Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Understanding the logic behind the privatization of higher education

The Island, August 30, 2011, 6:48 pm, by Dileepa Witharana
Open University of Sri Lanka

During the last few weeks of their trade union action we saw a lively discussion on matters related to higher education among university teachers. While the main issue that attracted attention was the meagre salaries of university lecturers, attention was paid to inadequate funds allocated to the state university system, behaviour of the authorities responsible for the administration of higher education, arbitrary ‘leadership training’ programmes for prospective university entrants at military camps, establishment of branches of foreign universities, breakdown of the autonomy of universities and so on.

Less attention was however paid to the privatisation of education. The many challenges faced by the higher education sector mentioned earlier, are often regarded ‘stand-alone’ problems. However, when considered as part of privatisation programme, the connection between these issues becomes clearer. A meaningful engagement with the issue of privatisation of higher education requires understanding who drives this process and the different steps towards that goal.

Who drives the process of privatisation of higher education?

Privatisation of higher education is not a pet project of Minister of Higher Education, S. B. Dissanayaka contrary to popular belief. It is also not a project defined on the basis of guidelines outlined by Sirimal Aberatne in his policy paper, Free Education versus Freedom of Education. It is not even a project limited to and implemented in Sri Lanka. It is a global project implemented on similar guidelines in all regions of North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The origins of these guidelines can be seen in policy papers of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and in the conditionalities and policy advice given to governments by IFIs. The origin of this project could be traced back to the early history of higher education but it was during the 1980s that privatisation got a major boost. Minister Dissanayake and local authors ‘formulating’ policy on higher education reforms are merely lesser members of a cast in a grand drama, the script of which has been written elsewhere.

Some essential facts

The 1980s marked a serious change in global affairs. The social democratic model that had prevailed from 1950s to the early 1980s was replaced by the model of economic globalization. Under the social democratic model the state was considered supreme and it was the unit on which global governance systems were based. The State was regarded the primary institution responsible for looking after the overall interests of the public. In contrast, economic globalization suggests a world without borders and has introduced a single global market with a universal set of rules. The authority of the State was taken over by the private sector multinational/transnational corporations. The role of the State as a provider of social security was converted into providing security and stability for the corporate sector.

At the ideological level the primacy of the individual took precedence over the interests of the collective and governance was handed over to the market. Economic freedom became the fundamental guideline on which social order was maintained and even political systems were based. Conventional analyses of this economic model show that the State has been weakened by this process. However, what we see is rather a redefining of the State, where not only is it facilitating corporate interests but invades the lives of citizens in new ways. The relationship among the State and IFIs and other global institutions are also redefined sometimes blurring the distinction between the state and other actors.

The change introduced by economic globalization was unprecedented. One of the main characteristics of economic globalization is the expansion of the market to every corner of the world, to areas people in the past never imagined possible and to spheres people considered sacred. Virtually everything is now up for sale from health care to culture, tradition, heritage, micro-biological processes, genes, gene codes, seeds and natural resources including air and water and, of course, higher education. The ultimate objective of economic globalization is to expand possibilities for markets to gain entry to every corner of the globe for the purpose of maximising profits.

This economic globalisation model, however, faced a serious setback during the last decade as a result of the global food, environment, energy and financial crises. Attempts at reforms in sectors that could have generated higher levels of profits such as water were defeated by massive public protests. The economic perspective with a profit making drive is increasingly seen as too narrow to address complex multi-dimensional global problems. The recent global dialogue on the inability of the market to address global problems, however, happened mostly in the developed world while countries in the developing world seem to follow the same prescriptions that were offered to them during 1980-2000 without having a proper dialogue at the national level on their effectiveness, sustainability or appropriateness.

The grand project of privatisation

Transforming essential services such as education and health, life forms such as parts of animal and plants and natural resources vital for human survival such as air and water into tradable commodities or services in the market is a process consisting of several steps. Conceptually, the process consists of work in two areas; ground work done at the in-country level and preparation of international mechanisms. Sectoral reforms are introduced in countries (e .g. land, education, power, etc) to remove the ‘sacred’ tags on such services and resources and to re-introduce them as marketable commodities and services. International free trade tools and mechanisms are strengthened to redefine the role played by states in erecting barriers which block the free flow of global capital into countries.

Sector Reforms: These were a global trend in the 1980s and 1990s and enforced particularly on the governments in the developing world by International Financial Institutions. Sector reforms introduced the necessary policy environment and legal structures for the private sector to get involved in what had hitherto been treated as public services and goods. An interesting characteristic of sector reforms is the argument that reforms address a decisive problem in each sector. While energy sector reforms were proposed to address the ‘debt’ of state-run energy utilities, water sector reforms were aimed at addressing a serious water scarcity the world will face in the near future. Higher education reforms have a different logic to suit different contexts. Raising the quality of education through competition is one such argument. The other, ostensibly progressive argument is about expanding access to those who qualify for higher education but are denied access due to limited places in state funded universities. Whatever the critical issue that is identified in a sector, the common prescription that is offered becomes privatisation. This usually results in treating sectors in isolation by removing them from the functional role they play in the overall process of development. It is then proposed that each sector should recover costs by generating its own funds. The role played by the State is supposedly limited by replacing the state with ‘independent’ regulators. Finally, space is created for profit-making by promoting private sector participation.

International Free Trade Regimes: With the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, free trade replaced development, democracy and environment as the fundamental guideline in macro level global decision-making. Multilateral rules imposed by WTO trade agreements on goods, services, investments and intellectual property rights made maintenance of a range of laws and regulations ‘barriers to trade’ and ‘WTO-illegal’ irrespective of whether those laws and regulations were introduced by a country to protect non-trade development interests. Development of under-developed countries, establishment of democracy and protection of environment were supposed to be achieved within a framework governed by the principles of free trade.

Within the context of privatisation of higher education in Sri Lanka attention should be paid to higher education reforms as well as to the international free trade mechanism for services, General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and other bilateral trade mechanisms that includes services (e. g. India Sri Lanka Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement – CEPA).

Stages of higher education privatisation

The literature on higher education reforms identifies three steps of privatisation in general: privatisation of cost sharing; privatisation of functions and establishment of private universities. The privatisation process however, is more complex and involves different actors and consists of many steps as described below.

1. Privatisation of cost sharing: Universities are encouraged to generate their own funds in parallel to the reduction of State funding provided to them and financial assistance to students by the state.

2. Gradual change of curricula to suit market requirements: Through the introduction of the perception that graduates are unemployable, a logic has been created for gradually phasing out many programmes reshaping the classical role played by the university to merely churning out workers for a narrowly defined job market.

3. Establishment of necessary legal frameworks and operational infrastructure: Acts allowing the entry of private universities and foreign universities are introduced. The role of the UGC and university councils are also changed accordingly.

4. Privatisation of different functions: Functions such as vending, food supply, laundry, travel, bookstores, entertainment, security and cleaning are outsourced.

5. Introduction of private universities: This includes the recognition of existing colleges as private universities and the introduction of new local and foreign private universities.

6. Offering higher education as a tradable service in international trade: This means the opening up of the higher education sector under GATS and other trade agreements such as India Sri Lanka CEPA. This results in the Sri Lankan government significantly losing control over higher education and the right to improve the state university sector.

Where do we stand in privatisation of higher education?

