Sunday, October 30, 2011

Privatizing Education – There are many reasons to believe that the present strategy will fail

Colombo Telegraph, 28/10/2011
By Professor Vijaya Kumar -

Professor Vijaya Kumar
Sri Lanka is proud of its free education system but the system is not without problems. Wide disparities in quality make parents clamour for admission to the well-known national schools to ensure better opportunities for their children. This has led to both widespread corruption in admission at primary level and the development of a parallel unregulated education system in the form of “international” schools outside the national education system. Although students could theoretically move into better schools through the Year 5 examination, this is near impossible from rural schools. The failure of the secondary school system is shown by the fact that 50% of students sitting the O/L examination fail in Mathematics, blocking all avenues of decent employment. Although governments pays lip-service to the need for English, IT knowledge and science, most rural schools do not have competent staff and many are even without electricity connections.

It is generally accepted that private universities have helped improve education in developed countries like the United States. What is not often emphasized is that most of them are “not for profit” Universities
Although the enrolment rate in primary school in Sri Lanka is extremely high at 99.7%, tertiary enrolment at 4% places Sri Lanka in the world’s bottom 15. The benefits of education for the country’s workforce are therefore mixed. The average Sri Lankan would have three years of secondary education, but less than three months of tertiary education placing the country in the world’s top 30 and bottom 20 in these categories. This is not surprising as there is only space in the state Universities to accommodate 15% of those qualifying each year. The GCE (A/L) examination is therefore very competitive and admission to professional courses is biased towards the urban elite and rich students who have access to expensive tuition, making a mockery of “free” education. While the district quota system aims to correct this bias, it is only able to make a small dent to the injustice in the system as it favours provincial elites over the rural poor.
Sri Lanka has failed to invest adequately on education with public expenditure on education being slightly less than the 2.4% of GDP spent by Bangladesh and the 3.1% by India and much less than the 4.3% spent by Thailand and 7% spent by Malaysia. The problem is made even more acute because while most of these countries make in addition substantial private investments in education, Sri Lanka’s policy has been to discourage private investment in education.
Government should be urged to greatly increase its investment in education. It was encouraging to note that one of the demands during the recent University pay dispute was to increase investment in education to 6% of GDP. At primary and secondary levels, there must be a serious attempt to substantially improve schools catering to the needs of the rural poor and address imbalances in human resources by substantially increasing salaries and privileges of teachers willing to work in these difficult areas. There is no other way of improving access to Mathematics, English and IT training in the rural sector, although this may be resisted by the highly politicized largely incompetent educational system.
Having failed to invest in education, the government is now pointing to deficiencies in the sector to emphasize the need to promote private investment in education. Issues concerning the South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine, a rather odd name for a private medical university highlight the problems many of our neighbours have had to face when opening up the field to private education. While agreeing that the introduction of private sector education may provide enhanced opportunities for Sri Lankan children in tertiary education, there are many reasons to believe that the present strategy will fail, simply because there is no mechanism in place to ensure quality, proper admission procedures and reasonable fees. It is always difficult to ensure fairness in private education. Strategies include providing a third of the places on scholarship by increasing fees by 50% and fairer systems of admission for both categories which rely exclusively on the A/L merit list have rarely succeeded.
It is generally accepted that private universities have helped improve education in developed countries like the United States. What is not often emphasized is that most of them are “not for profit” Universities which have become prestigious because all profits are used to improve the University, unlike the highly profitable business ventures masquerading as educational initiatives in Sri Lanka both at international school and tertiary education level. Although India has seen big business houses like Tata and Birla establishing research institutions and postgraduate Universities run by the state sector with minimum interference, we are yet to see similar initiatives in Sri Lanka.
The sad experience in our region has been that very few private Universities initiate courses other than in the highly profitable fields of medicine, information technology and business studies although national development strategies require investment in engineering and science. Many issues should be sorted out before initiating a pro-private education policy and before that it is vital for government to convince people that it is truly interested in improving education in the country by enhancing investment in the state sector and correcting the present injustice in the system.
*Vijaya Kumar is senior Professor of chemistry at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. He also a senior member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. This article provided by Anik Pituwa , the left platform.

