21 May, 2019

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The Perils Of Privatising Higher Education

By Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

The current government’s budget as well as statements by several Ministers, including the Minister for Higher Education and Highways, has made it clear that it intends to continue with the previous regime’s policy on education, especially with regard to higher education. The most worrying of proposed initiatives, is that of allowing the establishment of private campuses.

One of the problematic aspects of policy debates in Sri Lanka is the tendency to simply take opposing stands on issues and hurl insults at each other. There is no critical analysis or engagement with issues: instead, debates are split simplistically along ‘for’ and ‘against’ positions. The danger of this tendency is that arguments are simplified and critical decisions are made based on political expediency or even more alarmingly power alliances: so which side has access to the powers that be, will often determine the course of policy in Sri Lanka. The debates on education too have become reduced simply to ‘for’ and ‘against’ privatisation – with very minimal, serious, analysis of the consequences of such policies. This is especially true of the ‘anti-privatisation’ camp – who are usually painted as wild eyed, left-wing idealists who have no grasp of ‘reality’. Their mode of protests – which are usually confined to street demonstrations – have sometimes resulted in their views being dismissed as irrelevant. The pro-privatisation camp on the other hand has mainly relied on a few arguments which they repeat over and over again. It is said that a lie often told becomes the truth, and unfortunately, the arguments of the pro-privatisation camp have been mainstreamed far too easily. Their main arguments can be summarised as follows:

  1. Thousands of students who are eligible for university are denied these opportunities since the current state universities cannot absorb them.
  2. State universities are unable to produce graduates who are employable.
  3. Large amounts of money flowing out of the country to pay for education abroad can be saved if private universities can be established locally.

Each of these arguments ignores certain basic factors. Yes, state universities are unable to absorb all those who qualify. But firstly, this assumes that the A/Ls is simply a qualification for university entrance (which it is not) and secondly that all those who are eligible to enter university and fail to do so, will be able to afford private universities. Thirdly, it ignores the fact that there are many departments in the state university system which are not functioning at full capacity. Apart from popular programmes such as medicine, engineering, management, law etc (which are viewed as professional courses leading directly to some kind of employment), there are many departments in the state universities who are not running to full capacity.

EducationThis previous assertion is linked to the second argument by the pro-privatisation camp that the sole function of a university is to prepare graduates for the labour market. This has become so mainstreamed in society, that the idea of a broader function of education has been almost erased from society while also conveniently ignoring the role of employers in providing training and professional development for their employees. Unless employers are simply looking for robots who can carry out instructions, one would think that some of the most important skills that are required for employment are independent and critical thinking, creativity, imagination and a broad outlook on life. To gain such an education, the discipline in which you study becomes less important. Instead, the content and pedagogical features of a programme of study are the factors that will determine the quality of a programme. We seriously need to focus on is whether our universities are paying attention to these factors, but unfortunately, a narrow, technocratic view of employability which dominates thinking in education, has stripped education of its critical, transformative and creative elements which can only be ensured through critical pedagogy as well as content. Thus education choices have also become limited with competition for certain courses and less attention to others.

There is another important consideration: the role of a university is not simply to teach but also as centres of research, knowledge production and dissemination. And it is no secret that our university sector falls woefully short on these areas. The pro-privatisation camp does not consider how private universities will engage in research and knowledge dissemination and there is no serious dialogue and debate in society about the need for research in the country. And not simply research for the sake of promotion or patents, but for knowledge generation at a much broader level. This is a critical need in a country that is facing so many social, political and economic challenges.

The final point that private universities will ultimately prevent money from leaving the country is dubious to say the least. It is highly doubtful that so called prestigious universities will set up camp in Sri Lanka. The most likely scenario is the mushrooming of low-quality ‘campuses’ set up simply with the intention of making maximum profits. The demand for higher education in prestigious foreign universities will continue – because as higher education opportunities expand, the value will not simply be attached to the qualification but from where the qualification is obtained.

But the more serious consequences of privatising education are its socio-economic consequences. Unfortunately, the anti-privatisation camp while vaguely basing its opposition to private education on issues of equality and social justice have failed to come up with a powerful enough or convincing argument from this perspective. The issues of equality and social justice are the most compelling arguments against privatising education and this argument needs to be made forcefully.

If we consider what is going on around the world, there is increasing evidence that the issue of equality in education is becoming a serious concern. Recent student protests in South Africa are the latest in a string of education related protest movements from around the world. A few weeks ago, Oxford and Cambridge came in for strong criticism from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in the UK for failing to select enough students from state schools. The commission found that the majority of students to Oxford and Cambridge come from private schools thereby perpetuating a system of inequality. In the US, Democratic Party Presidential candidates debated on their positions with regard to College tuition fees, with Bernie Sanders advocating for a radical transformation of tuition fee structures in the US. The positions of those such as Sanders are resonating with the public showing that the effects of inequality in education are being felt in society. These debates highlight the fact that unless there are specific measures, education becomes the right of the privileged only and that the opportunities for social mobility provided through education will simply disappear. The current government’s enthusiasm for providing ‘full autonomy’ for universities for example – which comes from a very narrow understanding of autonomy as meaning control over funding and managing admissions – is a serious threat to the existing, however flawed, attempts at ensuring equality in university education in Sri Lanka.