The privatisation process in Sri Lanka commenced sometime back and we have progressed in all 6 directions identified above. Funds allocated for universities are decreasing. Universities conduct a number of fee levying programmes and have created official mechanisms to conduct consultancies for a fee. Loans provided by ADB and the World Bank under the guise of improving the quality of education have paved the way for injecting market logic into the university curricula. Foreign universities are being invited to establish branches here. Some of the private higher education colleges have been upgraded to universities. Additional space has already been created at the UGC to accommodate private universities. Some of the functions of universities are also being outsourced. Sri Lanka is a member of the World Trade Organisation and offering higher education under GATS is a matter of a decision by the government as it is the case with India Sri Lanka CEPA, which may be signed soon.

What is important to note here is that with all these efforts the free higher education mechanism has survived to a greater extent. The recent FUTA trade union action generated a healthy discussion among academics on wide ranging issues from free education, academic freedom, the role of universities and university autonomy. The current accelerated privatisation drive that includes the introduction of university privatisation bill, however, will be critical in the process of privatisation of higher education and also in terms of the survival of free education.

Problems caused by privatisation of higher education

The purpose of this article is to represent privatisation of higher education as part of an outdated global trend that dominated the world during the past two decades from 1980 to 2000. In this article we also discussed what privatisation means taking into consideration the bigger picture and identified it not as a point but as a process. The process of privatisation of higher education, however, generates a series of issues that need discussions at all levels from academic to national. We have restricted ourselves in this article to a discussion on the mechanism of privatisation of higher education while leaving some critical questions to be addressed later:

1. What are the social and political implications of this serious shift from public to private education? Or in other words, what are the social and political implications of the gradual death of free higher education?

2. Will the privatisation of higher education replace the minority who enter university through GCE (A/L) by another minority who are rich and can afford to pay for higher education?

3. How do we see the new role assigned to universities by market-led educational reforms in relation to the various declarations on higher education such as the Lima Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions? Is this new role acceptable to us?

4. Is there evidence to show that privatisation improves the quality of university graduates? What is the situation in the rest of the world? What is the status in Sri Lanka? What evidence do we have to claim that the graduates of the Sri Lankan State university system has been producing at least for half a century are not capable of dealing with challenges in the modern world in comparison to those who have been produced by private universities?

5. What would be the ideal structure for Sri Lankan higher education? What would be the interim stage in the journey towards that solution?

An Education System In Need of Change

Lankadeepa, 27/08/2011 By Sumudu Wathugala

Lankadeepa - 08-27-2011 - Page 4

The Role of the University in a Changing World

Harvard University, Office of the President,

Thank you, to my good friend Academy President Canny, to Provost Hegarty of Trinity College, members of the Royal Irish Academy, and honored guests. As I anticipated joining you here today, a story came to mind that involves the poet Robert Frost, when he was invited to read a poem at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy, Harvard's most famous Irish-American graduate. At some point after the ceremony Frost supposedly leaned over to the new president and said, "You've something of Irish and something of Harvard. Let me advise you, be more Irish than Harvard." I fear that, with me, the balance tilts in the other direction and that you will be getting a great deal of Harvard-or at least of reflections my experience there has generated. But I want to take this moment, when so much attention is being focused on universities here in Ireland and elsewhere, to consider the place of the university in a changing and globalizing world. Your own Nicholas Canny in his September 2008 President's Report called for this Academy to play a role in the discussion of these critical issues, serving, as he put it, as a "university of the universities." I am honored to have the opportunity to be part of that conversation.

Prevailing discourse, familiar since at least the 1990s, emphasizes the university's place as a paramount player in a global system increasingly driven by knowledge, information and ideas. We live in a time when knowledge is ever more vital to our societies and economies, in a world of rapidly circulating capital and people and of revolutionary communication technologies. Knowledge is replacing other resources as the main driver of economic growth, and education has increasingly become the foundation for individual prosperity and social mobility. In the United States, a recent survey found that the proportion of individuals who believe higher education to be "absolutely necessary" for success increased from 31% in 2000 to 55% in 2009. Data supports these perceptions: A U.S. Census Bureau study in 2002 found that a college-educated American earns about twice as much over a lifetime as one with just a secondary diploma.

Higher education generates broader economic growth as well as individual success. For example, a recent study determined that universities contributed nearly 60 billion pounds to the economy of the United Kingdom in 2007-08. And, of course, this impact is not just national but global. A ferment of ideas and innovation accompanies proliferating exchanges of faculty and students. UNESCO reports a 57% increase in the numbers of those studying outside their home countries in just the past decade. At Harvard, we have seen a fourfold increase in study abroad during the undergraduate years. And now more international students come to us as well—20% of our total university-wide student population. In a digital age, ideas and aspirations respect few boundaries. The new knowledge economy is necessarily global, and the reach of universities must be so as well.

Consider a few recent examples of this current of growth, exchange and collaboration:

• The European Union's recently expanded study abroad program, Erasmus, sends hundreds of thousands of students and faculty to 4,000 institutions in 33 countries each year.
• The Persian Gulf States have recruited international branch campuses with investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars — Education City in Doha involves six American universities on 14 square kilometers of land; New York University's new Abu Dhabi campus opens this fall, admitting just 2% of the applicant pool and enrolling students from 39 countries. We can count at least 162 branch campuses of Western universities in Asia and the Middle East—a 43% increase in just three years.
• Singapore hosts 90,000 international students as well as a campus of INSEAD, the global business school, and programs with at least four American universities.
• China has engineered an explosion in higher education, the most dramatic in human history. Between 1999 and 2005, the number of degree earners quadrupled—to more than 3 million. China is expected by the end of this calendar year to become the world's largest producer of Ph.D. scientists and engineers.
• In India, the numbers attending universities doubled in the 1990s, and demand continues to surge. India's Human Resource Development Minister has stated that India needs 800 new institutions of higher education by 2020 in order to raise the age participation rate—the percentage of college-age population enrolled in institutions of higher education—from 12.4% to 30%.
• Here in Ireland that age participation rate increased from 11% in 1965 to 57% in 2003. Your global outreach has expanded significantly as well. Your online portal for open-access research, RIAN, went live this month, inviting greater international collaboration; Trinity and University College Dublin's new Innovation Alliance, and this Academy's joint innovation venture, leverage national and international connections, building on a well-established capacity for technological innovation and entrepreneurship at Irish universities.
We have seen these borderless partnerships flourish in ways that truly matter—improving lives in dramatic ways.

I had the privilege of witnessing one remarkable example of such an initiative firsthand when I travelled to Botswana last fall. A collaboration between Harvard and the government of Botswana has over a decade and a half made significant progress in AIDS prevention and treatment. One of its greatest successes has been in all but eliminating mother-child transmission of HIV/AIDS in a study population. It was an unforgettable lesson for this university president about the kind of difference our institutions can make—a lesson rendered powerfully real when I met with a group of the mothers and their healthy, bright-eyed children. When I asked one woman about her hopes for her three-year-old daughter, she smiled and replied, "I want her to go to Harvard."

Often universities' international initiatives are framed as a competitive necessity—for the standing of our institutions, for the global success of our nations and their economies. But if these are competitions, they are ones in which everyone can win—through the partnerships they generate, in the opportunities they open, in the fields and the minds they expand. Indeed, as other institutions falter in dispiriting succession, universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate.

This description captures an essential part of what universities are and why we need them, why we have looked to them as zones of openness since the first Studia Generalia in Paris and Bologna attracted students from across medieval Europe to study law, theology, philosophy and medicine, disciplines that even then extended beyond nations and across borders.

