The standard of education, at Sri Lankan universities, is declining rapidly. According to World ranking, local universities standards, are now below the universities of failed states in Africa. Major universities in Uganda, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, are now in a superior position, than Sri Lankan universities. Instead of quality education, Sri Lankan universities are now focused on violence, extremist student politics, strikes, low productivity, and moral decay.
Mr. Navarathna Banda – a senior lecturer attached to the Sri Jayawardhanapura University, cites the reasons that have pushed our university system down, into this deplorable state. According to him, over 90 % of Sri Lankan university professors and senior lectures are under qualified, and inexperienced.
The majority of these university teachers, are working in the same universities where they graduated from, and do not possess any overseas exposure or experience. Academically, their knowledge and experience are stunted, limited and outdated. Therefore these university teachers are incapable of preparing their students, to face the educational challenges of the 21st century.
Over the last 30 years, our universities, failed to carry out any world class research, any validated scientific study, or produce a noteworthy publication, to capture the attention of the international academia. These shortcomings represent the void, in our universities. In order to cover-up these failures, Professor Naleen De Silva, recently carried out a research on Arsenic, at the Kelaniya University, violating all internationally accepted, research standards. It became the laughing stock, of the academic community.
Ragging & Violence in Sri Lankan Universities
Unfortunately, ragging and violence have become part and parcel of local university culture. Ragging involves harassment, abuse and humiliation of new students. It is a serious form of Human Rights violations. We believe that almost all Sri Lankan university students have faced such harassment, either physically or verbally, as first year students. So far, no one has disputed it, and we challenge anyone to come forward, and refute this statement.
For decades, brutal ragging has prevailed in Sri Lankan universities. And throughout, teachers could not, or did not want to put a stop to it. The reasons are easy to understand; they too were victims of ragging during their days at university, and a majority of them, later turned into perpetrators themselves, as they became senior students. For them, it is a moral challenge, to prevent ragging in our universities. The other reason is that radical political groups are using ragging, as a political weapon, to control new students.
Sexual violence, and brutal physical ragging, is a hidden malaise amongst Sri Lankan universities. The Perdeniya University has the worst, reputation. The most infamous, and horrible case of sexual violence, was reported in 1975, from the Peradeniya University. A 22 year-old female student, Rupa Rathnaseeli, of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, leapt off the second floor of the hostel -Ramanathan Hall, when a group of seniors, tried to insert a pen, into her vagina, as part of sadistic physical ragging.
Rupa, sustained serious injuries to her spine, became paralyzed, and confined to a wheel chair for many years. Her dreams were shattered, and her young life was wasted. In 1997, Rupa Rathnaseeli committed suicide. After this incident, the Peradeniya University authorities, made-up a story, in order to cover-up and conceal evidence. After her death, they conveniently forgot Rupa Rathnaseeli. Those guilty of committing this crime against Rupa, are administrators of the university today. Some are even Professors!
In 2011, three students from the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya, were arrested by the Police, and produced before the Kandy Additional Magistrate, Mr. Ravindra Premaratne, for sexually assaulting a fresher. In another incident, three second-year female students, of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya, were charged with ragging a group of female freshers in a toilet. These female freshers, were stripped naked, during the ragging, and forced to perform, indecent sexual acts. The University authorities, imposed a three-week suspension, on these three female offenders.
According to an unofficial internal report, these three senior female students, sexually molested, a newcomer from the Gampaha District. The internal report further reveals, that the victim was afraid to lodge a complaint, with the university authorities, as they adopted a very lethargic approach, to female ragging incidents. Therefore no further charges were brought against, the perpetrators. Although these senior female students, had committed a serious sexual offence, they were able to participate in lectures, soon after the three- week suspension was lifted. Up to date, the authorities of the University of Peradeniya have not taken, any action against the perpetrators, and they mostly covered up, the incidents.