Because if there is one thing Sri Lanka’s education system provided over the years was at least the hope and opportunity of a dream: the dream to better oneself, through one’s own ability. Universities especially became a ground where a highly hierarchical society was forced to bow down to individual capability rather than socio-economic position and influence. This does not mean our universities are havens of equality – far from it – as most women and minority communities in our universities will testify, but at least they maintained an ethos of respect for the concepts of equality and social justice. This ethos is under serious assault and its loss will have huge consequences for society. The problem of increasing demand for higher education must certainly be addressed. So must the question of quality in the university sector. Yet, if the proposed solutions are going to lead to the erosion of at least the hope of equality and social justice through education, the results will indeed by extremely detrimental for our country. At the same time, it is time we stopped playing lip service to the ideas of equality and social justice in education and seriously take action to reverse the deterioration of these ideals in our university system as well as to rigorously defend the role of education in ensuring social justice.

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  • 18
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    “…secondly that all those who are eligible to enter university and fail to do so, will be able to afford private universities….”

    Are we to oppose private universities simply because not all those that can’t get into state universities may be unable to afford private unis? Are we in search of some sort of “perfect” solution? Because such a solution doesn’t exist. This argument is a pretty poor one- it’s like a shanty-dweller rejecting a brand new state-made house because there’s no attached swimming pool. No, we can’t get everyone into university, but at least opening up private unis will get more of the youth into higher education than the mess that we call a higher education system now. Honestly, who really wants to go to state unis except those who have no other choice? Ragging, incessant protests and absolutely insane amounts of politics.

    “Thirdly, it ignores the fact that there are many departments in the state university system which are not functioning at full capacity. Apart from popular programmes such as medicine, engineering, management, law etc (which are viewed as professional courses leading directly to some kind of employment), there are many departments in the state universities who are not running to full capacity.”

    This seems to imply something that the older generations in the country, the ones who swallowed certain parts of the socialist myth, seem to believe in strongly- that one can force someone to choose an academic-, career-, or life path for the betterment of the country. You can’t. It’s an organic process. Either these departments need to market themselves better and coordinate with the private and public sectors to set up post-graduate employment as incentives, or they need to be shut down and the money used to fund them used for something more productive.

    “This has become so mainstreamed in society, that the idea of a broader function of education has been almost erased from society while also conveniently ignoring the role of employers in providing training and professional development for their employees. Unless employers are simply looking for robots who can carry out instructions, one would think that some of the most important skills that are required for employment are independent and critical thinking, creativity, imagination and a broad outlook on life.”

    I’ve studied in a western university for my undergrad, and I’m currently at one for my MSc. This idea of a degree as a route to employment isn’t something limited to Lanka- it’s everywhere- and it’s what’s allowed countries to succeed by having professionals in their fields instead of a glut of jobless arts students like in Lanka. And the level of critical thinking in Asian universities is laughable- it’s focused on rote learning, memorization etc. Chinese students are considered brilliant, for example. They are- as long as they don’t write exams outside China- the Chinese students we have here in the UK are woefully incapable of applying knowledge- this is something you see in a lot of Asian education systems, including Lanka’s. Japan and Singapore are the exceptions. Critical thinking doesn’t exist in state unis in Lanka. Private unis could actually do a better job there.

    “The pro-privatisation camp does not consider how private universities will engage in research and knowledge dissemination and there is no serious dialogue and debate in society about the need for research in the country”

    Private universities will not have to rely on political rear-kissing and corruption to obtain funding for research, unlike the state unis. I daresay research in private unis have the potential to be much more streamlined and productive than the bureaucracy-laden, cash-strapped state system. The budgetary allocations for the UGC and research in general by the government have been laughable for years.

    “It is highly doubtful that so called prestigious universities will set up camp in Sri Lanka. The most likely scenario is the mushrooming of low-quality ‘campuses’ set up simply with the intention of making maximum profits. The demand for higher education in prestigious foreign universities will continue – because as higher education opportunities expand, the value will not simply be attached to the qualification but from where the qualification is obtained.”

    Oh boy. Where to even begin. The mushrooming of inferior unis can easily be prevented by the appointment of a competent oversight department for private unis as a government/private joint body- it’s as simple as that. While we’re at it, let’s make one for international schools too. That said, I’m sure the author can explain why there will be a “mushrooming” or private unis if there is no demand for them- surely, if the demand exists there are people who’re seeking to get their education in lanka as opposed to going abroad. So either these “mushrooming” unis are opening to stay empty (since no one’s attending them), or the author is just wrong by her own logic. That said, there is no way to stop ALL the people that go abroad going there- again, the author and the anti-privatisation camp is looking for some non-existent “perfect” solution. This seems to be some kind of ingrained thing we have- grandiose statements of “wiping out corruption” and “mathata thitha” (end to intoxication) and the like are similar ideas- this idea that we can somehow completely cure all of society’s ills completely. Childish.