Leadership training for university entrants begins on Monday

"The three week leadership training and positive thinking development programme for University entrants will start next Monday," said Higher Education Minister S B Dissanayake.
Addressing a press conference at the University Grants Commission (UGC) yesterday, he said that about 10,000 students will take part in the programme as the first group.
The residential training will be held in 28 islandwide training camps under the Defence Ministry.
The minister requested all selected students to attend the programme without unnecessary fear. He said he would ensure the safety of the female students and reiterated that it is not equivalent to a military training at any rate. The minister said that the content of this programme is carefully designed by the experts on education and physical and psychological health. He observed that the period of this training programme will be an unforgettable and cherished period for the participants.
He requested the students to come with a parent or an elder to their respective camps on Sunday evening. The programme will be opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees with the participation of 3,000 students from surrounding camps.
Higher Education Ministry Secretary Dr Sunil Navaratne said that the programme is intended to be an orientation programme for the university entrants to acquire universal education. The first group includes 5932 female students and 4,069 male students. The cost of the program is expected to be about Rs 200 million.
The Kotalawala Defence University Vice Chancellor Major General Milinda Peiris said that the 28 camps include 18 army, two naval, two air force and four cadet and police camps islandwide. The timetable consists of nine periods per day starting from five in the morning.
Prominence in the programme is given to leadership skills while conceptual skills, strategic management skills, conflict resolution skills, human skills will also be developed, he said. The students will also be educated on the law of the land and personal hygiene. Group two of this programme will include the rest of 12,000 students and their training is scheduled to commence on June 16.
UGC Chairman Prof Gamini Samaranayake observed that this programme will provide the appropriate solution for ragging. He said that the commission will take stern action to ensure a ragging free university environment by next year.
The Higher Education Ministry has also planned to offer a laptop to each and every university student on a pay later basis when they are employed. WiFi facility will be given for all university premises and dongals will also be given to students. An English test will be held at the beginning of the new academic year. A three month special English and IT programme will be conducted at the beginning of the new academic year for freshers.
Courtesy : dailynews

New Entrants to Sri Lankan Universities to undergo 3 weeks Leadership Training

A.A.M.Nizam in Colombo
Colombo, 20 May, (
The Minister of Higher Education Mr. S.B.Dissanayake
The Ministry of Higher Education has made arrangements to provide 3 weeks training in Leadership and Positive Attitude Development to all the 2,200 students who have qualified to enter Universities this year.

They will be given training in two batches with 1,000 students in the first batch and the balance 1,200 students in the second batch. Training for the first batch will commence on Monday the 23rd.
The Minister of Higher Education Mr. S.B.Dissanayake addressing a Media Conference held at the University Grants Commission said that the objective of providing this training is to ensure that students who pass out from the Universities in the future are disciplined, physically fit, knowledgeable about the society and the world, aware of modern technologies, capable of conflict resolution by themselves, find solutions and face the challenges facing the country, steer the development of the country and be exemplary to the future generation.
The Minister pointed out that due to misleading by certain sections, parents of many prospective students made enquiries and they have welcomed the proposed programme upon the nature and the objective of the programme were clarified to them.
He said that it is only in the security service establishment the necessary infrastructure facilities are available to provide such a large number of students and hence it has been decided to hold these training programmes in 28 Security Services Training Camps belonging to the tri-forces.
He said the training programme was initiated on a request made by the President to put a stop to the Graduates passing out and entering the market looking for employment and instead produce graduates who could contribute to research and technology development and be partners of making Sri Lanka a knowledge hub, which is one of the five sectors Sri Lanka is targeting to develop in its march to become the Wonder Nation of Asia.
The Minister pointed out that only 5% of the A/L students gets admission to the Universities and it is the cream of the cream who gets admission and it is the responsibility of the country to harness their talents and mould them as fruitful citizens of the nation.
He said that every University student from this year will be given a lap-top, a dongle, and University premises will be wi-fi zones so that the students themselves could perform their own research utilizing the Internet. The Minister said that from this year onwards ragging of new students will be completely banned and anyone found resorting to ragging will be dismissed from the Universities and the fear psychosis of the new entrants will be completely abolished.
Referring to the arrangements being made to allow foreign Universities to establish their branches in Sri Lanka, the Minister said that it will become compulsory for these Universities allocate 20% of seating to local students.
Mr. Dissanayake said that the President has allocated Rs. 200 Million for this programme and the Secretary to the Defense has also made available the facilities available in the Defense establishment to make this programme a success. He said that after the completion of this programme the students will be provided with training on English, Information Technology and Software usage.
The Minister further said that the training programme will be launched on the 23rd of this month from the Temple Trees under the chairmanship of President Mahinda Rajapaksa with about 300 students from the nearby training camps attending this function and allowing participation of the other students too through the e-link facility with other centres.
The Vice Chancellor of the Sri John Kotelawala Defense University Major General Milinda Peiris addressing the media conference explained that although the training programme will be conducted in the security services training camps it will not be a military training and military training cannot be obtained in a short period 3 weeks. He said that the programme has been tailored to inculcate discipline, etiquettes, interaction with the society etc covering 171 periods starting from 6.00 a.m. each morning. The Major General said that there will be separate accommodation facilities for male and female students and the course subjects will cover conflict resolutions, psychology, social etiquettes, personal health, time management, sports, leadership training, law and order etc.
Responding to a question the Major General and the Minister explained that the Muslim students will have the full liberty of attending to their five time prayers during the training period and there will be no strict dress code. They also informed that training for Tamil Medium students will be held at Kalutara and Rantembe.
Secretary to the Ministry Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne, the former Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University Prof. Mohandas, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Gamini Samaranayake also addressed the Media Conference.
- Asian Tribune -

Creating "Knowledge hubs" and Destroying University Autonomy



BY Savitri Goonasekere

The Minister of Higher Education and the Ministry have frequently reminded the public, in recent months, that the government’s policy on education seeks to create a "knowledge based" society, that will make Sri Lanka the "knowledge hub" of Asia. It is interesting to examine the various initiatives that have been taken in working to achieve this objective.