Yet, in 2010, even as we marvel at the pace of expansion in higher education across the globe, even as we around the world collectively acknowledge its critical and ever-increasing importance, even as we recognize its necessarily global scope, we see its future imperiled. We find that the global economic crisis has slowed our cross-border momentum. The world seems a little less "flat," and some observers claim that the recession has driven globalization into retreat. As the world oscillates between openness and insularity, many worry that we are entering a more inward-looking period, when states begin to resurrect old boundaries and national concerns trump international aspirations. We saw some early indications of increased insularity in the months after 9/11, when tightened security imposed new hurdles for international students. We at Harvard worked to assist students with visa difficulties, but we still saw numbers diminish for a time, and international faculty encountered obstacles as well. The numbers of international students at Harvard and across the United States have now returned to earlier levels, but security concerns continue to inhibit ease of movement for many who wish to cross borders to study or to undertake research collaborations.

Fears of economic competition from the global recession have also intensified resistance to immigration, sentiments powerfully demonstrated in the United States in the recent laws passed in Arizona that have sparked nationwide protests. Talent comes with many different passports, and as we at universities work to attract and nurture the most promising and creative minds, we find our purposes challenged by legislation that would limit access for such individuals or prohibit them from using their education to contribute to our society. Venture capitalist John Doerr, distressed at the requirement that so many international students are compelled to leave the United States after finishing their education, remarked that we ought to be stapling the "green cards" that permit extended U.S. residence and employment to the diploma of every foreign graduate. At Harvard we were forcefully reminded of these immigration issues just this month when one of our undergraduates was detained by the immigration authorities as he tried to board a plane. He was returning to work in a laboratory at Harvard for the summer from his home in Texas, where he had lived since his mother brought him to the country illegally when he was four years old. His story of achievement in face of daunting odds is a compelling one, and it garnered widespread support—not just from us at Harvard, but also from powerful voices in Washington, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, and Massachusetts's Senator John Kerry and Congressman Michael Capuano. The immigration service has now determined it will not pursue any action against him for the time being. I, like a number of other university presidents, have been vocal in support of the DREAM Act, sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin, which would enable young people brought as children to the U.S. to qualify for citizenship through six-year provisional status to pursue higher education or military service, but this measure has not yet been passed. As these anxieties about both security and the economy feed resistance to aspects of globalization, we face the specter of heightened impediments to border crossings, both literal and metaphorical, at a moment when higher education more than ever requires the free flow of talent and ideas.

The global recession has of course produced an even more direct threat to the growth and health of higher education—a financial one. While the knowledge economy drives and indeed requires the unprecedented growth of higher education, in many places university budgets decline, and courses, faculty and opportunities are cut back, even as enrollments and expectations rise. In the United States, perhaps the most dramatic example involves the University of California system, the gold standard of American public higher education. Shortfalls in state revenues led to a 20% cut in the universities' budgets this past fiscal year. Faculty and staff have faced furloughs, layoffs and salary reductions; students have seen significant tuition increases and diminished numbers of available places. You have experienced these budgetary pressures in Ireland, and as I am sure you know well, higher education in the United Kingdom faces similar challenges. Last week's emergency budget generated fears of funding reductions of as much as 25%. We are caught in the paradox of celebrating the global knowledge economy and simultaneously undermining its very foundations.

The same survey I described earlier that charted the growing sense that university education is an "absolute necessity" reported that increasing percentages of respondents also believe that opportunities for college are unaffordable. As they desire it more and more, they perceive it as less attainable. At Harvard we have recently built on our long traditions of "need-based" assistance to introduce a significantly expanded undergraduate financial aid program intended to combat these pressures for lower- and middle-income families and to ensure that Harvard is—and is understood to be—accessible and affordable for talented students regardless of their economic circumstances. But serious challenges about the cost of higher education persist in the United States, just as they are manifest in the vigorous current debates about fees in both Great Britain and Ireland. The nature of the controversies about costs and budget reductions can alert us to another threat. This is not so much that the global knowledge economy will weaken or falter in the ways I have just described, although those perils are real. I am concerned with assumptions that rest within the very concept of the global knowledge economy itself. There is a danger that the focus on higher education as the fundamental engine of economic growth is proving so powerful that it will distort our understanding of all that universities should and must be. Such assumptions can, for example, encourage a devaluation of basic scientific research, of investigation that may not yield immediate payoffs or solve concrete problems. There is widespread concern in the United States at present about patterns of government research funding that advantage conventional, risk-free proposals—what Thomas Kuhn might have called "normal science"—over less predictable, more ambitious and possibly paradigm-shifting endeavors. The intensely competitive global economy has driven governments, everywhere critical partners to higher education, to demand more immediate, tangible returns on their investments.

Too often such an emphasis on the short term can mean especially painful cuts for disciplines whose value, though harder to measure, is no less real. In a series of passionate recent exchanges in the press, British and American scholars have deplored cost-saving measures that have eliminated Britain's only professorship of paleography, terminated offerings in philosophy at Middlesex University, and dramatically cut back the teaching of history prior to 1900 at Sussex. The eminent Oxford historian Keith Thomas concludes in the Sunday Times that "the position of non STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] subjects is seriously threatened." Yet as Salters Sterling recently reminded us in the Irish Times, "Any government worth its salt must be every bit as concerned with the humanities as with technologies."

As stewards of centuries-old traditions of higher learning, we must work to assure that the understandable effort to promote what is valuable not eclipse our support for what is invaluable. When we define higher education's role principally as driving economic development and solving society's most urgent problems, we risk losing sight of broader questions, of the kinds of inquiry that enable the critical stance, that build the humane perspective, that foster the restless skepticism and unbounded curiosity from which our profoundest understandings so often emerge. Too narrow a focus on the present can come at the expense of the past and future, of the long view that has always been higher learning's special concern. How can we create minds capable of innovation if they are unable to imagine a world different from the one in which we live now? History teaches contingency; it demonstrates that the world has been different and could and will be different again. Anthropology can show that societies are and have been different elsewhere—across space as well as time. Literature can teach us many things, but not the least of these is empathy—how to picture ourselves inside another person's head, life, experience—how to see the world through a different lens, which is what the study of the arts offers us as well. Economic growth and scientific and technological advances are necessary but not sufficient purposes for a university. And within the domain of science, universities have a distinctive obligation to nurture and fulfill the deep human desire to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit and inherit, from the smallest elementary particle to the sweep of the galaxies—even when there is no practical application close in view and even as we rightly accelerate our efforts to harvest new technologies from knowledge in its most basic form. It is worth remembering that the most transformatively useful of scientific discoveries often trace their origins to research born of sheer curiosity about who we are and how we can fathom the most intriguing mysteries of the natural world.

Our current situation brings to mind the observation of Harvard's distinguished and beloved scholar of Irish history and literature John Kelleher, whose quick wit some of you might remember. Professor Kelleher once commented as he reviewed a folder for the admissions committee, "This student is exceptionally well-rounded. But the radius is very narrow." I am not sure exactly what the student lacked, but his proportions were clearly off, a principle that appeals to our intuitions about what education is for.

The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard's philosophy of undergraduate education and is embodied in the "General Education" requirements that account for a quarter to a third of each student's course work. But this liberal arts ideal confronts challenges in the United States as it does elsewhere in a world so intent on bottom lines and measures of utility.