    “If we consider what is going on around the world, there is increasing evidence that the issue of equality in education is becoming a serious concern. Recent student protests in South Africa are the latest in a string of education related protest movements from around the world. A few weeks ago, Oxford and Cambridge came in for strong criticism from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in the UK for failing to select enough students from state schools. The commission found that the majority of students to Oxford and Cambridge come from private schools thereby perpetuating a system of inequality. In the US, Democratic Party Presidential candidates debated on their positions with regard to College tuition fees, with Bernie Sanders advocating for a radical transformation of tuition fee structures in the US. The positions of those such as Sanders are resonating with the public showing that the effects of inequality in education are being felt in society.”

    If the writer and those of her ilk are this concerned about social justice and equality, why have they so far never asked the government if a student loans system could be arranged for poorer students? As for predatory universities holding students to ransom- it’s already happening in another sector: health. And yet nothing is done about it. Why? Because the government is corrupt, weak, and inefficient. Again, no one’s advocating we do the hard thing and clean up the system. No, let’s bash on the possibility that universities might employ predatory practices. Where are the fervent protests for setting the political system straight? Oh wait, when it comes to that, people would rather stay home. But mention private universities, and the Rag-kings and -queens are out in force on the streets, braving tear gas and baton charges. What an absolute joke.

    “These debates highlight the fact that unless there are specific measures, education becomes the right of the privileged only and that the opportunities for social mobility provided through education will simply disappear.”

    No one’s advocating that we close the state universities. Because I can’t figure out how the opportunities for less well-off students will suddenly disappear when private unis open. I must remind the author again that the same people she seems to hold to her bosom- the graduates of state unis- are the same people who constantly make the tax-paying public wonder if they’ve forgotten the values of free education, whenever we hear of the disgusting ragging, partisan politics, and downright ingratitude of said graduates. Being poor doesn’t make one some kind of saint- stop implying this.

    “This does not mean our universities are havens of equality – far from it – as most women and minority communities in our universities will testify, but at least they maintained an ethos of respect for the concepts of equality and social justice”

    WAIT! But according to the logic she’s used in the rest of the article, anything less than a “perfect” solution is worthless! So how come the state unis aren’t worthless? Since they don’t FULLY address societal injustices? Again, selective use of arguments.

    I’ll end this by saying this: you can keep on playing this sad song of social justice and “oh boo hoo degrees are just job fodder”. It will ensure we stay stuck where we are. We aren’t producing the kind of skills the country needs to diversify beyond the stereotypical “doctor, proctor, engineer” (and IT guy now), and that’s just going to force us into a niche that India is unassailable in. And we can’t carve our own since people like this argue for an outdated, inefficient, lumbering politicized mess to be kept on as some kind of shining beacon. You know what’s hilarious here? Until this private uni thing came up, no one was advocating we improve the existing unis, at least not this vocally. Now that their special place might be taken from them, suddenly these people are out in force. Aney manussayo.

    • 7
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      Harini, The national universities are full of mediocrity and envy of those who speak English Kaduwa.

      Half baked academics who fear internationally qualified academics and hate minorities, particularly Tamils, run the Sinhala majoritarian national university system.

      The students are fed and ragged into conforming to invented national traditions and dress codes forced on young women. The dorms are crammed and students who live like animals behave like animals learn to behave like animals.. sadly.

      The universities need reform but are un-reformable as long as the backward FACULTY remains in place and hence should be shut down or privatized or the whole faculty fired and posts advertized and qualified people appointed on the basis of academic merit and achievment.

      • 3
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        Here we go again.

        Some distributedly unqualified minority idiot try to score something out of nothing.

        I got my Bachelor from State University. Currently doing my graduate studies in the US. First, speaking English have nothing to do with the quality of education. Only idiots who have no other skills bring up trivial issues like these.

        Secondly sinhala majoritarian education system . lol elaborate

        “The students are fed and ragged into conforming to invented national traditions and dress codes forced on young women.”

        from my observation, Tamils have more of these issue than Sinhalese students.

        Stop hating majority

      • 1
        1

        Here we go again.

        Some disgruntled unqualified minority idiot try to score something out of nothing.

        I got my Bachelor from State University. Currently doing my graduate studies in the US. First, speaking English have nothing to do with the quality of education. Only idiots who have no other skills bring up trivial issues like these.

        Secondly sinhala majoritarian education system . lol elaborate

        “The students are fed and ragged into conforming to invented national traditions and dress codes forced on young women.”

        from my observation, Tamils have more of these issue than Sinhalese students.

      • 1
        1

        Here we go again.

        A disgruntled unqualified minority idiot tries to score something out of nothing.

        I got my Bachelor from State University. Currently doing my graduate studies in the US. First, speaking English have nothing to do with the quality of education. Only idiots who have no other skills bring up trivial issues like these.

