack sufficient number of highly qualified staff. As a result, even the available infrastructure facilities are underutilized.  Although we have over 75 years of university education in Sri Lanka, only two universities namely University of Peradeniya, formerly University of Ceylon (401-500 category) and University of Colombo (1000+ category) are listed in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the year 2020.

General public would like to know whether this proposal to establish 10 new universities in specific locations as reported is ever discussed widely by the stakeholders, relevant state institutions or committee of educationists/ experts. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is the primary statutory body responsible for recommending the establishment of new state universities. It is doubtful whether this matter was ever discussed at the UGC. Minutes of the relevant meetings of the Commission will testify to that effect. Then what is the role of the UGC in this regard? The general public needs an explanation from the UGC regarding this matter.

What is the opinion of academics in the university system?  Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) which is traditionally vociferous on these matters is silent today. It is disheartening to note that our academic community is silent and not expressing their views regarding these vital issues of immense national importance.

It has been reported that this project is funded by a grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is rather difficult to understand that such a huge project has been formulated and accepted by the ADB and the Sri Lankan government without wide consultation and debate by the stakeholders to evaluate the priorities.

If this project is a reality it is not too late to debate and reformulate the proposal even at this stage with much wider consultation to achieve best results. It is more advisable to reformulate this proposal to provide adequate funding to the existing university system for expansion, diversification and to provide modern instrumentation, IT and audio-visual facilities etc. enabling them to diversify and increase admission numbers considerably. If this is done no new universities are needed immediately. Existing university system can expand rapidly and utilize alternative methods of delivery to achieve the same objectives with much lower cost. 

In addition to providing adequate funding to equip and modernize selected state universities/ faculties and institutes after calling for their requirements, it is absolutely necessary that the additional funds under this project should be earmarked for special projects such as: 

1. Setting up of two fully equipped and modern Instrumentation Centers in two selected universities with free access to all other state universities

2. Establishment and operation of Link Programs for student and staff exchanges and collaborative research with selected prestigious Universities/ Research Institutes in the world.

3. Development of the following institutions as centers of excellence as given below:

University of Colombo: Center of Excellence in Medical Sciences

University of Ruhuna: Center of Excellence in Marine Science and Technology

Sabaragamuwa University: Center of Excellence in Geomatics

Sri Jayawardanapura University: Center of Excellence in Management Studies

University of Moratuwa: Center of Excellence in IT and Engineering

University of Peradeniya: Development and recognition of Postgraduate Institute of Science (PGIS) as the National Center for Postgraduate Training in Natural Sciences. In addition, a National Biodiversity Research and Conservation Center also should be established at the University of Peradeniya for undergraduate and postgraduate training/ research.

Open University: Provision of most modern facilities for distance learning and to upgrade and modernize laboratories and IT units of all Regional Centers and Study Centers.

4. A separate fund for novel special projects to increase intake and to establish novel teaching/ research programs by a competitive bidding mechanism. Proposals can be submitted by the individual universities for this purpose.

5. Additional separate grant should be allocated to two universities listed in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings – 2020 (Peradeniya and Colombo) to improve their standing to reach a level of first hundred universities in the World University Rankings within a specified period of time. This grant should be released after evaluation by an independent group of experts.

Some of the methodologies that can be adopted by the universities to upgrade their programs and also to increase intake of students are given below:

Multidisciplinary Inter-faculty degree programs: Inter-faculty degree programs covering multidisciplinary and applied subject areas can be promoted by commencing a series of new inter-faculty, multi-faculty and inter-university degree programs covering wide range of new and emerging fields depending on the facilities and expertise available in different locations. This will lead to rapid expansion and diversification of degree programs in the existing universities opening up opportunities for many more students.

Use of LMS for course delivery: Learning Management systems should be implemented for efficient delivery of degree programs. Use of these programs will increase the efficiency of delivery enabling the enrollment of a large number of students for each course. Widely available systems such as BLACKBOARD, MOODLE etc. may be utilized in our university system.  

On-line and Dual-Mode degree programs: Facilities for delivery of on-line degree programs may be expanded in all universities to implement dual mode degree programs. This could facilitate expansion of intake of students considerably to all the universities. Dual mode programs involving an on-line component and a sizable in campus component including practical/ course work would be the most appropriate methodology for Sri Lanka. 

