Crisis in higher education and need for a global oriented national higher education policy in Sri Lanka.
The need for a better University system of education and a clarion call for its reforms to make Sri Lankan Higher Education Policy benchmarked with modern education systems with the best universities in the world, or even better is the primary concern of my report for 2012.
Late Prime Minister Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike said that: of ‘All the laboratories built by the hand of man, surely the most important laboratory is such an institution as a university, a laboratory of human thought and research, a laboratory turning out men and women qualified to face great tasks that particularly face mankind today. If you ask me what single thing or individual or institution has wielded the greater influence on me, I would answer without the least hesitation that it was my University – The University of Oxford which I had the honour of attending. I do not believe that any other institution has the same influence as a university because when we come to a university we are able, we are intellectually sufficiently mature to shape our course for life that faces us when we leave the university.’ The above quotation is from the convocation address delivered by the late Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya on November 8th 1957.
I am sure any renowned educationist, would utter the same sentiments for their Alma Mater universities in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.
The quote of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike very succinctly expressed the outstanding role a university can and should play in the life of a nation, especially in its process of economic and social development.
If one was asked to use one word to describe the raison d’etre of universities, the word will most likely be “knowledge”. Thus the business of universities is knowledge. The basic functions of universities flow from this focus on knowledge. These functions are the creation of knowledge, the imparting or transferring of knowledge and the application of knowledge. The creation of knowledge refers to the function of the universities as centres, where systematic inquiries to unearth new knowledge are carried out. This function is equated with modern terminology as research. Thus research is very important in a university and for its existence. The function of creating knowledge is closely tied to the function of imparting or transferring knowledge. This ensures that scientific principles, laws, facts and cultural heritage, are passed on to the next generation. Thus, in order to ensure that the future generation is an improvement on the present generation, or at least on par with the present generation, universities have to adequately perform the functions of teaching students. Universities create knowledge not only to impart it to others, but also to apply it. By applying the knowledge that we have been able to acquire, we are able to control and guide, our social, physical and cultural environment. In today’s jargon knowledge must be usable.
Do our universities and higher educational programmes, play the most important role in the creation and transmission of knowledge?
Knowledge is universal and it has become the sole prerogative and heritage of mankind. The ambitious plan of the Government of Sri Lanka for the development of Higher Education as ‘a knowledge hub within the South Asia Region’was proposed by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa through his policy document during the presidential election in 2009. It is stated that Sri Lanka will “develop youth who can see the world over the horizon”. “We have the opportunity to make this country a knowledge hub within the South Asia region. I will develop and implement an operational plan to make this country a local and international training centre for knowledge”. Since then the Honorable Minister and the Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education have constantly reminded the general public that the Government’s policy on education seeks to create a ‘knowledge based’ society that will make Sri Lanka ‘a knowledge hub’ of South Asia.
Sri Lanka needs at the moment a well thought-out and constructive plan to develop and enhance the potential of its excellent human resource base to transform the society into a ‘Knowledge Hub’ as advertised by the Government in power. The 'Knowledge Hub' that the Government proposes would surely be an engine of growth to accelerate the process of economic and social development in the country.
‘In view of accelerating the process the Ministry of Higher Education has invited foreign universities to set up campuses to provide a more diversified higher Education programme to increase access for local students and to attract students from overseas to study in Sri Lanka. Just as in Singapore. Sri Lanka’s strategy is to piggy- back on internationally renowned universities so that the process is cost effective and mutually beneficial. Furthermore, it is planned that 10 branch campuses of “world class” universities would be established by 2013.’ So states Dr. Gamini Samaranayake, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission in his oration at the 27th Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka Quantity Surveyors Association in Dubai on 14th December 2011.
However, those renowned educationists and responsible citizens who value their higher education will have to ask very serious questions about what goes on in the name of education at the present time in Sri Lanka.
