Colombo Telegraph

University Teachers Reject Government’s Sunrise/Sunset Solution To SAITM Issue

A group of 74 university lecturers have expressed disappointment over the latest proposals of the Government regarding the SAITM issue. They have in a media statement argued that the Government has failed to address concerns relating to privatizing education, overlooked the reality that the education system already privileges the wealthy, proposed, and enabled those with means to obtain the much coveted medical degree with less qualifications than those who would enter state institutions.

The lecturers, while pooh-poohing the claim that the latest proposal was a win-win solution benefiting all Sri Lankans, claim that it promotes the siphoning of public funds earmarked for education while subsidizing education for the wealthy, and that it doe not address the many problems affecting the public education system at all levels.

The full statement is as follows:

Concerned University Teachers say no to Presidential Committee’s ‘Sunrise Institution’ to replace SAITM and call for Public Commission on Education

We, the undersigned, are deeply disappointed by the latest proposals made by the Government to resolve the SAITM issue. In a statement released by the Department of Information on January 4, 2018, the Government outlined plans to ‘abolish’ SAITM by setting up a ‘sunset institution’ to cater to current SAITM students and concurrently establish a ‘sunrise institution’ that is to enroll medical students beginning in 2019. While both new institutions are to be affiliates of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), we are told that they will comply with the recently legislated Minimum Standards on Medical Education and Training.

The ‘sunset institution’ is to conclude operations when the last batch of current SAITM students graduate. On the other hand, the ‘sunrise institution,’ as its name suggests, will be scaled up to pave the way for privatization of medical education. According to the Government, any surplus revenue generated by the new ‘non-profit’ institution will not go to shareholders, but will instead be directed toward development, research and scholarships at the fee-levying medical college. The statement ends by preemptively suggesting that any opposition to the proposals will be driven by narrow political agendas rather than the best interests of Sri Lankans in this so-called win-win situation.

By co-opting some of the demands made by critics of SAITM, the Government employs words like ‘abolish,’ ‘minimum standards’ and ‘non-profit’ to mislead the public into believing that what is proposed is different from the SAITM that existed in 2017. Instead of halting privatization of medical education by abolishing SAITM once and for all – a move that had the support of academics, students, doctors, and other interest groups – the latest solution, that is the ‘sunrise institution,’ will be a further step towards dismantling ‘free’ higher education. Moreover, establishing this fee-levying institution will be a clear violation of the agreement reached by Dr. Harsha de Silva and the students of state medical faculties together with their parents, who called off their boycott and fast, respectively, believing there would be an end to SAITM and private medical education.

The details of the MoU signed by the Government, SAITM and SLIIT remain undisclosed to the public. Along with SLIIT, the new fee-levying medical college will be recognized as a degree-awarding institution by the University Grants Commission. While the statement says little about the nature of the relationship between the government and the new fee-levying medical college, in reality, the government will create a legitimate means through which the state can use public resources to bolster private medical education.

We, as a poor country, do not have students who can pay for higher education. Such a privatized system of higher education can only be sustained with state subsidies, student loans, and other ‘public-private partnerships.’ Although these initiatives have failed elsewhere, the Government supports such outdated policies, including the current set of proposals on SAITM, to appease private interests. The Government is also desperately looking to generate elusive foreign exchange by attracting international students. Should these narrow interests drive the development of our education system?

The creation of a new fee-levying medical degree awarding institution will allow students, who would otherwise not be able to pursue a degree in medicine in Sri Lanka, to do so by paying for this privilege. As with earlier statements by the Government, the crux of the problem that SAITM represents remains unaddressed. Specifically, the Government:

  • Fails to address concerns relating to privatizing education; in fact, the proposed ‘solution’ legitimizes privatization as government policy.
  • Overlooks the reality that the education system already privileges the wealthy; the proposals will allow those with means to obtain the much coveted medical degree with less qualifications than those who would enter state institutions. In other words, the latest proposal is not by any means a win-win ‘solution’ that will benefit all Sri Lankans.
  • Promotes siphoning of public funds earmarked for education toward subsidizing education for the wealthy.
  • Does not address the many problems affecting the public education system at all levels.

The problems in education and higher education that need urgent attention are many. These include, geographical and national/provincial disparities in schools, lack of opportunities for the poor to achieve their educational aspirations, lack of support for children and their parents experiencing social problems that may disrupt education (including the unacceptable number of children with disabilities who remain out of school), a curriculum that does not reflect the plurality of our communities, an underpaid and under supported (school) teaching cadre, undemocratic educational spaces, politicization of education, and so many more.