Ironically, matters seem to be moving in a rather different direction in China. As we risk eroding our support for the humanities, prominent institutions in China are turning to embrace them. At lunch with a dozen or so Chinese university leaders in Shanghai last March, I was surprised to find that what was foremost in their minds, what they most wanted to discuss, was the humanities—the need to expand and strengthen them, the need to address questions of meaning and value even within those institutions primarily focused on science. Curricular reform under way at a number of Chinese universities is requiring a broad range of course offerings, and university leaders are committed to enhancing the teaching of philosophy, history and literature. Fudan University in Shanghai has introduced a residential college structure like that of Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford; Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou has established a liberal arts college for a small test group of students. Two-thirds of Chinese undergraduate students pursue degrees in the sciences; fewer than one-third of American students do. Perhaps we are each worried about what our students might be neglecting. But as we marvel at the growth of higher education and the emerging strength of science in China, we should note as well the increasing interest and attention of the Chinese to the humanities.

At the heart of the liberal arts and fundamental to the humanities—and indeed central to much of scientific thought—is the capacity for interpretation, for making meaning and making sense out of the world around us. We are all bombarded with information. That is a defining aspect of the new global knowledge economy and the digital platforms on which it rests. American students spend almost every waking hour attached to some information-generating device—a cell phone, an iPhone, a BlackBerry, an iPad. They are tweeting or googling or instant messaging or e-mailing. What are they meant to do with all this information? How do they digest and evaluate it? If we are to depend on a knowledge economy, how are we to understand what is actually knowledge—or, we might say, signal—as contrasted with what is mere information—what we would call noise? Education measured only as an instrument of economic growth neglects the importance of developing such capacities. It misses the fact that we are all interpreters; it ignores that some things are not about "facts" but about understanding and meaning. Let me offer some examples of the contrast:

The first example is in the field of law—which constantly requires the re-assessment of facts as their significance changes with a changing world. That is how former Supreme Court Justice David Souter described it at Harvard's Commencement a few weeks ago, showing as false the notion that judges decide cases simply by viewing facts objectively and reading fairly. He continued by saying, "Judges have to choose between the good things that the Constitution approves...values...that compete with each other" such as liberty and equality, and, I continue to quote, "they have to choose, not on the basis of measurement, but of meaning."

The second example is in the realm of economics. In all fields we are tempted to over-apply our models, when our desire for certainty runs past our understanding. Which of us does not have this impulse? And as Paul Volcker, chairman of the U.S. Economic Recovery Advisory Board, recently observed, a basic flaw underlying the recent economic crisis was the notion that, and I quote, the "thinking embedded in mathematics and physics could be directly adapted to financial markets," which, as he put it, are "not driven by changes in natural forces but by human phenomena, with all their implications for herd behavior...swings in emotion, and ...political ... uncertainties." Markets, in other words, demand a certain level of interpretation. Economists themselves have come to recognize that humans do not necessarily act rationally—in terms of perceived and unambiguous advantage—and so we have seen the emergence of the new field of behavioral economics.

A third example is in my own field of history: One aspect of being a historian is pursuing new discoveries—the unknown material in a neglected archive, the data or detail previously overlooked, the historical event never before noticed or analyzed. But history is of course not just an accumulation of information; it is ineluctably interpretive. Data does not stand on its own; history does not actually "tell" us anything. The historian tells us about history. My most recent work on the American Civil War, for example, grew out of the long and widely accepted statistic of 620,000 war dead—approximately 2% of the U.S. population, the proportional equivalent of a stunning 6 million deaths in the United States today. But no one had really asked about the implications of that fact. How were they buried? Commemorated? Mourned? Remembered? But most of all I wanted to know what all of that meant to those who lived through it and thus what it might mean about how we live and die today. The foundation of the book is investigative-it ends with 50 pages of footnotes-but the force of the book is interpretive.

This kind of understanding lies at the essence of a university. Meaning is about interpretation. It is about understanding the world and ourselves not only through invention and discovery, but also through the rigors of re-inventing, re-examining, reconsidering. To borrow a phrase often attributed to Albert Einstein, it is about figuring out what counts as well as what can be counted. Meaning is about remembering what we have forgotten, now in a new context; it is about hearing and seeing what is right in front of us that we could not before hear or see; it is about wisdom that must be stirred and awakened time and again, even in the wise.

An overly instrumental model of the university misses the genius of its capacity. It devalues the zone of patience and contemplation the university creates in a world all but overwhelmed by stimulation. It diminishes its role as an asker of fundamental questions in a world hurrying to fix its most urgent problems. We need both.

There is no one model for a university's success, no disembodied "global research university" to which we all should aspire. Our variety supports our strength. Nor, as my colleague Louis Menand has noted, is the practical the enemy of the true. From the beginning, universities have drawn power from the creative tension between the search for applied knowledge and the devotion to knowledge pursued for its own sake, for the simple satisfaction of curiosity. As early as 1862, the American government addressed this tension at the heart of higher education with the Morrill Act, which founded the land grant colleges that have evolved into our great public universities. The measure explicitly sought to balance what it called "liberal and practical education," encouraging "agriculture and mechanic arts" while preserving "scientific and classical studies."

Humans have an insatiable appetite for understanding and for meaning. It is, in no small part, what makes us human. A testament to that hunger is the remarkable response to Professor Michael Sandel's moral reasoning course at Harvard called "Justice." This course, taught in Socratic style, has long been among the most popular of our undergraduate offerings. Recently, it has been filmed and distributed online, and now people around the world can experience the course. They can engage with the contemporary moral dilemmas it confronts and with the traditions of philosophy that have addressed similar questions from ancient times to the present. The course has, astonishingly, become a worldwide phenomenon: The series has had more than a million viewers. It is so popular in Japan that the Wall Street Journal wrote last week of the newest Japanese TV craze: philosophers.

I have learned that modern Ireland chose as the designated word for "professor" the old Irish term "ollamh", the name for the highest rank of ancient Gaelic poets. I do not know the reason, but I can guess. Poets are acute interpreters, fluent in meaning. Among the best of our time is Seamus Heaney, Harvard's former Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, beloved in Massachusetts as in Ireland—something of Irish and something of Harvard.

In 1986, Seamus Heaney composed a villanelle in honor of Harvard's 350th anniversary and read it before those assembled to celebrate. The poem begins with a spirit—the spirit of John Harvard—walking Harvard Yard. In the convention of the villanelle form, its first stanza, then its third and fifth, each end with the same line: "The books stood open and the gates unbarred." But in the poem's last line, the conclusion of the sixth stanza, Heaney breaks convention by changing the verb tense of the refrain from past to present: "The books stand open and the gates unbarred." The shift unites the past and present of learning, of higher education and of America's first university. Heaney's deviation from form suggests to me that he may have indeed intended to emphasize what I am disposed to see—the perpetuity of these essential foundations—this immortal spirit—of openness, inquiry and access that have defined and must continue to define universities. In the seventeenth century, long before science split the atom, before America's triumphal expansion to a distant western coast, a tiny college on the edge of the wilderness, product of this earlier age of global expansion, offered the freedom of learning, the open gates of access to knowledge. And today, one year short of 375 years later, centuries' more knowledge has opened for argument; gates have widened to all from around the world. "Begin again," Heaney urges, "where frosts and tests were hard./ Find yourself." Look to the past to help create the future. Look to science and to poetry. Combine innovation and interpretation. We need the best of both. And it is universities that best provide them.

Thank you.

- Drew Gilpin Faust

Harvard President Drew Faust spoke before the Royal Irish Academy at Trinity College.

You CAN keep a good man down!

The Island, August 30, 2011,

I guess most of us were brought up on the saying ‘you can’t keep a good man down’. Some of us continue to believe in this and other words of wisdom to date. Others have turned into skeptics and their beliefs are more akin to ‘God helps those who help themselves"’and even with a touch of ‘may the devil take the hindmost’!