Similar incidents have been reported, from Ruhuna, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya and Sabaragamuwa Universities. The authorities there too, adopted the Peradeniya policy.
In other incidents; in 1993, an innocent student, named Chaminda Punchihewa, of the Ruhuna University, died, as a result of cruel ragging. He was viciously beaten, and forced to perform vigorous exercises, by senior students. In 1997, a first year female student, of the University of Ruhuna committed suicide following, intolerable ragging. She was subjected, to appalling sexual harassment. In 2011, Professor Susirith Mendis, Head of the Ruhuna University, informed the media, that a group of students, had physically ragged, a female student– Vathsala Kumudini De Silva. As a result of physical ragging, she became semi-paralyzed, in one limb.
In her autobiography, ‘Punarukthi’– (Rebirth), the award-winning actress, dramatist and writer, Anoma Janadari, states that inhuman and degrading ragging, were imposed on students, at the University of Colombo. She further, writes that most of her female batch mates were subjected to, sexual harassments, by senior students, at the Colombo University. Another former student, of the University of Colombo, (now completing her post graduate degree, at a university in Michigan) confirms, that in 2011, some senior students, of the Colombo University, splashed buckets of water, containing human feces, on freshers. She, further says, that inhuman and degrading acts, are committed at major universities in Sri Lanka, and no one is held, accountable.
The award-winning, Sri Lankan film and tele-drama actress, Yashoda Wimaladharma, reveals that she had to undergo, such brutal ragging, while at the University of Kelaniya, that it was an emotional shock, for her father, R. L. Wimaladharma, a lecturer, also at the Kelaniya university. According to Yashoda Wimaladharma, her father, could not bear the merciless harassment of his daughter, and suffered a heart attack.
Sri Lankan Universities have student political groups, manipulated by extremists. When a new batch of students arrives, at the University, they are intimidated and threatened with physical ragging, by the seniors. Often, the new students are not even allowed, to have a dialog with, the university lecturers, not allowed ask questions at lectures, not allowed to take part in English courses, and not allowed to use the university library, by these extremist, student unions.
The freshes, are forced to wear inexpensive clothes, and are not allowed to wear shoes. In some universities, they are not even allowed, to take a shower, nor clean themselves, after using the toilet, for several weeks. In some universities, the students are not allowed to drink beverages, like Coca Cola. This ‘prohibition’, was vigorously implemented, at the Universities of Colombo, and Kelaniya.
The senior students, of the Sri Lankan universities, use physical and sexual harassment, to control newcomers. Commonly used methods, include, sexual violence, forcibly stripping naked, forced masturbation, forced oral or anal sex, sexual simulation, urinating on victims, inserting pens and candles into the victim’s anus or vagina, smearing tooth paste or Marmite, on the victim’s genitals, prohibiting underwear, for both male and female, ‘bucketing’ or throwing water, containing animal, or human feces, insulting with profanity, interrogating victims, with profane questions, forced to repeat, profane words or sing such songs, in the presence of a group etc.
Although rape, and sodomy are rare, recent reports indicate, that these forms of extreme violence, are gradually emerging, in Sri Lankan Universities.
Student political groups, use ragging as a weapon, to control new students, and to indoctrinate them. There are, unmentionable Human Rights violations, occurring within, the local university system, and many Professors, and other authorities, maintain silence. Most sexual, and physical harassment, are covered up, by the university establishment, and the general public, is unaware, of most of these horrible incidents, that take place, within these educational institutions.
Majority of university lecturers, do not want to get involved, in internal politics, or are fearful of making enemies, with extremist student groups. Most of the above mentioned, inhuman acts of ragging, take place, before their very eyes, and yet, they do nothing to stop it. Therefore many university teachers, turn a blind eye, to these incidents, and move away. Professors, and lecturers who openly opposed ragging, were subjected to numerous types of violence, and some, were compelled to leave the universities, for their safety.