Optimizing use of existing facilities: Currently, most universities operate 8 hrs. per day, only 40 hrs. per week for undergraduate programs unlike in other countries. Most foreign countries utilize the resources much more efficiently working from 8 AM till late night and also having classes during the weekend for specific programs. In addition, no fixed lunch interval is provided in other countries. The data show that our utilization of the available floor space and other infrastructure facilities in the university system is grossly inadequate when compared to international practices. Thus, our universities can easily expand working hours. Since each student/lecturer will not have classes continuously on a day this can be implemented easily. By this way our universities may be able to work from 8:00 AM to at least 8:00 PM in the evening. In addition, certain courses also could be conducted during the weekends. 

Expansion of external degree programs by the State Universities: The state universities may expand the external degree programs in certain disciplines. In this case state universities can collaborate with private sector higher education institutes for delivery of these courses with some specific guidelines.

Expansion and diversification of the Open University Programs: The Open University of Sri Lanka with its main campus located in Colombo has an island wide network with 8 Regional Centers and 19 Study Centers distributed throughout the island. Current programs offered by the Open University can be expanded rapidly with the introduction of new degree programs making maximum use of their Regional Centers. 

Use of Non-State Sector: There are 22 non-state sector degree awarding institutions recognized by the UGC. Intake can be considerably increased by cooperating with the recognized non-state sector higher education institutions operating in Sri Lanka. The government initiative is needed to facilitate and promote their expansion and diversification through a package of facilitating policies, tax incentives etc. Specific targets should be given with a time frame. Additional condition should be included in the agreement to award certain percentage of scholarships to needy students by these institutions. However, the non-state sector institutions should be regulated by an effective and independent Accreditation and Quality Assurance mechanism.

Interest-free loans on need basis to students: Even with rapid expansion of opportunities for university education in the state sector still there will be sufficient number of students seeking higher education in specialized fields abroad. For such students seeking higher education abroad also should be given some assistance. They should be given need-based interest-free or low-interest loans with assurance to serve the country for a specific period of time. This is needed in order to reduce the burden on poor parents who are compelled to send children abroad for higher education due to varying reasons.

Thus, it is clear that the university enrolment could be considerably increased to satisfy the current demand while the standard of our university system can be raised to international standards by following the proposed method rather than just adding 10 more substandard universities to our university system.

In conclusion, I appeal to the Government and the President of Sri Lanka to reformulate the ADB proposal for funding as suggested above in order to address the urgent and real needs of the higher education sector utilizing the available resources more efficiently. This would undoubtedly lead to a much better outcome and a lasting impact in the higher education sector.

*Author is a Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education & Higher Education, Chairman, National Education Commission of Sri Lanka, and Visiting Professor, Indiana State University, USA

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    The cavalier mood in which Gota suggested the setting up of ten new Universities is one of the clearest indicators that the man doesn’t know the difference between fighting an outnumbered enemy and setting up institutions which require thinking out of the box.
    .
    I’m sure that we will continue to produce some able scholars, but already I know that there are lots of people who tag letters at the end of their names who just can’t do any thinking. I’ve heard of some students with strangely weak A. Level results entering certain faculties in state universities. Add to that all sorts of mushrooming “Foreign University Branches” (“English Medium” there covers up for a time their incompetence), and we have lots of young “unemployable” – obsession with STEM qualifications getting shown up by the economic downturn?
    .
    Gota had actually asked Vice-Chancellors why graduates can’t find employment!

    • 1
      0

      Gota would not be able to implement anything even if gawky gaping people would overestimate his profile yet today. Even in Nazi Germany, would not have been revitaliized their economy, if their politics would only have been based on millitary men.

      Example 01. Gota s visit to RMV – one of the most corrupted bodies in Colombo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bJtLlwOS_A

      Please go back to the place and see, how they have improved their ” system” as of today… NOTHING is change as I got to know…
      :
      He has just asked LEASING companies to give some concession period to their customers, but what happened was, a young man,, by name Sunil Jaywardhana, who fought for the grievances of the victimized customers, not being able to pay the arrears of installments, was killed by being caught by physical assault exercised by hired men of those companies. Nothing is heard yet as usual modus operandi of the justice system of the torn country.

      -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXxKWYtPhXA
      :
      Not only one side, but also the side of leasing companies should have been addressed. But their lip services and lack of knowledge and experience would not help them in the mgt of anything. Gota s men are not experienced in anything. The 8 months passed are more than enough to draw conclusions about Gota and his rule.

  • 3
    1

    Congratulation Malala on your day of achievement. You focused on the development of Humanity so you have received developments- from a child carrying bullets ridden body to carrying a cloak and hat from a proud university. Please, while working for your life, work for the Afghan, Pakistan, Middle- South Asian & other underprivileged girls to carry victory shields like you in one of their days in their life too.