I was moved to write this piece after attending a farewell party for a much respected (among his students) lecturer in the university system. This person was a "TEACHER" in every sense of the word and his main aim was to turn his protégés into people who could think and express an opinion. Imagine trying to do that within the university system of this country!

It was a tribute to this lecturer that over 100 of his students, both past and present turned up with barely 48 hours notice for this hastily arranged party. People came from Jaffna, Vavuniya, Colombo, Kandy and almost every other part of the country. Sri Lankans of today are inclined to accept invitations to parties without any intention to be present. They usually weigh up their options at the last minute and decide if they will come or not. Sparing a thought for the organizers’ who have to deal with numbers of participants etc is not part of the Sri Lankan way of thinking. This particular function however was "jam packed" and it was indeed fortunate that some prudent organizers’ had taken the lecturer’s popularity into account and made arrangements for a high number of guests.

If you ask absolutely ANYONE of those who have come under this lecturer’s purview they will say that the methods he employs are unique and they make lectures fun. Even those who seem to think that university courses can be done by correspondence ( borrowing the notes from someone and resorting to copying during the exam with attendance at lectures not part of the requirement) turned up for every one of these lectures. It was not due to fear of reprisal; it was due to interest.

Now there were plenty of other lecturers in these courses and it was with dismay and even disgust that students used to watch a succession of less able worthies being promoted and given more responsibility within the university system. This man was ignored or sidelined for his ‘different’ way of thinking. He worried his superiors because he never hesitated to query an innocuous decision. If he had ever taken over higher responsibility his predecessors would have been exposed for their ineptitude and inefficiency. He would never kowtow to politicians. Compromise or even a fractional lowering of his standards was always out of the question.

After many long years of standing up way above the muck and dirt of the system, he decided to accept a foreign posting and leave. Oh, the speeches were very sweet and poignant, particularly from his detractors; the level of hypocrisy was nauseating, but then that is Sri Lanka for you. Actually I am being a little harsh here, that is the norm in most places of the world.

As someone who has worked for over three decades in many different parts of the world may I say that it is very simple to keep a good man down. It depends entirely on the silence of other good men! There is no purpose in being a secret admirer of a great person. If you believe that that person has made a difference in your life and should be allowed to continue to make that difference in the lives of future generations, come out and SAY so! Attending farewell party and making a flowery speech full of superlatives…is it the answer?

Moving away from academia to the mercantile and semi- government sector that I have worked in, does anyone actually retire, thereby making way for the younger generation? They may do so in token but they remain in the background and continue to dominate judgments and decisions and nurture their protégés mostly selected for their brilliance in mediocrity.

We wonder why there is a brain drain. Let me tell you as one who has been overseas. It is not only in search of better lifestyle or even education for the children that one migrates. It is due to the nurturing of mediocrity in this country. Those who think outside the box are not tolerated. Rocking the boat is a cardinal offence. Speaking your mind is done so with the virtual guarantee of banishment to oblivion.

There is no country as bountiful as this for native sons or daughters and that is why prudent citizens always come back. It is the lack of originality and the nurturing of mediocrity that is a big contributing factor. Think about it fellow citizens’….think about it!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

GMOA declares war on pvt. medical college

UGC chairman refuses to counter allegations

The Island, August 29, 2011, 9:39 pm by Dasun Edirisinghe

Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has decided to oppose the Private Medical College in Malabe which has already recruited four batches.

GMOA Assistant Secretary Dr. Sankalpa Marasinghe told The Island yesterday that they have passed a resolution to oppose it when their general committee met on Sunday.

He said that the Malabe PMC did not complete necessary requirements and Sri Lanka Medical Council too has not recognized it.

"But the University Grants Commission (UGC) recognized it recently," Dr. Marasinghe said.

He said that there is no hospital for its students to do their clinical practices, but college claimed they would build a private hospital for that purpose.

However, Dr. Marasinghe said that they have already recruited four batches and they are running without clinical practices.

The GMOA charged that the vice chancellor of the PMC is a lecturer of the Peradeniya Medical Faculty and a member of a standing committee of the UGC, he said.

"We were not surprised when UGC approved it since the VC a member of UGC standing committee," Dr. Marasinghe said adding but the SLMC is repeatedly refuse to recognize it.

UGC Chairman Prof. Gamini Samaranayake, when contacted by The Island for comment, refused to issue any statement.

He said that he will speak about it at the correct time, but this is not the time for that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Statement of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations on the Suspension of the Trade Union Action

Final Draft - Media Release End of TU Action Draft-1

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Special FUTA Press Conference on the 25th

Futa Special Press Conference on 25th August 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Respectful Advice To His Excellency The President, Mahinda Rajapaksa