Privatisation of Education

Many Sri Lankan lives have been lost in the confrontation between governments and student groups on the issue of privatisation of education. Much of the violence can be traced to the deep insecurities felt by those who will perhaps not be able to access fee levying institutions, or fears that graduates from the State systems will have to compete for employment with peers who will have acquired superior skills in better resourced private institutions. Governments in the past, have either succumbed to these pressures or permitted indirect privatisation of education through various methods. The present government is perhaps the first that has openly declared that their broad policy objective can only be achieved by permitting market forces to operate in the area of education, in harmony with an open rather than regulated economy.

Many educationists have for some time recognised that Sri Lanka does require a "public – private" mix of services in the area of education, in the same way that a public – private mix has been integrated into our health services. However they have also recognised the need to increase resources for the State education system, so as to retain the dimension of equity of access to educational opportunities that has been a treasured heritage of what is known as Sri Lanka’s "free education" project. They have repeatedly drawn attention to the need to ensure quality control in private education, so that areas of professional education in particular such as medicine, engineering and architecture will not suffer through the mushrooming of private institutions ill equipped to provide these services. These points of view are reflected in the current opposition of professional medical associations to the proposed private medical school and the earlier trade union action of university academics. They have raised issues of access, upgrading of resources for State universities and quality control. These issues have also been raised by individuals. A contribution by Professor Sherifdeen, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, University of Colombo captures the essence of concerns regarding the need for quality assurance in medical education if this sector is to recognise private teaching institutions.

The Ministry of Higher Education however has not addressed these concerns or come up with proposals that answer the hard questions. Professor Sherifdeen has pointed out that quality medical education demands that clinical training is integrated into teaching from the very beginning. The "official response" to critics of the private medical college initiative is to say that a teaching hospital will be available sometime in the future for students who have already completed some of their training, and or that senior academics in the university system and the medical profession are willing to teach in this institution! What kind of "knowledge based" society do we expect to create through these unregulated private institutions that will provide the human resources for services that are key to our health services and development?

Faulty education policies of the sixties that imposed a monolingual education in Sinhala and Tamil denied many generations of bright Sri Lankan students the privilege of a quality education. Professor K N O Dharmadasa, Emeritus Professor of Sinhala in a recent contribution in the media has highlighted that Sri Lankan scholars from antiquity recognised the benefit of working on many languages, and were not confined to a monolingual tradition of teaching and learning. Academics teaching in the fields of medicine, engineering and architecture as well as science faculties developed their own strategies to ensure that English was retained in higher education. Others, mainly faculties of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law who received a large cohort of students were compelled by our politicians to accept monolingual teaching and learning in Sinhala and Tamil, without even the basic literature required for an undergraduate education. Some academics like Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya tried to save the system and were articulate voices of dissent, at a time when dissent was still considered legitimate academic freedom in our universities. When they lost the battle they left the country with other colleagues in the system, depriving the Sri Lankan Universities of some of the best teachers and researchers in these disciplines. Those who stayed, and others who joined them struggled to create good departments that have produced some of the best in the fields of law, social sciences and the humanities. University education in faculties such as medicine, engineering and architecture, retained their links to the professional associations and Colleges, and have ensured that professional standards have been maintained.

Rather than acknowledge these endeavours, the Ministry today dismisses all graduates and university departments in the national system, particularly in the fields of humanities and social sciences as failures. These graduates are seen as poor quality, socially alienated products of the national universities, who are parasites on society. This denigration of the State system appears to be a justification for denying adequate resources and moving towards privatisation. Academics are blamed, and there is no accountability for a failed post independence policy that imposed a monolingual education and created under resourced faculties of humanities, law, and social sciences.

The Ministry of Higher Education has now decided to provide the "quick fix" of opening the market for IT and English education through privatisation, as a magic solution to decades of ill advised education policy. The State universities have also been caught up in this momentum, with the Ministry making decisions on recruiting English lecturers from overseas for the universities, and the World Bank reminding universities that the ‘market" only needs graduates who have IT and English language skills. We must assume that this does not refer to fields like medicine, engineering and architecture where something more than English and IT skills will be required in higher education, even in a market economy.