        Secondly sinhala majoritarian education system . lol elaborate

        “The students are fed and ragged into conforming to invented national traditions and dress codes forced on young women.”

        from my observation, Tamils have more of these issue than Sinhalese students

    • 8
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      ” the Chinese students we have here in the UK are woefully incapable of applying knowledge- this is something you see in a lot of Asian education systems, including Lanka’s. Japan and Singapore are the exceptions. “

      That is a very biased view of Chinese students.
      The General Chinese student prefers to go to the states than UK.
      If you see the brilliant Hong Kong Chinese consultants who put even the local consultants to shame- Anglo Saxon patients crave for them. Indian’s and Pakistanis now lankans are jealous of them. Heart Surgeon top class.
      unfortunately they leave once they have accumulated enough wealth because most don’t like the European bureaucracy .(they don’t need a visa to any commonwealth nation.
      Mainland Chinese study is geared for mainland- collective education so they can produce even in their sleep while the West would still be asleep.
      2007 August while at China i watched on CCTV a recently returned from San Francisco an Orthopedic ex-navy (5 years of consultancy) He did surgery of 4 joints of the spine while we watched and a couple of days later the 17 year old walked for 1st time in his life.. Guinness book says only 2 is possible.This man suffered a lot at China and starved to do his research as the old goats were reluctant to to help- the man cried and viewers could not help but cry with him.
      In the USA the Chinese can beat even the South Indians at mathematics.The Father of American Space was a Chinese Dr Quing H.S. and he was falsely arrested on KKK then later released after time and Mao hugged him- the space station is named after him.
      It’s a vast country.
      I have been to John’s Hopkins where one of my relatives was studying on full scholarship (since 93% in bio medicine Undergraduate at McMaster) I noticed most of the staff and students were Asians and Chinese. Go to any foundation Ivy league you find them there too. They don’t wait because of jealousy and possible jail.
      Don’t comment about cultures you don’t understand.

    • 3
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      Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

      The Perils Of Privatising Higher Education

      “The current government’s budget as well as statements by several Ministers, including the Minister for Higher Education and Highways, has made it clear that it intends to continue with the previous regime’s policy on education, especially with regard to higher education. The most worrying of proposed initiatives, is that of allowing the establishment of private campuses.”

      However, there should be competition.
      Decline of Sri Lanka? Are there similarities? Bribe taking Politicians and bureaucrats?

      Decline of the Ottoman Empire

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-SUlb4rwls

      Published on Sep 6, 2012

      From the 15th-16th century the Ottoman Empire was at its peak. Its realm stretched from North Africa to Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula. Its holdings included the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and the Balkans all the way to the gates of Vienna. It was by far the largest empire in its time, and it was ahead of its competition in terms of science, production, military and culture. Yet a few centuries later this once mighty empire became the Sick Man of Europe. This report shows what caused the Ottomans into decline. Its a universal lesson that shows similarities with the decline of the Spanish, Safavid and Mughal empires.

  • 1
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    Well said!

  • 8
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    What is needed in Sri Lanka is not Universities churning out Arts graduates. We need, like in USA, Community and Technical colleges which provide training short courses on thousands of subjects which are work & job oriented. It allows the students who are not interested in academic studies to take alternative courses which provide skills which are job oriented.

    One special case I know to illustrate this point :
    When the Sapugaskande Refinery was under construction there were not enough TIG welders in Sri Lanka and the construction team from USA set up a TIG welding course which gave the welders training and a certificate. It was found these people were getting trained and leaving the country after a month to go to construction jobs in the Middle East etc.

    I really do not understand why our educators do not see the crying need for skill based training courses and supply the institutions to provide them.

    • 5
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      They already exist:
      Some of these courses are excellent and involve an apprenticeship.
      Vocational Training Authority SL http://www.vtasl.gov.lk/nvq5ict.html#

      Dept of Technical Education & Training – http://www.dtet.gov.lk/web/?option=com_techedu&task=branchdetails&bid=NQ==

      Fact: When Sri Lankans begin to show equal respect and regard for a trade and tech qualification as they would any other professional qualification with a degree you will find more people willing to enter those professions. Not everything is the fault of a govt. Some issues are created through our own value systems.

      • 2
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        That is where you are wrong. Anyone can take a horse to water but cant make it drink. – how do you you get the elixir of experience to work in an environment??
        At IIT’s we have it all yet all are not fit for direct employment at the big companies.
        Last week Modi was at Singapore Vocational Training and was stunned.

        then he was shocked to realise that these men are unable to find employment with the best companies. So Singapore decided to pass laws and the multinationals are moving out- because it is not their job to train but buy the best in the world market- makes sense does it not??
        Same problem at UK and Cameron wants the new graduates etc to gain experience and is now prepared to pay the companies to hire the locals.

        How i fared in life – for 5 years I worked 2 hours after campus at industry (my dad who was a professional taught me this trick) then when I passed i went in full time management within industry and after 1 year started my own industry.I made enough and stopped working to enjoy life.
        My nephew is doing very much better he came 1st engg in american state and was picked up by blue chip because he was an all rounder. at $300k starting with assistance to study for MTech. and very soon he would give it up to start his own robotics company with franchise.
        you have to find your way and should not hide under mums skirt expecting free food to fall.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 6
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    I fully support the theory that social mobility must be safeguarded via state universities. This pathway has been the basis on which all the lower, poor and minorities could dream and uplift their status for many years. This must be preserved at all cost.