The Sunday Leader, 14/08/2011

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Douglas Devananda
Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Douglas Devananda
By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
As I enjoy a well-deserved rest in London, having fled there because of harassment and threat of arrest, TamilNet has issued a description of my travails with inaccuracies and the claim that I have fallen out with the President.
This is not surprising that when I was a candidate for Vice Chancellor of Jaffna, both Douglas Devananda and the Tamil Diaspora as represented by the New York Ilankai Tamil Sangam were campaigning against me using my Christian background and the same newspaper report in the Uthayan. The extremes of the right and left at some point coalesce.
However, I must say that I have never worked for the President or the PA. My relationship with President Rajapaksa has been as a public servant with the customary courtesy due to each other. Except for bumping into him at UGC and Education Ministry functions when he was Prime Minister, my real person to person contact was when I was elected one of three finalist candidates for VC and he invited me to tell me of my impending appointment as would be necessary to ensure it would not be turned down before making it.
After I was displaced as VC by LTTE threats and Tamil Sangam dribble in 2006, I was in the US in contact with my department at Peradeniya and the UGC and returned towards my three years’ release from Peradeniya in December 2008 only to be told that I was vacated from my post. I returned to the US.
As the war drew to a close and the President and G. L. Peiris made public announcements calling displaced Sri Lankans to return, I spoke to my friend Carlo Fonseka and he contacted the President who gave the assurance that I would be reinstated if I were there on the ground. So my wife and I did return on  September 2, 2010 and the President issued a directive on September 13, to have us both reinstated in the system and appointed to Jaffna as ordered by the USAB in my case and in my wife’s case because the Human Rights Commission had declared her rights violated through her termination. This has not been done.
In the meantime on my own I applied for the Jaffna VC position and became one of the finalists despite Douglas Devananda working through his stooges on the Council to prevent my election. The President invited me to Temple Trees and promised me the appointment the next morning but as it delayed, I was told that he would make the appointment after the Local Government elections as Douglas was his only ally in Jaffna and it would ruin the PA’s chances if I was appointed. Finally Douglas’ candidate Vasanthy Arasaratnam was appointed without any warning and the election results have been a disaster for the President. I have never argued with him or raised it with him.
In the meantime I was in the position of Coordinator for Engineering “until further notice” but during my 9 months as Coordinator I had not been invited to any meeting in Jaffna on Engineering by the VCs who were stooges of Douglas Devananda nor had any of my recommendations even been responded to. At a Council meeting in May, Council Member Ramathasan who is not supposed to do any contract work for the university but does, claimed that I am enjoying the facilities of the university without doing any work – whereas I had left behind very comfortable offices with state-of-the art facilities in the US and now had to post even my letters to the UGC at my own expense because the university would not. My reports to the UGC testify to the work I did. My salary every month was obtained after complaining to the Labour Office.
Ramathasan in contrast was doing Rs. 300 million worth of illegal university work and living off the public. The Council then proceeded to discuss writing to the UGC that my services are not necessary. My wife had already been left unemployed for a year.
I have dependent children and feeling vulnerable, resigned in June with three months’ notice and began looking for work in Sri Lanka and abroad. Then my article on the local government elections appeared and Douglas used the government apparatus foolishly placed in his hands by the authorities to use a judge, Joy Mahadeva, who attends political functions like the Chankili Statue Opening with Douglas, to hear from the bench his criminal charge against me when there is no criminal defamation in our books. An MP attests that she had asked him to make her a High Court Judge. Would Douglas now help her is the big question.
The so called summons, which I am advised, is simply a notice to appear with no legal force, had reference B/157/2011 without a charge – only the B reference indicated a criminal charge. How can it be a criminal charge when criminal defamation is not on the statutes? A clue lies in that part of Douglas’ complaint that he and the Kayts voters were angered. So is it based on a charge of incitement to riot? I do not know because I did not attend court.
Many – including Douglas’ supporters, even Sinhalese in government – told me that he is a dangerous man to cross, against whom there are credible reports that he has murdered people such as my relations the Bojan sisters. A presidential confidante has been warned by someone in military intelligence that they cannot save that person if Douglas tried something.  A government minister during the elections on a trip to the islands with an NGO person lamented to her about Douglas thus: “For the sake of elections, we need to work with a murderer.”
The message was loud and clear.  I took a van to Vavuniya where I had some work when I was perhaps due in court and after that I came to Colombo and flew to London on Sunday 7th as my articles came out. I was in a panic as web editions were out on Saturday night but … Thank God.
Tarrin Constantine a businessman in London states in writing that this criminal charge is the handiwork of Solicitor Rengan Devarajan who he says is a habitual alcoholic drinking even at work. He was asked to vacate his offices by his British landlord for defaulting on rent, has cleared office cheques through his personal account and owes tens of thousands of pounds to people including Constantine. He is hiding with Devananda after clients who were deported because he was drunk and failed to turn up at crucial hearings, had their relatives looking for him. His uncle in Jaffna, English teacher Panchacharam who was at Hindu College, laments that Devarajan was born into their family. Such is the quality of people sheltered by Douglas.
Devarajan has now joined Jaffna University’s Douglas Council, appointed two weeks ago after the last one lapsed. Although the Universities Act places the onus of appointing the Council on the UGC, the list from Douglas was announced by the UGC Chairman and placed later before the UGC with mistakes for pro forma approval. Even the pretence of adherence to the law is now gone. Ironically a very low caste principal was also on the list and the VC objected to Douglas that he was enrolled for the PhD degree. But the Council has always had degree candidates on the grounds that academic decisions are the Senate’s. Was caste then the real objection? (In my time I managed to get a highly qualified carpenter-caste person on to the list but he declined saying he would not be accepted). The principal escaped the hatchet when the UGC Chairman rushed and announced the list to avoid pressure as nominations from the unions and others started coming in.
Tamils have about 20% Christians and the Jaffna Secretariat area containing the university (covering Jaffna town, Nallur, Chundikuli Columbuthurai, Navanthurai and Pasaiyoor) has about 56% Christians. The Council before Douglas has therefore had 3 Christian appointed members out of 13 to maintain the balance. But after Douglas started making the Council, this has been reduced to 1. There is no Christian among the 12 ex-officio members and no Muslim although their population is growing in Jaffna.
The Council is something to watch because Douglas and Ramathasan chaired a meeting about a week ago at Ramathasan’s Euroville offices on building up the Engineering Faculty. Is Euroville now going to get the contract for the Engineering Faculty? Is that why I had to go? Will Devarajan come up with an argument for why Council members can work for the university?
Wishing the President well, I have to offer some advice with all due respect after the electoral debacle of last month. EPDP analysts are reported to believe that contesting as PA was the cause of the defeat while the President reportedly has blamed it on his accepting “that fellow” Devananda’s nominees. These are naïve analyses. The reality is that the Tamil people have been robbed of their dignity by Douglas and the government and yielded the TNA its massive win without campaigning. Some of the reasons:
1) The several robberies and murders in Jaffna which even General Hathurusinghe has placed on the EPDP. When EPDP cadres were prosecuted, the Chavakacheri judge who heard the case was transferred. And yet, the EPDP is the public face of government.
2) Trying to buy votes through distribution of goodies flouting election laws. Misusing even our Mobitel phones to campaign.
3) When the President’s security service personnel, government ministers, presidential advisers and almost everyone in Jaffna believes that Douglas Devananda is a murderer, the government still deals with us through him. A couple of days ago when a friend asked a minister why they are standing by when I am being chased off, he said further elections are due and nothing can be done till they are over. Is the message of the Tamil voter still not clear?
4) Douglas summoning medical directors, vice chancellors, the GA and everyone in authority to meetings as though he is the relevant minister and all of them running when summoned in fear of their lives. When people ask for roads to be widened, engineers are summoned to Sridhar Theatre and need to wait while Devananda shows off how important people need to wait for him. (The new Council appointees had their first meeting with Devananda last Tuesday night at Sridhar theatre).
5) The non-appointments of the best persons available to the university, the only major national institution in Jaffna. How can a written directive to appoint me and my wife to the academic staff without delay be ignored for almost a year despite court orders and a shortage of good staff? (A petition by over 50 senior academic staff including Council members has been signed asking the VC to obey court orders and not deprive the university of good teachers). Remember that in normal circumstances political stooges will never go against the president unless they are promised protection. There is also my non-appointment as VC as promised and the appointment instead of a person who was indicted by the Auditor General for financial mismanagement and violation of procedure costing the government several millions and who falsely claimed in her application to have a subject specialised Indian  first degree when India has no subject specialised bachelor’s degrees.
6) The UGC not appointing the best persons available to the Council of Jaffna as specified in the Universities Act and instead  Devananda appointing crooks and the very ordinary. The UGC’s unofficial Tamil member is also not the best the Tamils have.
7) The UGC passing Circular 876 asking universities to recruit from the Minister’s list. Are non-PA citizens not entitled to government jobs? Is that not a violation of our rights? The University of Jaffna gets only people approved by Douglas. Because of the way the VC is appointed she cannot now turn down other Douglas appointments. Actually doing this makes a mockery of the President’s speeches on making Sri Lanka an educational hub and our universities – centers of excellence.
Winning over the Tamil people is easy. Free us from the clutches of monsters like Devananda who corrupt even the judiciary. Treat us like humans for a change and do not assume that we will vote for free shoes at election time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sri Lankan government pushes university privatisation,