We raise the need for a public commission that systematically explores the problems that people face with education. We do not refer to those problems (and solutions) articulated by the World Bank, the pundits or experts, but those identified by parents, students, teachers and ordinary people. We do not mean only those problems affecting privileged groups in Colombo and other urban areas, but also those experienced by people in the remotest regions, the urban poor, and others, problems articulated in Sinhala, in Tamil and also in sign language. It is by engaging people that our education system can be democratized. And it is by engaging people that we can protect ‘free education.’

‘Free education’ is the heart and soul of this country. It has allowed us to hope for a better future for our children, our families and our communities. It has allowed us to look to the future with less fear. Over the last few decades state educational institutions have been weakened by misguided politicians and ad hoc processes of policy making and budgeting undertaken with little or no public consultation. You, as a government representing the people of this country, have the mandate to support and strengthen a public education system that is democratic and just. Yet, instead of strengthening ‘free education,’ you are the first government to openly advocate privatization as education policy. At this critical juncture, we ask that you reconsider and change course. Specifically, we ask that you:

  • Abandon ad hoc plans to establish the ‘sun rise institution’ that is to replace SAITM;
  • Halt other initiatives that seek to privatize education and higher education; and
  • Set up a public commission on education to engage seriously with people’s demands and address the crisis of education in the country.

Signed by:

  1. Chandane Abeyratne, University of Kelaniya
  2. M. K. Abeyratne, University of Ruhuna
  3. Chaminda Abeysinghe, University of Kelaniya
  4. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya
  5. Harini Amarasuriya, Open University of Sri Lanka
  6. Dayananda Ambalangoda, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  7. Wijendra Bandara, Rajarata University
  8. Ajith De Mel, University of Ruhuna
  9. Nimal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo
  10. Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya
  11. Supun Dissanayake, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  12. Anil Jayantha Fernando, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  13. Primal Fernando, University of Peradeniya
  14. Wijith Rohan Fernando, University of Kelaniya
  15. Nilakshi Galahitiyawe, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  16. Sujani Gamage, University of Peradeniya
  17. Uditha Gunasekere, University of Kelaniya
  18. Shyamani Hettiarachchi, University of Kelaniya
  19. Jinasena Hewage, University of Ruhuna
  20. Leslie Jayasekera, University of Ruhuna
  21. K. M. G. Gehan Jayasuriya, University of Peradeniya
  22. W. K. Jayathissa, University of Kelaniya
  23. Priyabhani Jayatillake, University of Peradeniya
  24. Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya
  25. Anupa Jayawardane, University of Kelaniya
  26. Dhammika Jayawardene, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  27. Nishani Jayaweera, University of Peradeniya
  28. Niyanthini Kadirgamar, Open University of Sri Lanka
  29. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya
  30. D. D. K. S. Karunanayake, University of Peradeniya
  31. A. K. Karunarathna, University of Peradeniya
  32. Indika Karunthilake, University of Colombo
  33. G. A. Karunathilake, University of Kelaniya
  34. Pathum Kodikara, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  35. Rasika Kotakadeniya, University of Peradeniya
  36. Emerit. Nimal Savitri Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  37. Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna
  38. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  39. Emerit. Vijaya Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  40. Samantha Kumara, University of Ruhuna
  41. Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya
  42. Lal Medawattegedara, Open University of Sri Lanka
  43. Deva Michael, University of Ruhuna
  44. Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo
  45. Upali Pannila, University of Ruhuna
  46. Jayantha Pasdunkorale, University of Ruhuna
  47. Nicola Perera, University of Colombo
  48. Ramindu Perera, Open University of Sri Lanka
  49. Anuruddha Pradeep, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
  50. B. D. R. Prasantha, University of Peradeniya
  51. Wimalasiri Punchihewa, University of Ruhuna
  52. Neil Pushpakumara, University of Kelaniya
  53. Dharma Rajapaksha, University of Ruhuna
  54. Kalpa Rajapaksha, University of Peradeniya
  55. Harshana Rambukwelle, Open University of Sri Lanka
  56. Chinthaka Ranasinghe, University of Kelaniya
  57. Asela Rangadeva, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  58. A. J. Ruhunuhewa, University of Ruhuna
  59. Athulasiri Samarakoon, Open University of Sri Lanka
  60. Chinthaka Sanath, University of Ruhuna
  61. Prajna Seneviratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  62. H. M. A. Sominanda, University of Peradeniya
  63. Anura Srinath, University of the Visual and Performing Arts
  64. Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya
  65. Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo
  66. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Peradeniya
  67. Nelum Uttamadasa, Open University of Sri Lanka
  68. Ramya Vithanage, University of Peradeniya
  69. Sarath Vitharane, University of Kelaniya
  70. Thiyagaraja Waradas, University of Colombo
  71. Pabodha Weththasingha, University of Peradeniya
  72. Dileepa Witharana, Open University of Sri Lanka
  73. Nalayini Francis Xavier, Open University of Sri Lanka
  74. Gayani Yapa, Open University of Sri Lanka
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