    But the other side of the coin is that any state institution will not function at the optimum level if there is no private competition. Private competition ensures that unless the state sector performs and deliver quality education their degrees are not worth the paper it is given. Government must ensure that they recruit and retain quality personnel to these state universities by good remuneration and more importantly heavy investment in Research and Development, Technology etc.

    I firmly believe in vibrant and meaningful State universities alongside private universities be beneficial to SL than state entities alone.

  • 1
    1

    Why argue “For” and “Against” “Public & Private” education and Institutions? Don’t you see from Grade V to “A” Level, the education is “PRIVATE” popularly called ‘TUITION HOUSE” and supported by both the Parents and the Children. Let us not WASTE time and money on this subject called “Education”. Let it FLOAT like our Rupee. Those who “Have” and can “Afford” will “EAT” it and those who don’t have will simply “LICK” it.

  • 3
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    No one wants poor quality monolingual education.Even the poor dont.Only those who deliver it (with all good intensions) want more of it.

    Private education is infinitley better and people who can afford ate willing to pay for it. It is howerver not a great equalizer.Hence it is important to maintain state education or provide scholorships that students can use to gain better quality private education.

    Your simplistic argument for state educatuon is deeply flawed.

  • 0
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    There is no need to privatize the education as it is done already with vague names. from year 3 parents tend to send children to tuition classes which poor people can not afford.AL results totally depend on tution classes and only affluent children can attend.Look at UGC web site where how many private degree offering institutions are in SL. http://www.ugc.ac.lk/en/universities-and-institutes/other-recognized-degrees.html
    What I can not understand is that, this question arises only when private medical degree has been started.University students strikes are also only point out Malabe PMC only.According to UGC web this PMC has been listed along with other more than 15 degree offering institutions (including engineering)So no need to start again faculties,just change names to faculties or universities as they wish.
    Really we need private universities to stop dollars going out and cater all student population left out without state admissions.Students who are selected to Govt institution think that their facilities are jeopardized with private institutions.But it has not yet happened though from 1988 since the start of first private degree offering institution.All who pass AL has no spots in Govt faculties.So those who can spend, at least go to private institution and do a course and do a job.Otherwise those will idle at home and even start social problems that no one can answer.If all students can gain University admission is good but it will never be a reality.So giving chance to private sector without cutting state sector is a must to do thing today to address youth problem without bowing down to resistance from various elements who want monopoly in their trade to address real problem.Some trade unions are selfish in their grievances.So as a ruling party without bending to all requests, should face them as previous regime policy on education sector,otherwise Sri lanka developments may take a U-turn. Trade union should also must be educated about current trend in the region or world toward developments in any trade and should help the government to develop the country without thinking only their selves.They should think of majority of population.

  • 2
    2

    I fully oppose the opening up of private universities in Sri Lanka by the corporate sector, private or public companies or private investors in Sri Lanka.
    Most people who support the private universities in Sri Lanka do not correctly interpret the concept of a private university. The private universities are non profit making institutions. They are mostly operated by funding coming from the charitable and religious organisations. The highly respected private universities in USA enrol the best students through a worldwide competition. The private universities in USA do not curtail the student admission decisions based on fee paying ability but they select the students based on academic merit. These private universities in USA offer scholarships to students who cannot pay the tuition fees charged by the university. One such example is the Stanford University (Stanford University is ranked as number 1 university in the world) in USA. Stanford University offers admission and scholarships to students whose parents combined income is equal or less than US $ 120,000 per year.
    Then compare the situation in Australia. Australia has about 23 universities with 20 million population. But there is only one private university operated as a non-profit making institution by a charity organisation connected with the religious organisation. Australia has about 22 state or public universities.
    Now can we compare this private university concept operated by USA or Australia with the Sri Lanka situation? Those who support the private universities in Sri Lanka attempt to equalise the private universities in USA and other countries to make their arguments. Most of the elite private universities are non-profit making institutions.
    In Sri Lanka, any “kassippu Mudalali, Kudu Karaya, Race Bookie, Ponzie Scheme operator or Casino King” could open a private university. One such example is that the defamed Kotalawala also operated an affiliated private university in Colombo. He himself mentioned that he has failed the GCE OL examination. He alleged to have operated the biggest “Ponzie Scheme” in Sri Lanka.
    Further, these private universities in Sri Lanka are not universities they are “Degree Factories” operated by corporate or private mubalalis to make money.
    Now can we support the idea of private universities or degree factories in Sri Lanka and allow our Buru politicians to down grade the academic quality and standards of the university education in Sri Lanka.
    I fully oppose the concept of opening up and maintaining private universities or degree facttoris in Sri Lanka.
    What we really need is establishing campuses of accredited international universities in Sri Lanka and not the private universities or degree factories operated by Kassippu Mudalalis to make money.
    The writer has done a doctoral degree in Australia and works in USA as an academic.

  • 0
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    @kp, well said.

    With our free education we have destroyed the youth of the country for decades now.

    From an economics perspective all public institutions must, without fail, as the moon follows the sun, end up in inefficiency and decadence.

    This is because ALL public institutions, by their very natures, are not controlled by disciplining market forces. So in the long run they cannot die and go bust in accordance with nature and be renewed again in some other form in accordance with nature.