Institutional memory is often very short in this country. The emphasis on the need for IT, English language skills, curricula revision etc was also part of the education policies of the previous government, when the late Mr. Richard Pathirane was Minister, and Dr. Tara de Mel and Professor R P Jayewardene were the senior bureaucrats in the Ministry of Higher Education. State Universities at the time with the support of the World Bank were encouraged and resourced to strengthen their teaching / learning environment, and also provide students and staff access to IT facilities.

The World Bank sponsored IRQUE Project on "Improving the Relevance and Quality of Education" seems to have departed from its original moorings and focused on infrastructure development. The State universities have benefited, provided better physical environs, and acquired more capacity to provide IT facilities for their students. But the impact on the teaching and learning environment is not visible.

These resources and support for the university system could have impacted on quality and been developed further, if the core structures within which those changes were introduced had been retained and strengthened. The Ministry of Higher Education at the time of the previous government operated within the framework of the Universities Act. The University Grants Commission and University Senates and Councils exercised the powers given to them under the Act, and any proposals for change were introduced in an environment of maximum consultation with respect for viewpoint difference. The Ministry guided policy but was not in the driving seat.

It is in this context that the public has to reflect on whether a new scenario where the Minister and the Ministry of Education replace the UGC, and the University authorities in the Higher Education sector, can or will contribute to making Sri Lanka the knowledge hub of Asia. Will the ‘privatisation’ project of the Ministry delinked from the University system and quality assurance systems of depoliticised professional bodies like the SLMC, pose further risks to higher education? Will it only produce diploma holders and graduates with incapacity for creative thinking, and professional insights, rooted in the already familiar learning tradition that emphasises the need to pass exams, obtain certificates, and exit. The internet has become a fertile source of plagiarism today. So this "borrowed" learning will be a passport to a certificate but not necessarily a path to quality education or the insights of creative thinking and wisdom required to meet the challenges of sustainable development in this country. The "privatisation" project runs the risk of producing professionals and graduates for the market who will be no better equipped than those who had to suffer the deprivation of a monolingual education. Hardly a resource to create a Sri Lankan "knowledge hub" in South Asia.

It is possible that despite the unregulated environment quality higher education will be delivered through private institutions set up as campuses of recognised universities from overseas. They will perhaps have a system of self regulation, and it is possible that there will be effective quality control. The degrees awarded by overseas universities through some private institutions already operating in the country conform to standards of those universities, ensuring quality control. Sri Lanka would indeed be fortunate if universities with a recognised reputation operate within our country and conform to standards that they set for themselves in their own countries. Such institutions will inevitably charge the kind of fees that will make an education in those institutions accessible to a very small elite of wealth and social status. How many of these products will contribute to Sri Lanka’s knowledge based society, and the vision of an Asian knowledge hub?

In this context we need to reflect on the impact of current education policy on the State system, for the majority of those who can and will be challenged to realise this dream of a knowledge hub and the realities of development will come from the State system.

The State University System

The trade union action of university teachers gave priority to anomalies in salary schemes for academic staff. However individual contributions to the press by many university teachers, particularly from the Peradeniya and Open Universities highlighted issues such as the politicisation of university administration, the failure of the University Grants Commission to perform its responsibilities as an independent regulatory authority, and the consequent erosion of university autonomy and academic freedom to make decisions regarding the teaching learning and research environment. These contributions have drawn attention to the manner in which academic authorities have been sidelined, with the Ministry making decisions that should be made, according to the Universities Act, by university teachers, their Faculties and Senates. The UGC, the regulatory authority now seems to hand down Ministry decisions to universities for implementation. There have been many instances where procedures clearly stated in the Act have been violated.

During the recent trade union action, letters from the Chairman UGC on resignation of heads of departments, and the subsequent withdrawal of those letters after direct negotiations by academics with the Ministry rather than the UGC, indicated clearly that the Ministry is making decisions and issuing instructions in violation of the Act, which the UGC meekly follows. A Dean of one Faculty holds office today, in direct violation of the provisions of the Universities Act on the age of retirement, and the provisions regulating this post. It is said that this was done on a cabinet decision communicated and acted upon directly by the Vice Chancellor overlooking the UGC, the authority that usually seeks cabinet approval for annual contract appointments of retired professors over 65 years.

The most recent erosion of academic freedom in the University system relates directly to the issue of the right to freedom of speech and expression in universities. Our Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of conscience, thought, speech and expression, and the protection of these rights has been recognised as fundamental values of university education in jurisprudence in our Supreme Court. And yet, the Vice Chancellor of a University has directed that a particular faculty should not employ a well known expert in the field as a visiting lecturer because in this administrator’s view, he is "an antigovernment" person. Instructions have now apparently been issued requiring the appointment of all visiting lecturers to be "vetted" by the Vice Chancellor and the "Deans Committee" – an ad hoc body created for management purposes, which has no authority to take decisions on academic programmes without the approval of Faculty Boards and Senates – the bodies entrusted with academic matters.