By Kapila Fernando 
24 July 2010
The Sri Lankan government is pressing ahead with plans to open university education up to private businesses as a means of further cutting public spending. Perversely, ministers and the media point to the deterioration of public education—caused by successive Colombo governments—to argue that only the private sector can solve the problem.
A report released by the National Education Commission (NEC) entitled “National policy framework on higher education and technical and vocational education” late last month set out the government’s approach. It pointed to the worsening conditions in schools and universities, including the inequality between rural and urban schools, the inadequacy of university facilities and unemployment among graduates.
The report pointed out that 85 percent of those who qualified and 58 percent of those who sat admission exams were unable to secure a university place in 2006. “Despite near-universal enrolments at the primary level, rich and poor gaps in secondary and tertiary enrolments and rising private tuition usage suggest that children of low income families are at a disadvantage in gaining admission to higher education,” it stated.
What is needed is a huge injection of funds into public education at all levels. But the NEC report, while calling for modest increases of government funding, focuses on the promotion of “public-private partnership in higher education” and the creation of “an environment that facilitates non state sector participation in higher education.”
President Mahinda Rajapakse has already made clear that his government intends to slash not increase education spending. In line with the demands of the International Monetary Fund, the recent budget outlined plans to cut the deficit sharply to 8 percent of GDP this year. Government’s expenditure on education has already fallen from 2.67 percent of GDP in 2006 to 2.08 percent in 2009. No increases were announced in the 2010 budget bought down last month.
The NEC report declared: “[T]he problem of funding or finding necessary funds to meet the requirements of an ever-expanding higher education system is seen in many countries.” It then added that the notion that the “state alone should bear the entire financial responsibility for higher education” is not accepted now. So to employ graduates and provide extra places for students private investment should be sought.
The NEC, which operates under the Sri Lankan president, is simply providing a rationale for the government’s austerity measures. The budget brought down on June 29 declared: “The government proposes to build partnership with private sector to facilitate students who qualify to enter universities but do not get a placement … due to limited openings.”
The claim that such measures will help poor students is a fraud, however. Private universities charge exorbitant fees. The yearly tuition fees, for instance, for a diploma part two in the arts section at the Sri Lankan institution affiliated with the Australian Monash College amount to $US4,000 or more than 450,000 rupees—well over a year’s wages for even well-paid workers in Sri Lanka.
The Australian College of Business and Technology charges an average of 240,000 rupees per year just for the Foundation Program of Business/Computer Science. The Asian Information Technology and Management (SAITM) has established a private medical college in collaboration with the Russian Niznhy Novgorod Medical Academy in Sri Lanka that charges 6 million rupees for its four-year course.
Moreover, even if wealthier students go to private institutions that will not create more places in public universities. The growth of private education will be paralleled by the continuing rundown of public education creating a two class system—quality institutions for those who can afford to pay, and rundown, overcrowded and underfunded state-run universities for those who even get a place.
Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayake, bluntly explained the real purpose of the policy in an interview on July 18 in the state-owned Sunday Observer. “We can save plenty of foreign exchange and also earn by promoting these universities to attract more foreign students,” he enthused. “According to my estimation if we start 15 to 20 world-class universities here, our main money spinner would be the higher education within the next 10 years. This is my target.”
Dissanayake’ plans to use the cheap labour of unemployed university graduates to create a lucrative new private university industry in Sri Lanka are unlikely to come to fruition in what is already a cutthroat global market. What is certain, however, is that public university education will continue to deteriorate as the government slashes funding in line with austerity measures that are being implemented around the world.
Public education was massively expanded in Sri Lanka after World War II in response to the rising struggles of the working class. Its decline has been bound up with the implementation of a pro-market agenda that intensified as the United National Party launched its communal war on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1983.
Successive governments have made major inroads into public education, allowing private institutions and fee-paying courses in state-run universities. Now, amid a deep economic crisis, the Rajapakse government is preparing a frontal assault, using the police-state methods developed in the course of the protracted civil war. Last year and early this year, the government used the police to violently attack student protests.
Without an independent political fight against the government based on socialist policies, public education cannot be defended and improved. But this is precisely what the leaders of the current student organisations seek to prevent in protests that erupted last week at the Peradeniya and Kelaniya universities.
The Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), for instance, insists that government policy can be changed by student pressure. IUSF leader Udul Premaratna told the media that his organisation was going to launch a “public awareness campaign”, followed by demonstrations and boycotts of lectures. He explained: “A hunger strike will be the next if the government turns a blind eye to the protests.”
The IUSF is affiliated to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a Sinhala chauvinist party that backed Rajapakse’s election, his renewed war against the LTTE, all of the military’s abuses of democratic rights and insisted that students and workers had to sacrifice for the war effort. Now in political opposition to the government, the IUSF and the JVP have no intention of leading a political fight against Rajapakse or challenging its pro-market policies.
The IUSF is organising these limited protests to let off steam and to exploit the discontent and anger among students to try to revive its own battered credentials. The JVP is formally allied with ex-general Sarath Fonseka who stood as the joint opposition candidate in presidential elections in January. Fonseka is now under arrest under trumped up charges, but he made clear in the course of the campaign that he would ruthlessly implement the demands of big business.
The International Students for Social Equality (ISSE) urge university students to reject this bogus protest campaign. Students can only fight for their rights by helping to build a political movement of the working class, independent of all factions of the ruling class, to fight for a workers’ and farmers’ government to implement socialist policies. Billions of rupees must be allocated to establish free, high quality education for all from the primary level through to university education. That is what the ISSE, the student wing of the Socialist Equality Party, stands for.

Sri Lanka: A phony debate on university privatisation,
By Panini Wijesiriwardane and Sujeewa Amaranath 
31 July 2009
The Sri Lankan Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), affiliated to the chauvinist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), held a public debate in Colombo earlier this month on the topic: “Private Universities: Are they good or bad?”
The issue of private universities has come to the fore after the government and the Board of Investment (BOI) gave the go ahead for two privately-owned, fee-paying medical faculties. The decision is a further inroad into public education and the creation of a two-class education system—private universities for the children of the wealthy and rundown public institutions for others.
The IUSF staged the debate on July 9 in order to posture as opponents of university privatisation and to contain the growing opposition among students and working people. However, as the debate demonstrated, the IUSF as well as the JVP have no answers precisely because it, like the proponents of privatisation, accept the framework of the profit system and confine any opposition to pressuring the government to change policy.
The first speaker in the debate was Navaratne Banda, a senior lecturer in the Geography Department at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, who is frequently featured in the media as an ardent defender of private universities. His argument was straightforward: the present public university system failed to provide for all those wanting an education, therefore private universities should be allowed to fill the need. “In 2007, only 15 percent of those who were qualified for university entrance had the opportunity to find a place in state universities,” he pointed out.
Banda went on to attack the whole idea of free public education, insisting that “none of the governments in the world can provide free education for all”. He dismissed “the demand for free education for all” as “a utopia”, concluding that “well-equipped and qualitative universities must be started for the education of those who can afford it”. Banda’s class bias was obvious. He stood not for the rights of students in general but only for the wealthy few who can pay for private education.
IUSF convener Udul Premaratne was the second speaker. The most significant aspect of his demagogic speech was that he failed to address the points raised by Banda. He began by attacking the “imperialist powers” for pressuring underdeveloped countries into following “incorrect policies”. He denounced the government for corruption, declaring: “Not only loss making but also profit making public enterprises are being privatised. Our rulers are masters of inefficiency, robbery and pillage.”
The major powers and institutions such as the IMF certainly press a pro-market agenda. The program of privatisation is not, however, confined to Sri Lanka or even to underdeveloped countries but has been a universal process in capitalist economies around the world for the past three decades. Declining profits have driven the global integration of productive process, with corporations and investors demanding the opening up of all areas of the economy to private profit—including education and health—while at the same time insisting that governments slash public spending to enable lower taxes and further business incentives.
Corruption, which is endemic to bourgeois politics, explains nothing. Far more significant than “corruption and inefficiency” are the massive defence budgets that President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government have allocated to prosecute their criminal communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the island’s Tamil minority as a whole. The JVP, however, backed the war to the hilt and voted in parliament to support budgets that squandered billions of rupees on the military while slashing spending on essential social services such as education.
Premaratne made clear his full support for the war, denouncing foreign powers for their very muted criticisms of the government’s war crimes and human rights abuses. He condemned Norway for brokering a ceasefire with the LTTE in 2002 and all attempts to reach a deal with LTTE on the basis of provincial autonomy for the North and East of the island. The JVP’s demands for a return to war were a major reason for its public backing of Rajapakse in the 2005 presidential election—the man Premaratne now denounces as a “master of inefficiency, robbery and pillage”.
Premaratne’s argument for public education was based on the same communal, nationalist politics. The purpose of private universities, he declared, was to “develop a social layer that does not think of the country, the mother land ... this would bring disaster to our national culture”. In other words, the IUSF and the JVP back public education, not as a means for providing high quality education for all, but as the means to disseminate their reactionary nationalist perspective. Significantly, in the period 1987-89, as the JVP was murdering political opponents and workers who refused to join their “patriotic” campaign, their slogan was “Motherland first, education after.”
At the end of his rambling speech, Premaratne had still not addressed the point raised by his debating opponent, Banda, that free, high quality education is a “utopia” that is impossible for any government in the world to provide. Within the framework of capitalism, that is certainly true. But that is precisely why the struggle to defend and extend public education has to be based on a socialist program that seeks to restructure society in Sri Lanka and internationally to provide for the basic social needs of all, not the profits of the privileged few.
When it was formed on the basis of Maoism, Guevarism and Sinhala chauvinism in the 1960s, the JVP still made demagogic references to the need for socialist policies. Four decades later, the party and its university front organisation are the mouthpieces for vile communal politics. Its occasional condemnations of “imperialism” are simply to defend the interests of Sri Lankan capitalism and the national bourgeoisie. The JVP has quietly backed the criminal US war on terrorism, including the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
For more than a decade, the JVP has been part of the political establishment in Colombo. In 2004, it joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led coalition, led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in which Rajapakse was prime minister. Its ministers voted for the government’s economic policies, which included privatisations and further pro-market “reforms”. The JVP still holds up China—a police-state regime ruling over the world’s largest cheap labour platform for corporate investors—as the model that Sri Lanka should emulate.
While staging a phony debate with Banda, the IUSF was determined to prevent the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) and International Students for Social Equality (ISSE) from setting up a literature table or being heard. The attempt to silence the ISSE was no accident. The SEP and ISSE provide the only alternative to all the defenders of the profit system—Banda and Premaratne alike. Free high quality education is not a utopia but a basic right for all working people that can be realised only through the abolition of capitalism. It is precisely to the perspective of socialist internationalism that students should now turn.