    Public institutions become zombies, draining the wealth of the nation until the very foundations of society itself are shaken and the nation is lost to crime, poverty and suffering.

    Away with our free education system! We did far better without it. We can regain that if we ditch the lot wholesale.

  • 1
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    It is with great interest I follow the controversy related to the private medical college – SAITIM. As a student leader who opposed the then PMC (NCMC) I see differences and similarities in the two scenarios. We considered health and education as two areas that should not be compromised by money and an equal opportunity should be afforded to all. This theory was propagated by the JVP AS well as some of our dear socialist professors like Carlo Fonseka and Colvin Gunaratne .Unfortunately no one is against private hospitals or other forms of private universities /degrees and as such why single out private medical schools. All students regardless of political color at the time were unified by one notion- Colombo University degree should not be awarded to the NCMC or more accurately sold to people with money ie providing back door entry to the Colombo university. Does the private medical college undermine free education? In reality every form of private education undermines free education and hence we cannot oppose private medical education on a selective basis.We were not fighting to prevent NCMC from using the ragama hospital for training. In hind sight ragama probably benefitted by becoming a teaching hospital but the state could have charged the NCMC a fee for the use of its facilities and used such monies to improve the hospital. This same concept could be used for SAITIM. We cannot selectively limit private medical education but the government could impose a need blind admission policy supported by guaranteed loans to the admitted candidates so that money will not be a limiting factor for admission. This is followed by the best universities in the U.S. Such as Harvard Yale and Princeton and the next 15 to 20 best schools including liberal arts colleges.
    Sri Lanka clearly needs a better educated work force with more college graduates . Private sector clearly has a leading role to play but needs to take into account the sensitivities of the population who have been largely educated in a system of free education. The Govt should ensure that selections are done without consideration for money by guaranteeing educational loans at minimal interest or no interest to all admitted candidates ( or based on need) minimum entry criteria should be enforced although additional criteria other than exam marks should be considered to attract diverse candidates with many other talents and socio economic backgrounds.

  • 1
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    Hope the yahapalanaya govt has what it takes to reform our higher education system.

    Commenting on Malaysia’s transition from independence in 1957 to what it is today, Mahathir Mohamed said that at independence, the indigenous people were the poorest, and some predicted racial strife between the three major groups who were divided by religion, culture and economic status. At independence, 70% of the workforce was unemployed. Our first priority was jobs, more so than profit. “We opened up land for settlement. They were big estates of palm oil and rubber, not smallholdings. We invited foreigners to set up labour intensive industry. We eventually had full employment.Thereafter we looked at infrastructure development, roads and expressways such as the 800 kilometre expressway leading to the Thai border. Little towns and new businesses sprouted up along the expressways.
    On our highways we reduced the toll rates by transferring some less profitable roads to the contractors, and other means. We don’t charge tolls on rural tarred roads.
    Next we looked at improving the people’s income through high tech jobs at secondary and tertiary level. We now have 60 universities, half of which are private.”

    The only way forward for Sri Lanka is to fully support our universities but at the same time allow private universities to compete in all fields including medicine and engineering. Very happy to note that we are making progress on the Malabe medical college issue.

    Hope the yahapalanaya govt will bring down some world lass private universities to Colombo so that the less affluent people will also have a choice.

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    university education must be upgraded. Even art graduates are employable if their curriculum is suitable. IT diverts jobs to service sector as jobs are reduced. New jobs are needed to suit the change in demand.

    Every university student needs a laptop. Books should be freely available. Foreign students in universities widens experience. Private sector employees should be able to lecture in universities. It is not what you cram into your head. It is how you access it that is to be valued. Marks should be given to out of syllabus answers. Internet scholarships for bright students should be provided from prestigious universities.

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    What a tragedy, even the present lot of the academic staff of our universities who are breeding our youth for street protests don’t seem to understand that decent competition in university education will give them the necessary kick on their butts ( staff and students) to strive for excellence in their well guarded domain. They can dismiss our demand for private medical/professional education for kids locally with every possible argument, but as far as I am concerned, I don’t want to lose my child at 18 to a foreign land and culture. I want them to be with us and serve the country as best as they could. We have enough experience, living as third class citizens in different parts of the world, and our children do not deserve it.

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    The imposition of ‘Sinhala only’ ruined education – primary, secondary & ‘higher’ – more than any other cause.

    Look at India which retained English as medium of instruction in universities – Indian graduates especially in technology and science are much sought after, even in the developed countries.

    Even now, politicians & the affluent teach their children in English in private institutions and then send them abroad.

    The UGC should review the processes of recruitment of staff in all universities, including VCs.
    There was even a VC who sent female undergrads for “virginity tests” !

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    All Gam battas gas gembas in Sri Lanka are used to take things freely. Those who want to pay for it they want to make sure the ydestroy it. Fking stupid idiots. Is this the freedom. There should be freedom if they want to pay they can pay for their education but admissions standards should be the same as government universisties. This way we can educate more people without sending moeny to foregn countries. And after garduation anyone finds a job in a foreign country should have the freedom to work. Stupid Sri Lankans are dumb sckrs. Look at india? They bigges income is from indians who work in froeign countries as enigneers doctors etc/NOT FKING HOUSE MAIDS.