The Dean, Professors and Heads of Department of this University followed and implemented the Vice Chancellor’s instructions. Sadly they are all experienced university dons who are well aware of the role and responsibility of Faculties and Senates and Constitutional provisions on fundamental rights. A Vice Chancellor in the past refused to allow a guest speaker to address students, and the Minister has justified this action in parliament on the basis that "permission was not obtained." Disciplinary action has been taken against two members of Staff who commented critically on university policy on research in emails. People who have written letters to the newspapers or participated in trade union action are being called personally and being "warned." The erosion of core values on academic freedom has been incremental. Yet there is no individual or collective sense of accountability for destroying these values in universities that have produced some of the finest human rights judges and lawyers of this country. The lack of protest against these intrusions in Faculty Boards and Senates has culminated in the recent action to politicise the teaching programme. The politicisation of university administrators through an appointment process in violation of the Universities Act has legitimised a practice by which perceptions on political affiliation will determine teaching appointments.

In the past, Councils consisted of eminent persons including lawyers who would have guided the university administration and prevented infringements of these basic values of academic freedom and university autonomy. Council members of today, even those who are respected professionals, accept these violations in silence. They are following our eminent academics in the Cabinet, who ignore what is happening in universities through Cabinet decisions that violate both academic autonomy and the regulatory framework of the Universities Act. Can Vice Chancellors, Faculty Boards, Senates and Councils who ignore the core values of a university, Constitutional norms on freedom of thought, speech and expression, give leadership in creating the kind of vibrant intellectual community that is required if Sri Lanka is to become a "knowledge hub" in university education in Asia?

These erosions in academic freedom and autonomy which the majority in the academic community seem to treat as trivial infringements are especially worrying when they are combined with a subtle initiative to create a militarised environment that shows no regard for the right to intellectual freedom and viewpoint difference that should be respected in any university. The Friday Forum in its public statement analysed the documents in the much publicised leadership training programme for new students, highlighting the manner in which it deferred from non militarised university orientation programmes for freshmen and women in universities. We are now told that there is a proposal for the Ministry of Defence to integrate a "cadet programme" into English teacher training for schools that come under the Ministry of Education. The most recent initiative of the Ministry of Higher Education has been to instruct the UGC to ensure that all universities employ a State Security firm established under the Companies Act, with a structure that leaves decision making with the Secretary of Defence and several tiers of personnel with a military background. The website of the Company indicates the manner in which a military ethos has been integrated into what is described as a private security firm. By ensuring that such a firm takes over the security services in all State institutions and now, national universities, the State has successfully combined the work of law enforcement agencies with a ‘private’ law enforcement arm that can exercise their functions. In the process basic norms on legal protections and limitations on police powers within universities can be disregarded with impunity. The ‘private security’ can behave like the "State police," and also operate as an investigative agency that monitors what is perceived as "anti-government" subversion. Is this the type of security service that a university administration, if it had choice, would select for universities? The erosion of university autonomy in administration and the right to manage internal security arrangements in conformity with responsibilities placed under the Universities Act is as significant as the potential for misuse of the State private security service to further erode academic freedom in research and the teaching and learning environment. Some 100 university teachers, many of them from the University of Peradeniya have put their signature to a written protest against the compulsory imposition of a State owned private security system on the universities. However most academics have been silent on the issue.

Drs. Dayan Jayatillake and Rajiva Wijesinha who were academics in the national universities have publicly supported the militarised leadership training programme. Dr. Jayatillake sees in the leadership programme an excellent model for creating what in effect will be a "para military" youth corp "trained in the use of weapons" that could "bleed to death with a thousand cuts" any outside force or puppet regime seeking to destabilise the country. [Island 31 August 2011.] Rajiva Wijeinha reinforces this view point, apparently for different reasons. He sees the cadet corps proposal as a "heartening initiative" and the leadership programme as a successful "hearts and minds" effort where the military can contribute to "overcoming any sense of alienation" in these youth communities. He proposes similar leadership programmes by the military for ex combatants and also "youngsters (in the North and East?) who may not be qualified for government employment." [Island – 29 September 2011]. There is no explanation as to why the military should undertake this work. Is this too a subtle endorsement to the creation of a para military force within universities and among youth groups?