For-profit universities thrive on unemployment,

By David E Maynard and Andre Damon 
21 July 2010
With unemployment at the highest level since the Great Depression, millions of workers have sought to improve their job prospects by continuing their education. Since public universities have drastically slashed admissions, the main beneficiary of this process has been the for-profit college industry, which provides degrees to students at rates far higher than that of standard colleges.
These so-called “career colleges”—primarily online institutions like the University of Phoenix, Capella, DeVry, and Kaplan University—hold out the false promise of a secure future, telling students that a college degree will enable them to find work.
Since 2000, enrollment in for-profit colleges has tripled, growing from 673,000 students to over 2.6 million in 2010. The University of Phoenix, the most prominent of these colleges, is now the second-largest higher education institution in America, after the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Its enrollment of nearly half a million students is larger than all Big Ten campuses combined, but its “instructional costs and services”—the total employee compensation—is $400 million, less than that of the University of Iowa, the smallest of the Big Ten’s public universities.
This growth has been largely a result of predatory recruitment and lending practices, in which these colleges seek to extract profit from the desperation of the poor and unemployed. Many of the programs are shot through with fraud and corruption, and rely on systematically misleading statements to dragoon potential students to sign up.
In Illinois, 350 former nursing students are suing the Illinois School of Health Careers after discovering that the program they enrolled in was not approved by the state Health Department. The students were not eligible to work as nurses with their degrees despite claims by the college that they would be “immediately qualified to take the state board exams.”
In December, the Apollo group, the Fortune 500 that owns the University of Phoenix, paid a $78.5 million fine for illegally paying recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled. This practice naturally led to abuses, as recruiters targeted anyone they could convince to enroll, regardless of their qualifications or ability to afford the classes.
These companies have profited significantly from federal student loan subsidies. Last year the University of Phoenix received $4.3 billion in income from federal student aid, nearly eight times as much as the largest non-profit recipient, Penn State, according to a report by Senator Dick Durbin.
One for-profit college recruiter commented in an online discussion that “we slam anyone…eligible for title IV funds…to take classes at almost $1,200 a five-week class. It doesn't matter if they have the competence or aptitude.”
As a result of these policies, recruiters at for-profit universities have turned to preying on the most defenseless sections of society. On June 17, 20 leaders of shelters and services agencies from across the country sent an open letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, complaining that recruiters were “systematically preying upon our clients.”
The letter said that “the for-profit education industry’s seductive marketing messages and well-trained, unethicalIy-incentivized recruiters are out-maneuvering lower-priced, higher-quality post-secondary alternatives. For-profit recruiters opportunistically target homeless men, women, and youth, luring them into taking on thousands of dollars in excessive debt.”
Indeed, for-profit universities rely on a far-more indebted student population than those of public universities. Ninety-six percent of students take out loans to pay for school at four-year for-profit schools, compared to only 64 percent of students at four-year public colleges. As a result, the average student at a for-profit university graduates with $29,900 of debt—$19,000 more than their peers at public universities, according to data from the College Entrance Examination Board.
Meanwhile, only a tiny fraction of students end up receiving degrees from these universities. Only four percent of University of Phoenix students graduate within six years, versus the national average of 57.3 percent.
Contrary to the deceptive claims of the for-profit education companies, even the small minority of those who graduate hardly benefits. A study by the industry’s own Online University Consortium found that employers prefer graduates of traditional school more than 4 to 1 over online college graduates.
Students are often led to believe that they can transfer their credits at for-profit universities to those at standard schools, but this is rarely the case. One worker at the University of South Florida admissions department told theWorld Socialist Web Site, “We would get a lot of people with degrees from for-profit universities who couldn’t get any transfer credit at USF. The students assumed their credits were just like those at any community college, and that they would be able to transfer. They were not told that their degrees weren’t accredited by the state. They usually spent 10 times more per credit at these schools, on totally worthless degrees.”
Employees at for-profit universities are treated no better than the students. Lecturers are paid as little as $850 per five-week course and are hired on single-course contracts, with no job security from term to term. Academic advisors have reported working with over 400 students at a time in what are essentially high-pressure, high-turnover sales jobs, which involve little “advising” other than signing up more students.
While some Congress members have raised these issues, with the Senate holding a hearing on for-profit universities in late June, they have made it clear that their main intention is to protect wealthy investors. The massive amounts of student loans given to “high-risk” students raises the threat of another default crisis similar to the implosion of the subprime housing market, holding the potential to wipe out billions of dollars in holdings.
While the Obama administration had announced on June 16 that these concerns would lead it to propose regulations of for-profit universities, recent statements by the administration have indicated that it fully supports these predatory institutions.
In a July 19 email statement to Businessweek, Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said that the White House’s proposal will strengthen the “critical role for-profit schools will play in helping us meet the president’s 2020 goal: for America to once again lead the world in the number of college graduates.”
With that, Mr. Hamilton all but announced that for-profit colleges will be allowed to con and defraud workers with the full support of the White House.