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    “A few weeks ago, Oxford and Cambridge came in for strong criticism from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in the UK for failing to select enough students from state schools. The commission found that the majority of students to Oxford and Cambridge come from private schools thereby perpetuating a system of inequality.”
    University education in the west is a commercial venture. UK has always been so except for the very poor and refugees and that too are limited. There are other priorities like pensions, health housing.
    They also object to the mudalalis children from New Delhi who buy their seat and drive a porch. Even Japanese, Korean Chinese come the same way and are known as Astronaut families. Public lefties feel stupidly jealous- but these folk have paid taxes for that wealth..
    But the University has to pay for itself or the standard goes down with staff leaving and lest of the latest equipment and books.
    Lanka, the bane of the terror unleashed on the citizen was the takeover of missionary schools and Sinhala only. What does Oxford teach? To become a pirate like SWRD did.
    Back in the 80’s a friend of mine Anglo-Saxon multinational engineer told me he was not going to give his son pocket money from the age of 13 and that he must learn to fend for life and face the higher challenges with ease. To no avail the Irish men next to him pleaded but that is too young. Today that son a qualified industrial engineer is a multinational with his own enterprise. I did the same after O` levels(15 years) and qualified later with using that money. Therein I learnt how much wealth is enough and stopped working once I had it. Learn where to draw the line.
    You can do it there as you have many resources. But you must first stop begging as a nation as if all are stupid begging bowl monks.
    In the UK Anglo Saxons who qualify as doctors are unable to get training so they move to USA. It has nothing to do with socially backward. India is feeling the effect of 30% reservations for socially backward. England has felt it long ago.

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    Sri Lanka should have private universities.

    the only problem is every politicians think sri lankan needs in their eyes. JVP wants every thing free which will not work in the long run.

    Some politicians want because they want to get some commis from private enterpreneurs, investors or some politicians wait to admit their children to the medical faculty whose only science knowledge is HOME Science, Agricultural Science or Veterinary Science.

    Therefore, there should be an open and accountable system.

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    All this CRY on Public/Private education came into much of discussion lately and mainly centered on “Malbe Private Medical University”. Some Government made the terrible MISTAKE of not establishing proper REGULATIONS and ACADEMIC Requirements before granting license to conduct this “Business”. Every successive Governments simply passed the buck from one to the other and much damage has been done to the very existence and credibility of this Institution. This is always the case with any venture that is undertaken by the Government or the Private Sectors. Now we criticize it but no SOLUTION is suggested or forthcoming. In my opinion, the only corrective step to be taken is to make all those enrolled be checked for their basic educational qualifications and proper registration be made to qualify for medical studies. At the end of their course of studies (equivalent to Government Medical College) be made to sit the qualifying examinations and practical tests conducted for the students in the Government Medical Faculties that are approved by the Medical Council. If this procedure is followed, it would be a “Fair and Reasonable” solution for both the Government/Private Sector students who enroll for a course of studies leading to a Medical Degree and finally qualify to practice as a Medical Doctor of his/her choice. This would also help to “Standardize” the Medical Service in the county and produce the numbers required to serve the public both through the Government and the Private Sector Hospitals.

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    “This previous assertion is linked to the second argument by the pro-privatisation camp that the sole function of a university is to prepare graduates for the labour market.”

    In turn the students should not have a preconceived notion that the state has to provide employment to every graduate. Would you agree???

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    Harini Amarasuriya benefitted from foreign education in foreign country by utilising scholarships made available to Sri Lanka. Having taken those benefits she now wants to prevent Sri Lankans receiving a “private” – in other words competitive, market determined – education. One wonders why?

    Is it because Harini is now employed in Sri Lankan university system?

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    We have a “PING” culture and everyone wants everything free. The majority of the few who get entrance to our universities want government jobs so that they could idle for the rest of their lives and get a pension. Thank god, and Ranil. The future generation will not get the pension as it is today. I remember running a media campaign in 2003 on educational reforms and our slogan at that time was “rakeiyawata hekiyawak and hekiyawata rakewiyawak”. Yes Mahinda Rajapaksa stole that campaign slogan and used it as his own creation in his Mahinda Chintanaya. We have a wonderful interaction with the university student population, and when they were not on the streets protesting, they had hopes, aspirations and dreams just like any of us. They always complained of lecturers with “Parana notes’ (outdated). Some even claimed that a few lecturers have used the same notes during the previous 10 years. Such is the tragedy of our state university education. Open up to competition from private universities and even the lecturers would be forced to buckle up. After all, it cannot be any worse than a chinese noodle degree or the Hungarian goulash, Bangladeshi roti or Nepali dal baath tarkari.

    The solution is probably to offer conditional scholarships to the needy by the government to enter state and private universities. The scholarship should be withdrawn should they disrupt the education of others by unwarranted protests.

    If the academic staff could undertake private practice/consultancies, why not the eligible have private education in their backyard.

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    Harini.