Both Dayan and Rajiva have taught in the State universities. They could not have forgotten the violence on campuses unleashed when para military forces and politicised student groups battled with each other. Have they forgotten the torture of students, the spectacle of a Vice Chancellor untying those suspected to be State security agents from a lamp post on Peradeniya campus, the butchered heads of students of this university placed around the pond near Jayatilleke Hall on that campus? It is extraordinary that the conflict and violence unleashed on campuses because of the manipulation of students by politicians of the government and opposition has been forgotten by some teachers who now cheerfully advocate "military" incursions in the teaching and learning environment of universities and the higher education system.

The disregard of the regulatory system under which universities have functioned for many decades by the present Minister and Ministry officials and some administrators in the university system is symptomatic of the general disregard of law and legal procedures in other State institutions. Witness the current controversies in regard to the rape of Sinharaja and our valued eco systems in the name of development, with the complicity or lack of awareness of government agencies entrusted with the task of conservation. Government authorities are no longer accountable – their excuse is that they were unaware, or were ignored, or had no responsibility for the decision making process. The Minister of Higher Education stated in Parliament recently, on 2 July 2011 in answer to a question by Mr. Eran Wickremeratne, MP, that the President selects a Vice Chancellor from three names submitted by a University Council. Inevitably the UGC was silent on the violation of the procedures under the Universities Act which places upon them the responsibility for recommending the person for appointment to the post of Vice Chancellor, by the President. Their excuse may be the same – "we were not consulted." There is a popular perception that the President is not bound by any laws, and that Presidential powers or the powers of high officers of government are absolute. Everyone has forgotten that the President, and these officers take an oath of office, and undertake to uphold the laws and Constitution of this country.

We continue to accept, without protest, gross acts of lawlessness and illegality and legitimise them by our reaction of amusement or indifference. When Minister Mervyn Silva takes the law into his own hands and administers summary justice according to his own standards, it is a matter for laughter or positive approval. As one writer to the Island said in a letter to the editor, when the law of the State fails, the law of the jungle must prevail. The recent local government elections were accompanied by the spectacle of important senior public servants campaigning openly for the government party candidates. This has become so acceptable and legitimate that no one even remembers the rules of the public service that do not give political rights to these persons. When a member of parliament and Presidential adviser and their supporters assault and murder each other, we do not question how special protection at State expense is given to the aggressor, or why there is no public statement on these incidents.

There is some hope in this dismal climate for university autonomy, in the university teachers who have had the courage to express their views, and challenge these irregularities. We Sri Lankans have in this post war period become very fond of distinguishing between so called "patriots and traitors and anti government saboteurs." We encourage intolerance and exclusion in a triumphalist vision of patriotism, forgetting that the Dhammapada advises Buddhists that ‘victory breeds hatred, the defeated live in pain’ and they should reject the concepts of both victory and defeat. Let us remember that some of our great patriots like Keppetipola Dissawe were once described as traitors because they challenged the political power of the State and the establishment. There may come a time when the few courageous academics of our national universities who fought for academic freedom and autonomy in the university system will be recognised as the true patriots of this country. If we lose this rich resource in the path to the Ministry’s vision of a knowledge based society, we may create a "knowledge hub" a ‘home grown’ system that is valued by no one else but our own politicians and presiding deities in the Ministry of Higher Education. Let us hope that sanity will prevail, and that these unsung heroes and heroines will not walk away from our national universities.

It is in the public interest that our policy makers understand that our university system cannot gain any kind of recognition that will make us the "knowledge hub of Asia," unless we recognised the importance of intellectual freedom, thought and expression, and realise the promise of these Constitutional guarantees in our universities. Internalising the forgotten concept of "pragnna" or wisdom that scholars of many generations in this country have associated with the acquisition of knowledge and learning is surely the only path to achieving excellence in our higher educational institutions. Several generations of politicians destroyed much that was valued in the intellectual environment of our universities. Let us hope that politicians of today do not strangle the State university system in pursuit of their distorted vision of a knowledge based society and an Asian knowledge hub in Sri Lanka.

(The writer served as Professor of Law and Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo)

Monday, October 24, 2011

FUTA Statement on Militarization of Universities

FUTA Statement on Militarization of University System

Also see:

Appeal against infringement of University Autonomy

Saturday, October 22, 2011

IUSF condemns military shramadana in universities

Daily Mirror, 22/10/2011,

The Inter University Students Union (IUSF) condemns the military shramadana underway at universities islandwide, the IUSF spokesperson Sanjeewa Bandara said today.

“First it was the military training, then they sent ex-military men as security to the universities and now they are getting the military to organise shramadana,” Mr. Bandara said.

According to him the military is trying to play a huge role within the universities to crackdown on student dissent.

“The first year students have received letters making it compulsory for them to take part in the shramadana like they were forced to undergo the military training,” Mr. Bandara said.

He said the government was using the military to interfere and sideline student movements by engaging the freshers in workshops and shramadana activity. “This is happening at the Ruhunu University and the lecturers and students together held a joint protest against it,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Rathna Lanka Security Firm that comes under the Secretary of Defence took over the security of the University of Ruhuna and they will be paid Rs.70 million annually when the lowest tender bid was Rs.20 million, Mr. Bandara said.