  • 5
    0

    Recently a proposal to set up a university in Kalutara was handed over to Gotabaya Rajapakse by an MP of that area at a meeting to celebrate some years of him in politics. He is a school dropout. May be all these proposals are coming from politicians of that caliber

  • 4
    0

    Couldn’t agree more with the thrust of your article, Prof. Gunawardana.
    /
    As you say, our politicians seem to establish new universities like opening new schools or new meat processing / fish canning factories with name boards. That is because the vast majority of them have never been near a university (despite some bogus claims) and they all seem to be wanting one for their region, preferably with their names attached!
    /
    As you say, developing the existing university system with emphasis on improving the quality of academic staff is the urgent need. Banning them giving private tuition should be the first step.What we need even more urgently is a well thought out vocational education system that can produce the needs of skilled motor vehicle driving, carpentry, masonry, farm machinery operation, like jobs a university degree in .science or arts will not provide. People need to be educated to appreciate such skills over no knowledge or skills granted by a virtually useless ‘degree’ from the current university system.
    /
    There should also be controls on the number and quality of private sector degree ‘shops’ with affiliations to third grade so-called ‘universities’ in Britain, US and Australia. Also, there are many bogus claimants of degrees from such places, and even Harvard and Cornell, (never having been near them!) littering the media in Sri Lanka.

    • 2
      0

      Professor G, further to the above comment, there is also a problem with the understanding and expectations of ‘education’ among our people.The political system actually feeds on this.
      /
      The people are do deluded about the ‘value’ of so-called ‘education’, they spend hard-earned cash to buy degrees for their children from countries like Bangladesh, Belrus, and other odd places where the degrees will be worth nothing.
      /
      Sri Lankans have to be rescued from this ignorance and misunderstanding and thy should be informed that real ‘education’ involves developing the ability to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’, with or without a degree.
      /
      Idiots who claim degrees from places like Harvard and Cornell (without ever going near those places) are the vain bastards who spread these kind of values, to gain an advantage out of them. They should be exposed and taken to task on forgery.
      /
      ‘Harvard, my ass’ is the reaction they (and their ancestors) get on the crappy ‘reviews’ they write to newspapers, with novel, idiotic English usage like ‘and/ but’ and ‘but/and’.
      Idiocy runs in blood it looks like.

  • 3
    10

    Prof R.P. Gunawardane, you are ill informed and does not understand modern teachings and technology. Typical I am all right jack ?
    One of the Japanese CEO told me, SL’s strength is educated people and less Universities and that created educated numbers not generating enough not only for local consumption but also for overseas consumption and for changing world.
    Uni teaching staff are educated with low quality subject matter would not understand modern tech uni’s that are in overseas and also link to start ups. Modern tech culture is not fully supported in SL due to old fashion thinkers like this professor. Pls. leave future planning to modern requirements rather than oldies that keeping the status quo…

    • 4
      0

      Dear “watcher”,
      .
      In what language are these universities to operate? Japanese? Or Latin (since you use the expression status quo). Your comment implies that neither Sinhalese not Tamil should even be thought of.
      .
      English? “You” must be followed by “do not understand”, not “does”. Whether this Professor be “old fashion” or merely “old fashioned” doesn’t seem as important as our deciding on the method used to execute him. Firing squad, hanging or garrotting?
      .
      There are a few other problems with your English. Why not you reveal who you are so that we could help you with some language that will enable you to make comprehensible suggestions?

      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 48 3111 444 V) aka “Sinhala_Man”

  • 1
    0

    The school will a mini university. More money in school districts should be directed to the classroom rather than the bUreaucracy Students go beyond the textbook to study complex topics like called Global tech Mapping, Self studing from fourth-grade students learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and technology use while searching others things Cooperative learning develops social and emotional skills, The intelligent use of technology can transform and improve almost every aspect of school, modernizing the nature of curriculum, student assignments, parental connections, and administration.

  • 2
    0

    Contrary to the myth developed by parties interested in proliferating concentration camps described as universities, those who do not enter our state universities are gainfully employed with good career advancement opportunities.

    Sri Lanka has a good professional education system, that provides career advancement opportunities to young people in fields such as Accountancy, Banking, Marketing and IT. We do not produce an adequate number of IT professionals and the new Sri Jayawardanapura Technology faculty is a good development. We need similar facilities for the other universities.

    I agree with the writer that the focus needs to be on upgrading the ratings of the existing universities and halt the production of monolingual unemployable graduates.

    • 0
      0

      Will this be more old the same?

      I agree with the writer on many points including the thrust of the article i.e. improving e the quality of existing programs and research rather than establish new universities.