    The PERILS of privatising higher education.
    I would have used the word DISASTER rather than perils.
    Establisment of Private campuses would be like creating a Nudist Colony in a Convent!

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      What a great idea to create a nudist colony in a convent. Atleast the nuns would be safe

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    Dr. Harini Amarasuriya,

    The Hindu has published interview with Ptof. Amrithya Sen on his latest book that makes very interesting reading. The concept of capitalism is discussed in terms of Adam Smith’s thoughts, concepts and what we call social justice today. I am sure it will interest to you and many of those who read CT.

    http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/interview-with-prof-amartya-sen-national-security-is-one-component-of-human-security/article8022388.ece

    I think quality education, however it is provided is an aspect of social justice and a human right. It is choice that should be available to the people . I also think competition is a necessity in the education sector in Sri Lsnks. The multitude of international schools, internationally affiliated higher education institutions and the thriving private tuition industry demonstrate that there is a demand. The supply should catch up and the State cannot do so.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

      “The multitude of international schools, internationally affiliated higher education institutions and the thriving private tuition industry demonstrate that there is a demand.”

      Why?

      Because there is a compelling value proposition.

      What separates the Developed and Developing countries is Education.

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        JVP erupted because there were no jobs 8-5 after free education.
        Do you want to ignore that and let idiots be educated. its lankan mentality unlike eg Flemish who create things from nothing and do well in life.

        “”What separates the Developed and Developing countries is Education””

        Not really but technology separates not education.
        Look at China and the west.
        China took away the latest MG car and all the drawings but is yet to produce the vehicle.
        Though goods are marked made in china they are tested elsewhere- Many times Taiwan has screamed that China is copying.
        Why do you think India is unable to get FDI?? copy cat and more dangerous than china.
        R&D is very expensive.
        2 world wars and Europe developed technology very fast. while our buruvas stole the wealth of the innocent.
        See that electrical lecturer Trish in the UK and how he spent time designing anti mines with the UK facilities.

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          I don’t see much of a problem with private Universities. Though it’s probably better to start changing for tertiary education in Sri Lanka. Not many people appreciate what you get for free and time and again it’s despairing to see what students get up to once they get into University.

          AFAIK free University education is the exception in most countries.

          I don’t think that technology alone separates developed and developing nations. For example, the fastest supercomputer in the world today is Chinese. In terms of technology, they are on par with the rest out there who are considered ‘technologically advanced’. Isolation helps and so does having a large landmass rich with resources. The ability to unleash violence at the drop of a hat is also a noticeable trait of a ‘Developed’ country.

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          batch

          “Because there is a compelling value proposition.”
          “What separates the Developed and Developing countries is Education.”

          Yes, you are correct. Thre is much more value in Science and Technology education, but the the other education areas relevant to commerce, politics and the country’s culture should not be neglected.

          Look into the German Education and Apprentice System, Quite effective.

          Of course, the Germans Work hard. Arbeid, Arbeid and Arbeid.

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    Public sector completely failed in provision of quality education and see how the University system works: You need to sack all fake profs and follow international criteria to appoint them: In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. But all these Sri Lankan Professors are jokers and more than 40% University Lecturers are relatives to each others and they give degrees to each other (Husband gives PhD to wife and girlfriend/mistress getting PG degree, sons, daughter and son-in law and daughter- in-law). MY3 clean University system and sack fake professors and University mafia system. Some Dept are family trees. We well know how they recruits and promoted in University Mafia. First find a person and then advertise according to his/her requirement and send aboard for their friends’ places for PhDs. Go beyond Sri Lankan airport and see International job market. Even in Middle East job market, without PhD from accredited Western University you cannot become even Assistant Lecturer. But in Sri Lanka more than 80% professors do not have PhD. The countries they (University teachers) go to do higher studies, no person is going to studies: China, Malaysia and India.

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    Dr Harini does not have any proposals to address the issues below mentions in the article

    1. Thousands of students who are eligible for university are denied these opportunities since the current state universities cannot absorb them.

    2. State universities are unable to produce graduates who are employable.)

    Instead Dr Harini defend the existing status of core and demands to politicians to become intellectuals and teach them.

    This is a sample that fairly represent entire intellectual population of Sri Lanka.

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    The issue we have in Sri Lanka is a complete failure within the academic domain in setting the national higher education policy that cater the national demand for higher education.

    Sri Lankan Politicians can not initiate such task and it has to come from Academic domain through constructive proposals that enable Sri Lanka to have a higher education system that enable to cater the demand for higher education and well as supply from higher education sector to empower other sectors.

    Therefor such initiatives has to come from academics and that should best serve the demand and supply of higher education. The form and stricture of the system can be either public funded, or public and private funded or what so ever. The prevailing system is unjust as the tax money is used to a segment of citizens’ demand for higher education and rest are left out.

    Dr Harini and other academics in common take this as opposing position with government because of lack of holistic reform initiative of the higher education system as a whole and possible way forward that enable to have a system that serve the citizens.

    In this article, Dr Harini wanted to say that passing A/L too not a right qualification for higher education which is just a politicized argument for argument sake and it will not add any value to set the crisis to an end.

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