“We could have used the Rs.50 million if we didn’t assign Rathna Lanka as the chosen security firm if we had stuck by the tender,” Mr. Bandara said. The freedom at the universities island-wide has come under severe threat by the ruling few and there is a greater threat to society, he said. (Sumaiya Rizvi)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

උසස්‌ පෙළ අසමත් අයත් "මාලබේට" ඇතුළත් වෙලා

Divaina, 20/10/2011

නිලන්ත මදුරාවල

දැඩි මතභේදයකට තුඩු දී ඇති මාලබේ පෞද්ගලික වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයට අධ්‍යයන පොදු සහතික පත්‍ර උසස්‌ පෙළ අසමත් සිසුන්ද ඇතුළත් කර සිටින බව අනාවරණය වී ඇත. 

මේ බව අනාවරණය වන්නේ ශ්‍රී ලංකා වෛද්‍ය සභාවේ සභාපතිනි මහාචාර්ය ලලිතා මෙන්ඩිස්‌ මහත්මිය විසින් විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ප්‍රතිපාදන කොමිෂන් සභාවේ ගුණාත්මක ස්‌ථාවරභාවය පිළිබඳ අධ්‍යක්‍ෂ මහාචාර්ය කොලින් පීරිස්‌ මහතාට යවන ලද ලිපියකිනි. 

උසස්‌ පෙළ විෂයයන් දෙකක්‌ පමණක්‌ සමත් සිසුන් වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයට ඇතුළත් කර ඇති බව එහි සඳහන් වේ. විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවලට ඇතුළත් වීමේ අවම සුදුසුකම ලෙස ප්‍රතිපාදන කොමිෂන් සභාව පිළිගන්නේ උසස්‌ පෙළ විෂයයන් තුනක්‌ සමත්වීම යෑයිද එම ලිපියේ සඳහන් කර ඇත.

මෙම වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයට ඇතුළත්ව සිටින එක්‌ ශිෂ්‍යාවක්‌ 2007 වසරේදී උසස්‌ පෙළ විභාගයට පෙනී සිට රසායන විද්‍යාව අසමත් වී ඇති අතර 2008 වසරේදී දෙවැනි වර විභාගයට ඉල්ලුම් කර කිසිදු විෂයයකට පෙනී සිට නැත.

කෙසේ වුවද මේ සම්බන්ධයෙන් අප කළ විමසුමකට පිළිතුරු දුන් එම වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයේ අධ්‍යක්‍ෂ වෛද්‍ය සමීර සේනාරත්න මහතා සඳහන් කළේ සුදුසුකම් නොමැති කිසිදු සිසුවකු ලියාපදිංචි කර නොමැති බවය.

‘හමුදා ශ‍්‍රමදාන එපා’

රුහුණු සරසවිය වීදි බහී

2011 ඔක්තෝබර් මස 19 15:19:19 | මාතර ක‍්‍රිෂාන් ජිවක ජයරුක්

ශ‍්‍රමදානයක් මුවාවෙන් රුහුණු සරසවියට යුද හමුදාව කැඳවතියි ද ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යංශයට සම්බන්ධ ආරක්ෂක සේවයක් එහි ආරක්ෂාවට එවා ඇතැයි ද කියමින් රුහුණු සරසවියේ සිසුහු ද ආචාර්යවරු බහුතරයක් ද අනධ්‍යන සේවකයෝ ද අද වැල්ලමඩමේ උද්ඝෝෂණයක් කළහ. සරසවියට එපා නම් ලබන 22 වැනි දාට නියමිත හමුදා ශ‍්‍රමදානය අවලංගු කරන බව කී නියෝජ්‍ය උපකුලපති මහාචාර්ය ගාමිණී සේනානායක සඳහන් කෙළේ රත්න ලංකා ආරක්ෂක සේවය රජයෙන් එවා ඇති නිසා ඊට විරුද්ධ විය නොහැකි බවයි. මානව ශාස්ත‍්‍ර, සමාජවිද්‍යා, කලමනාකරණ හා මූල්‍ය පීඨ ආචාර්ය සංගමයේ ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ කථිකාචාර්ය දර්ශන ලියනගේ පැවැසුයේ උපක‍්‍රමශිලි ලෙස හමුදාව සරසවි ඇතුළට රැගෙන ඒමට රජය සැරැුසෙන බවයි.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Protest in front of the Ruhuna University

Hirunews, 19/10/2011

A group of lecturers and students are scheduled to commence a protest campaign in front of the Ruhuna University this afternoon.