The Poor State of Sri Lankan Medical Faculties
At one time, Sri Lankan medical schools produced the best doctors, recognized internationally. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, over the past few decades. According to a leading Sri Lankan medical doctor, who is workings, as an associate Professor, in an American university, the standards, of Sri Lankan medical faculties, have declined.
The majority, of Sri Lankan doctors, who graduated over the past few decades, have a very poor knowledge, of English, therefore unable to communicate, effectively and professionally. He, further says, that Sri Lankan doctors lack attitudinal training, medical ethics and accountability, towards their patients. According to international ranking, of medical schools, many medical schools, of the 3rd world countries, such as Nigeria, Nepal, India, and Tanzania, have surpassed the Sri Lankan, medical faculties.
Sri Lankan Universities are Virtually Dead
“Sri Lankan Universities are virtually dead”, says a senior lecturer, attached to, the University of Colombo. According to him, qualified professors, prefer overseas universities, in their search for, prosperous job opportunities. Only the old and inefficient academics are trapped, in the local university system.
Majority of Sri Lankan University Professors, and senior lecturers, do not have the desire, to improve, the quality of the local universities, or stop sadistic ragging. They refrain, from sending their children, to local Universities. Their children therefore, attend universities in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia, New Zealand etc., thus creating a huge academic and intellectual void, in local universities.
When academics, and university authorities failed, in their responsibility, several student leaders, took courageous measures, to stop ragging and sexual harassment, in the local universities. One such example was, Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha- a third year Management student, of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He was, a charismatic student leader, who launched an anti-ragging campaign, at the university, and soon, other universities too, were inspired, by his humane crusade.
A group, of student extremists, killed Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha, on 7th November 2002. He was, viciously assaulted, at the university premises, and his head was smahed, with a computer terminal. One of his killers, who masterminded the murder – Sujith Kuruwita, used his political connections, to evade charges, and today, he is at large. After Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha’s death, his humane campaign, lost its voice, and once again, violence and sadism, overcame Sri Lankan universities.
Sri Lankan Universities are Below African Universities
African Universities are, now internationally better recognized, than Sri Lankan Universities. According to 2012 World University Ranking, Makerere University (Uganda), occupies the 1174 place, demonstrating a superior educational quality, than Sri Lankan higher education institutes. Ironically, Idi Amin’s Uganda, has easily defeated, the leading universities of Sri Lanka. According to the 2012 World Ranking, University of Moratuwa is at 2150, University of Colombo- 2255, University of Ruhuna -2353, and University of Peradeniya -2973. Hence these local universities, now represent, a very low level, of international ranking.
While Sri Lankan universities, struggle with their poor standards of education, Polytechnic of Namibia, has reached the 1319th place, Sudan’s University of Khartoum- 1394, University of Nairobi- 1435, Mansoura University of Egypt- 1685, University of Ghana-Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University- 1903, Tanzania’s University of Dar Es Salaam- 1977,and Sudan‘s University of Science & Technology- 2020. Most of these African countries have low literacy rates, compared with Sri Lanka. But they have defeated, all our local universities, in the international arena.
Regrettably, Sri Lankan Universities have been on the decline, both morally and academically, over the last four decades. There was a time, when Sri Lankan universities, were the shining examples, of higher education, and academic leadership. Unfortunately, the quality of education and research work at these universities, have declined drastically. Today, Sri Lankan universities are, lagging far behind.
Urgent measures are needed, to put an end to, physical and sexual violence, in our universities, and the standard of education, must be improved. Recently, the Minister of Higher Education, S.B Dissanayake told the media that, he intends to invite, overseas students, to Sri Lankan Universities. With the prevailing low standards of education, at our universities, violance and frequent strikes, within our university system, foreign students might think twice, about coming to further their education, in Sri Lanka.
Education is not a privilege. It is a Human Right. Higher education is the only hope and salvation for Sri Lankans, so let it not be destroyed!