Crises in Higher Education
This decade of our history began with the downward trend and the fall of the standards of Education in general and particularly the Higher education in Sri Lanka. Today we witness a major collapse in the entire higher educational system which faces a crisis:-
a. With the confusion created and enacted by the ‘Z’ score released immediately after the G.C.E. Adv. Lev. examination of August 2011, by the Authorities of the Examination Department.
b. The stoppage of work by the University Dons lasting more than two months as a result of a Trade Union action of the FUTA demanding a reasonable remuneration for their commitment to duty and at least 6 % increase of funds allocated for Higher Education form G.D.P. in order to save free University Education system from its down-ward trend.
c. Immediately prior to this, it was the turn of the non-academics of all universities to refrain from work for nearly two months to settle their disputes regarding anomalies of their salary structures before they came to a compromised solution.
d. There was also a resignation of the University Dons from their voluntary positions as a part of the Trade Union action demanding reasonable incentives and a salary revision.
e. Not forgetting the violence that crops up within universities and without, of the students and the law fostering authorities every now and then and their unending protests.
f. Not to mention the problems created for the prospective students of higher education by the recently concluded G.C.E.(Adv. Lev.) examinations owing to the faulty formulation of questions, leakages of question papers, not marking their answer scripts etc. The list could go on and on…
The need for a better University system of education and a call for reforms to make an improved Sri Lankan Higher Educational programme is the dream of every citizen in our country, especially the University students and their parents. Allow me now to critically examine at length the various initiatives that have been proposed by the educationists, in achieving this objective and the heights to which the challenges and objections the Higher Education has faced in the present political scenario.
‘ The university autonomy and the academic freedom’
At the outset I must acknowledge and it is a tested paradigm that it was both ‘the university autonomy and the academic freedom, which helped universities world over to conquer the new frontiers of knowledge. It is sad to note that contrary to the well tested paradigm, it is the experience of the Sri Lankan Universities that the assault on academic freedom comes via political interference. Often the attention of the politicians and the extremists is turned towards the social sciences, in common parlance, under graduates of the Faculty of Arts.
The professions which have a long tradition and international links with an emphases on scientific and technological development such as medicine, engineering, and natural sciences become more difficult to be interfered with. But in the recent past there is also a growing unhealthy tendency that had crept in even to tarnish the academic freedom and the autonomy of such disciplines and faculties.
The State sponsored university system and the growing dominance of the humanities and social sciences with the indiscipline and the uprising of the students that prevailed in these universities, helped policy makers and politicians to create all kinds of inroads to destroy both the autonomy of the university system and its academic freedom.
The State however cannot kill and destroy the academic freedom, which in reality is the life-blood of a university. Thus Universities cannot be asked to betray this great tradition that prevailed for centuries, which Cardinal John Newman, now Blessed John Cardinal Newman enshrined in his work, ‘The Idea of a University’ in 1852, which laid the foundation for intellectual freedom. Higher education therefore must also contribute to cultural, economic and social development.
There is yet a very urgent and important factor that needs our consideration specifically in the post war Sri Lankan Scenario. Absence of a war does not indicate Sri Lanka is at peace with everyone. Higher Education therefore must also contribute to cultural, economic and social development within the confines of Sri Lankan society. In other words, attention must be paid to all facets of its multi cultural, multi religious and multi ethnic diversity. It is the accepted norm that higher educational Institutes / Universities in any given society, developed or developing, have to play a role in the production and transmission of knowledge.
Are our Universities / Higher Education Institutes contributing to the development or playing the developmental role in Sri Lanka to achieve stability which is a ‘conditio sine qua non’ for development with a lasting peace within the multi cultural, ethnic, religious backdrop?
Universities need to adapt to the immediate needs of the job market.
The greatest challenge that the universities face in this highly competitive world in the 21st century for higher education, is the recognition of relevance. By relevance, we mean the need to adapt to the immediate needs of the job market. This, in other words, means that the Universities should produce employable graduates. The country needs individuals that contribute to the social and economic development and this could be fruitfully achieved if the undergraduates are provided with the relevant skills and the knowledge.
Universities must avoid the ‘insular mentality’
Sri Lanka occupied the apex position as a centre of learning during the last phase of the colonial rule and the early period of independence when the universities in Sri Lanka were first launched. Over the years the country, however, lost this status and many started criticizing its higher education system for failing to keep pace with the rest of the world and maintain academic standards. One reason for this sad outcome was the ‘insular mentality’ which many Sri Lankans of importance had been harboring in them.
Proposed Cabinet Paper
It is heartening to note that the latest proposition to the on-going university crisis is through a cabinet paper which was tabled before the cabinet recently and the approval was granted to:-
1. To consider the Academic Staff of the Universities as a profession par excellence and to remunerate them accordingly so that they may not be degraded,
2. To increase the allocation for Higher Education to meet the demands of education and to achieve the base to transform Sri Lankan society into a knowledge hub.
3. To appoint a special commission consisting of University Dons, highest ranking authorities of the Ministry of Higher Education, and members of the University Grants Commission to find remedial measures to improve the said agenda on Higher education.
