The appointment process and subsequent conduct of some of the Vice Chancellors of Sri Lankan Universities have been controversial topics among the academics as well as in political circles in last few years. There has been many public debates, and displeasure shown towards the selection process, qualifications of the individuals been selected, and their conduct once been selected.
One such subject which did not come into light and is crucial was the appointment of the University Council Members. This is the most critical part of the process since it is this council who nominate three potential candidates selected through a vote to the President through the UGC for the final decision. Unfortunately general public has very little awareness or familiarity of the mechanism of selecting a Vice Chancellor, and therefore do not know that they have any voice in determining the people who would become the decision makers in our institution of highest leaning in Sri Lankan education system.
Let us look at the recent events that took place at the selection of the VC for the University of Peradeniya. It was first reported in the media that three professors had been short listed to be recommended to the President for his final selection by the recently shuffled University Council. Then it was revealed that due to the incorrect application acceptance process, the Attorney General’s department had advised re-selection with fresh nominations. Now we understand that the new selection date is fixed for 27th June 2015.
As per the results published, we noticed that a total of only 37 votes have been cast by the Council members. This amounts to only 56% votes out of potential 66 votes (since each council member is entitled to 3 votes and there were 22 eligible council members – 66 votes). This also shows some council members were absent to perform one of the key duties. All the council members except the VC/DVC/Deans of faculties are appointed by the Higher Education Ministry. For reference, the criterion for appointing the council members is articulated below. As can be seen, these positions carry huge responsibility in guiding and shaping the future of higher education of the country. It would be a good exercise for the general public to compare the profiles of the council members with the eligibility criterion. In this instant, it seems that some of them do not appear to have understood their role in nominating 03 candidates to the short list (Not first-second-third) for the President’s final selection. President in turn needs to take much broader and holistic view in choosing the right candidate for the greater good of the higher education. Therefore, in the first round we think 44% votes have been wasted. In fact if we consider the votes of absence council members only about 50% council votes being used to select the Vice Chancellor!!!!
The public ought to know these facts and figures, and generate a serious debate to ensure accountability to remove these historical mistakes. We should demand that the right people be chosen to lead our youth to the future. Here is one such opportunity to proactively participate in that pursuit.
Here are some critical facts to provoke your thoughts and create the debate.
Value of the Peradeniya University
‘Sarvasva Lochanam Sasthram’ – (Knowledge is the eye unto All)
The above is the motto of the University of Peradeniya. The creators deserve a great tribute for finding so succinct and compelling futuristic statement which amply reflects the intellectual and spiritual intents of the University as a place of learning. This complements well the wonderful physical environment of the location of the institution that was created for young talents to blossom. The University of Peradeniya is a paradise of its own.
The true meaning of the motto goes far beyond the academics taught in the faculties of Arts, Science, Engineering, Medicine, Dental Sciences, Veterinary Medicine & Animal Sciences, Agriculture, Allied Health Sciences and Management. It talks about taking lessons from the past, using them to build on current knowledge and to create a platform to acquire more knowledge in the future. It also talks about unleashing the abundant and (sometimes hidden) talent of the youth, harnessing their potential for the future, releasing their energy to build future knowledge … and many more.
The individual who leads the translation of the motto to the reality has to be someone special and unique. She or he, in our view should be able to comprehend the full meaning, articulate it, demonstrate it in actions and live by its spirit. That one person is none other than the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya.
Role of the University Council
‘According to the Universities Act No 16 of 1978, the University Council is the Governing Body of the University. They have to play the pivotal role of ensuring governance, management and performance of the University in accordance with the national policy, goals and objectives of the higher education – The Council members should possess Bachelor’s Degree or recognized professional qualification, at least 10 years in a senior capacity in distinguished services (Education, Professional, Commercial, Industrial, Scientific and Administrative) and commendable grasp of higher educational challenges.’
As we know the University Council is expected to recommend 03 candidates through the University Grant Commission to the President for the final selection of the Vice Chancellor for a term three years. By deference the council therefore becomes the unbiased think tank for the President.
Role of Vice Chancellor
‘As per the Act 16, the Vice Chancellor shall be a Full Time Officer of the University and the Principal Executive Officer and the Principal Academic Officer thereof. He is also the ex officio member and the Chairman of both the Council and the Senate. It is also the duty of the Vice Chancellor to give effect or to ensure that effect is given to the decisions of the Council or the Senate.’
The University of Peradeniya is the premium higher education institute in the country which has long traditions and high standards. Therefore the role of Vice Chancellor is pivotal for the intellectual standards and the future of the country. It is also one of the key establishments that will link youth to the modern world and bring the modern world to the youth.
Questions to the Council Members
All council members should be present and should exercise all their votes (not just 37) to nominate 03 qualified candidates. Some of the council members have already created doubts in our minds,
based on their past voting pattern, of their abilities to fulfil this vital duty. If they are not exercising the full quota of the votes, we may be compelled to assume some of the following key reasons as the causes:
- The Council Members have not comprehended the requirements of the role of the Vice Chancellor both in terms of content and its spirit.
- They are less knowledgeable about some candidates and prefer to pass them off instead of making a sound decision
- Some candidates are not suitable for the role of Vice Chancellor at all (hope they are not plants of the interested parties)
- The Council members are influenced by the external forces
Criteria for selection of the Vice Chancellor
Since we do not know the criteria of selection, we have looked at the profiles of some of the well respected and successful past Vice Chancellors of the Sri Lankan Universities in general and Peradeniya University in particular. Here are the attributes we came across:
Since we are not experts on the subject, in order to validate our findings and also to take a lead from world’s most successful universities in the British system, we also looked at the profiles of Vice Chancellors of:
The Oxford University, The Cambridge University and Imperial College UK, University of New South Wales and Monash University of Australia, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the University of British Columbia of Canada and the National University of Singapore.
It was heartening to see how relevant the attributes we figured out.
We sincerely hope the University of Peradeniya Council Members will exercise the mandate bestowed upon them wisely and set an example for the rest of the University Councils so that the general public is assured the future higher education is in safe hands.
In conclusion, it should be mention as an alumnus on the University, how much I got inspired and guided by the true meaning of the University of Peradeniya motto – ‘Knowledge is the eye unto all’ in compiling this article. I hope it will work for the council members as well to rise to the occasion without any biases.