      Australia has 37 State funded universities. Some decades ago, it also amalgamated degree granting Colleges of Education with established universities or declared some COE as universities. They have progressed especially with large numbers of International students(fee paying). But the universities that are active in research(as reflected in reputed research centres) are called G8.i.e. Sydney, Melbourne, U of Qld, Western Australia, UNSW. They also get high world wide rankings. Establishing degree factories is one thing to satisfy the demand but encouraging existing units to do innovative research is another thing. There is a popular demand for more universities for various districts also.But as RPG says, they need to spend borrowed money to maximise the result.

  • 3
    1

    Yes set up these universities with education in Sinhala medium. Well the Country need 100’s if not 1000s of Archaeologist.

  • 0
    0

    While agreeing fully with what Prof.RPG has said in Sri Lanka politicians and not the UGC which makes all decisions about new universities. Some examples are:
    1. Late Mr KB Ratnayake wanted a university at Anuradhapura and this was done by the goivernment. The medical faculty did not have professorial units at least for 10 years.
    2. Oluvil was built according to the political clout of Ashraff.
    3. Ruhuna university was built at Wellamadama by Ronnie de Mel in spite of an offer by Upali Wijewardane to build one at Kamburpitiya.
    4. Uva-Wellassa one was due to the influence of NImal Siripala. Now they want to build 10 universities which is a colossal waste of funds just to glorify the names of politicians.
    All these new universities have underqualified staff and the degrees are sub-standard.
    Earlier those good students from rural areas had the opportunity of coming to more established universities like Peradeniya. Now Peradeniya gets mostly students from the vicinity.
    Most of these produce unemployable graduates who will go in processions demanding government jobs.
    The science faculty at Ruhuna has 50% vacancies which the UGC is unable to fill due to their inefficiency. If politicans decide on the higher education of this country, certainly the country has gone to dogs!

  • 1
    0

    Higher education cannot be an end in itself.
    HE policy so far has been mostly to increase intake to the universities in disciplines that cost least to the government.
    The economic policy and development plans should determine the kind and number of graduates needed in different fields. We produce graduates in several fields for ‘export’. I know many undergraduates who have already decided their overseas destination before they had even started their programme.
    I am not sure that putting university resources on overdrive is even a fraction of a solution for our problem unless we know the desired product and act to ensure that quality products come out of the system.
    For a start, school education is in bad shape and right now universities are struggling to repair the damage done by private tuition and examination-oriented learning.
    My view is that we need more people with technical/practical skills than university graduates.
    *
    We need a good overview of education to determine how it can be made to fit into a realistic vision for this country.

  • 3
    0

    Of course higher education produces exports. But Sri Lanka also exports building workers, nurses, teachers, people working in shipping and house maids. If there is higher level of economic activity in other places which have labour shortages and our workforce is fairly flexible, export will happen. The way forward is not to dumb our people down, but to create conditions that will encourage the young to stay and others to return, and them staying and returning helping in reinforcing such conditions. A two way process.
    .
    In higher education and research, China did very well recently in encouraging established senior academics (and those recently qualifying) in leading universities to return. Sadly, the attitude in Sri Lanka is not a positive one. Keeping outsiders out is entrenched in the thinking. I remember a 1977 election slogan by the local candidate: “நல்லூர் நல்லூரானுக்கே!” (Nallur is for the Nallur man), an attitude pervasive within the HE hierarchy as well.

  • 0
    1

    Prof. Gunawardana is out of his mind and it seems he tries just to oppose what Gota and his government is promising to do with regard to higher education.
    In Sri Lanka less than 15% of the qualified students are being selected to universities. In other words the existing university capacity should be expanded at least six times more than the present capacity in order to ensure the access right to higher education.
    No where on earth Universities will have quality staff at the expected quality and it will take time. However the present universities are not willing to expand as their darling based recruitment and maintaining a class will be challenged by systematic rating and increased competition among universities.
    Despite the fact I hate Gota is promoting Sinhala nationalism for his political survival (as he can not capable to win the votes of Muslim and Tamil Communities democratically), I love the approach to increase higher education capabilities of the country and such effort should be welcomed.
    What I suggest to the Professor and other so called intellectuals of universities is that to shut up their mouth and let the Gota’s government to expand the higher education base in Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    0

    Our system is infested by corrupt people who serve only politicians. The former UGC chairman who was a surgeon to Karu J had told one dean of a faculty to overlook a politicians relation being promoted to a position for which he was not suitable. This was done after 2 prominent academics were appointed to evaluate the issue and they decided against promotion of the said person. Even academic dance to the tune. This man was promoting his daughters father-in-law for various boards.

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