What Sri Lanka needs
What Sri Lanka needs, at this crucial moment of the history of higher education, I would say the need of the hour is to evolve a development oriented higher educational national policy for Sri Lanka. Though this should have been done long ago, it is never too late. Thus it is certainly necessary to formulate a comprehensive National Educational policy for the country to embrace all its sectors, i.e. primary, secondary, vocational, professional and tertiary education. It is therefore vital that the authorities responsible for Education decide on the methods that must be adopted in formulating a National Policy on Education and Higher Education.
National Policy on education and higher education.
This must be acceptable to all involved in education both the public sector and the private enterprise, religious or otherwise, with a consensus of all political affiliations. This will prevent our students becoming guinea pigs, time and time again, according to the whims and fancies of politicians in power or our universities becoming vehicles of indoctrination, promoting a particular political ideology or victimized by them.
Expecting the nearly 3 month long Trade Union action of the Academic Staff of all universities will be solved amicably with a win-win solution for all parties concerned, I must state categorically that if the Sri Lankan educational system, very especially the University Education, is to play an effective role as expected, it is essential that the universities must become vibrant seats of higher learning and innovative thinking.
Far reaching changes are necessary in the university system for it to remain at the forefront of the creation and imparting of knowledge. It is definitely a multi-faceted process to be carried out assiduously with a clear vision and direction. Any delay on our part to initiate these changes in the university education would result in pushing us behind while others very especially our South Asian neighbours are moving forward. If not, how-ever much the Ministry of Higher Education reminds the general public that the Government’s policy on education seeks to create a ‘knowledge based’ society that will make Sri Lanka a ‘knowledge hub’ of South Asia would be in vain.
Our Firm Conviction
This is our firm conviction that, with our pristine glorious tradition and humble service to the nation for the last 58 golden years, Aquinas University College has always cooperated in shouldering the burden of educating thousands and thousands of our youth, who would otherwise have had no opportunity to pursue their higher education. With the blessings of the Archdiocese of Colombo, Aquinas which is now a degree awarding Institute granted by the University Grants Commission of the Ministry of Higher Education, will be able to compete and fulfil further responsibilities to our youth in Sri Lanka, if Aquinas is raised to the level of an autonomous university.
It is with pride that I record here the granting of internal Degrees of Aquinas for the FIRST TIME EVER IN ;
1. Bachelor of Arts General Degree (BA)
2. Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies (BA in Religious Studies)
3. Bachelor of Information Technology Degree (BIT)
4. AND THIRD YEAR in succession for B.Sc. in Psychology and Counselling to our Aquinas graduates in accordance with the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 in the Extraordinary Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
“By virtue of the powers vested in me by section 25 A of the Universities Act, No. 16 of 1978, as last amended by Act, No 1 of 1995 read with paragraph (2) of the Article 44 of the Constitution, I, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President, having obtained a report under section 70C of the aforesaid Act in respect of Aquinas College of Higher Studies, do by this order, recognize the aforesaid Institute as a Degree Awarding Institute for the purpose of developing higher Education, leading to the conferment of the degrees as specified in the schedule hereto.”
a. Bachelor of Arts General Degree (BA)
b. Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies (BA in Religious Studies)
c. Bachelor of Information Technology Degree (BIT)
d. Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Counselling (B.Sc.)”
( By Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President, Colombo, 26th September 2005 )
Congratulations to all the recipients of the Bachelor of Arts General Degree (BA), Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies (BA in Religious Studies), Bachelor of Information Technology Degree (BIT) and B.Sc. Degree, Diplomas and Courses of study that we, at Aquinas University College, conducted during the year under review.
Today is a landmark, a turning point in your life, as you leave the groves of Aquinas Academy, to enter the world of reality, a world full of challenges. Your success or failure to face these challenges depends partly on the knowledge and experience that you have gained at this institute.
Dear Graduates / Diplomates, your parents, teachers and your kith and kin have sacrificed a lot, not forgetting the fact that it was you who worked very hard to earn your degree / Diploma and helped you to come up to this stage of your life. We all congratulate you and are proud of your achievements. While rejoicing at your success, Let me recall to you, famous verses of 13th century Persian Sufi poet Jalaluddin, ‘You were born with greatness, you were born with wings, you are not meant for crawling, so don’t you, you have wings, learn to use them to fly.’
How would you achieve greater heights in life? It is only with self confidence and determination. I am sure the educational experience at Aquinas University College would have given you all the necessary ingredients to achieve self confidence and determination and to come to the forefront to face any challenge in your future undertaking to build a better world for everyone to live in.
It is with fraternal love and devotion that I cherish all the love and concern, cooperation and guidance extended to me by the priestly family. In addition to our personal prayer and the common celebration of the Eucharist, we are also enriched with inspiration and strength from our priestly get-togethers and very especially our monthly reflections on the study of the Word of God conducted by Fr. Anton Saman Hettiarachchi on every First Tuesday of the month. These reflective moments are followed by our Priests’ Council meeting.
I am truly indebted to you dear Frs. Raymond Samarakoon, Shanthi Kumar Weliwita, Anton Saman Hettiarachchi, Dharshana Jayamanne and Dinesh Fernando for your ready support, whole hearted cooperation and valuable advice which made my tasks so much easier and lighter. My dear Fathers, with your personal dedication and commitment to duty, you have contributed immensely in the administration of Aquinas University College. Thank you for all your cooperation to make this year a very fruitful year of grace and accomplishment.
We bade farewell on Friday, 18th May, 2012 to two of our Vice Rectors ;
(1) Very Rev. Fr. Shanthi Kumar Weliwita, was elevated to the ranks of Episcopal Vicar for Ja-ela region in the Northern Region of the Archdiocese of Colombo. On behalf of all at Aquinas University College, I thank him very sincerely for his valuable service and unstinting cooperation extended to me personally and to Aquinas during the last 5 years and until the end of his tenure up to 31st May, 2012 as Vice Rector, Dean of the Under Graduate Faculties of B.Sc. in Psychology and Counselling, BA Humanities and BIT. He is a multi faceted personality, with a great sense of humour and of many talents. Though he is a very strict disciplinarian, conscientious and committed to his duty, he is very much loved by the Lecturers, all at the Administration and students. We wish him God’s choicest blessings and good health to continue the new mission that He had been entrusted with.
(2) Rev. Fr. Dinesh Fernando, Father in Charge of the Engineering Faculty was also given pastoral responsibility as the Parish Priest of St. John’s Mutwal and as Director for Catechetics in English medium. On behalf of all at Aquinas University College, I thank him very sincerely for his valuable service and ready cooperation extended to all at the Engineering faculty. We wish him God’s blessings in his new mission.
On the same day Aquinas also warmly welcomed Rev. Fr. Chandana Lal Fernando to the Staff of Aquinas University College. He, with his pastoral experience and valuable practical knowledge in Science and technology promptly filled the vacancy created by Fr. Dinesh Fernando as the priest in charge of the Engineering Faculty. I wish him a very fruitful and a long stay at Aquinas.
I also extend my gratitude to our Registrar, Assistant Registrars, the Course Directors, Course co-ordinators and all the lecturers for helping the administration in every way to raise the academic standards of Aquinas.
My dear graduates of B.A. in Religious Studies, B.A. in Humanities and Bachelor of Information Technology (B.I.T.) You all have created history today by being the first undergraduate students to receive the internal Degree of Aquinas after Aquinas College of Higher Studies was given the degree awarding Status in 2005. I can assure you that all your names will be written in the Golden book of Aquinas.
Let me congratulate also the graduates of B.Sc. in Psychology and Counselling. Three years ago in 2010 your colleagues who went before you, also made history by being the first ever to be awarded the Aquinas Internal Degree. You are now the 3rd batch in succession.
Let me congratulate all the graduates for your excellent performance and wish you God’s choicest blessing for a bright academic career and a very prosperous future.
Let me also congratulate all our other Diplomates, for successfully completing courses and the distinction that you have achieved from this illustrious Educational Institute.
All our programmes of study whether they lead to a degree, diploma or a certificate are geared to make you ‘men and women of wisdom and of high moral integrity / probity, of spiritual depth.’
We are also proud to record that all our past students are gainfully employed with a strong character, endowed with personality and leadership qualities to lead the nation with a fully fledged life in our society. They have excelled in their respective fields both here and abroad and support the development programmes of our country.
I trust that the disciplinary life that you observe and the higher education that you cherish at Aquinas campus together with your fellow students of different nationalities, races, religions and castes, would make you strong in character to face the challenges of a better tomorrow and exemplary leaders of a society that would bring about peace and harmony. Let me wish you all God’s blessings in order to lead an accomplished life for the betterment of our dear country.