The Human Resources and Social Science Lecturers Association's Central Working Committee member Senior Lecturer Suranjith Gunasekara stated to our news team that this protest is being carried out calling on the relevant authorities to halt external intervention in the activities of Universities.

Accordingly he stated that a large group of both academic and non academic staff members as well as students will engage in this protest between 12 Noon and 1 P.M. In front of the Ruhuna University.

Ruhuna Academics Protest Militarization of Universities

Criminal Governance

The Sunday Leader, 16/10/2011
  • Impunity lies at the heart of the Kolonnawa killings
“A foul, dishonourable crew….” Giaccomo Leopardi (To Angelo Mai III)
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and Duminda Silva
In the Rajapaksa Security State, insecurity is the common condition of the rest of us…
Impunity makes jungles out of civilised societies, where the big and the powerful prey on those smaller and weaker, at will. In such lawless-states, violent death can befall any citizen who incurs the ire of someone stronger. When governance is criminalised, all are unsafe, from beggars to Presidential advisors….
Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was a veteran SLFPer. During Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency, Premachandra was that rare thing – a Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist. In those long, lean years, while Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were pursuing the American Dream, Premachandra backed Rajapaksa openly, incurring presidential-wrath in consequence.
Then Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency, and his family took over.  Basil Rajapaksa claimed Gampaha as his fiefdom; Gotabhaya Rajapaksa appropriated Colombo as his dominion; and Namal Rajapaksa began his own creeping-invasion of the SLFP through Tharunyata Hetak and Nil Balakaya.
The Rajapaksa dynastic project requires a remoulded SLFP. Creating a new breed of politician whose primary loyalty is not to the party but to the Ruling Family is central to this task. Newcomers, who lack a politico-electoral base within the SLFP and thus are abjectly-dependent on the Siblings for their political-lives, are ideally suited to this purpose. UNP defectors such as Milinda Moragoda and Duminda Silva and political-neophytes such as Sachin Vas Gunawardane all belong in this category.
Duminda Silva epitomises this ‘New Rajapaksa-man’, who can act with impunity, so long as he abides by the iron-rule of unquestioning subservience to the Ruling Family. During his tenure as a UNP provincial councillor he rapidly made a name for unruly and criminal conduct. Apart from being indicted for sexually-abusing a minor, he was arrested for other criminal deeds. In 2004 he was indicted for abduction and on four other counts; the main witness, Roger Allen Francis told the court that, “he was abducted by the accused, Silva, and his armed gang, demanding that his daughter be sent to him” (Sri Lanka News First – 5.9.2008). In 2006 he was remanded for assaulting Provincial Minister Hector Bethmage, and remanded again for causing “injuries to an American woman sailor and assaulting two other American security officers of the US Embassy at a night club” (Daily News – 6.6.2006).
Despite this unblemished record of criminal-conduct, Silva was tolerated by the UNP and welcomed by the SLFP. Post-defection, he became a favoured-acolyte of the Rajapaksa Siblings. The charges against him were withdrawn by the AG and he was named the ‘monitoring MP’ of the Defence Ministry. Obviously the Siblings were aware of the ilk of the man they appointed to such a sensitive position. Equally obviously for the Siblings, Silva’s criminal conduct was a matter of negligible import; so long as he was servile to them, he could act as he wished towards others.
The feud between Premachandra and Silva was thus more than a political-turf war over Kollonnawa. It was a manifestation of the silent-contestation between the pre-Rajapaksa SLFP and the Rajapaksa SLFP. As the Rajapaksas consolidated their stranglehold over the state and the government, the power of the likes of Duminda Silva within the SLFP began to grow, at the expense of old-timers such as Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. The Rajapaksas in power desire servile-acolytes, not loyal allies.
According to his family, Premachandra believed his life was in danger and complained to the authorities about it. His sister also wrote to the Speaker, asking protection for her brother. But the power-wielders were indifferent and the police, consequently, apathetic. Perhaps this lackadaisical response emboldened his rival. Because a belief in impunity lies at the heart of the Kolonnawa killings; those who shot Premachandra repeatedly, at point-blank range, in full public view believed they were above the law. Why else would they be unfettered by the presence of so many eye-witnesses, who can testify against them in a court of law?
According to the testimony of Premachandra’s driver, “MP Duminda Silva fired at Mr. Premachandra after he fell down to the ground” (BBC – 12.10.2011). Rationally, Silva cannot be faulted for thinking that so long as he kowtowed to the Siblings, he could get away with blue-murder. After all, the AG did withdraw two very serious charges against him and he was anointed as the ‘monitoring MP’ to the Defence Ministry. And the police are yet to move against him, despite the eye-witness testimony, though a less-favoured citizen would have been placed under arrest, even if he/she was dying. Perhaps Silva’s implicit faith in his political-masters is well-founded?
In one of his final speeches, Premachandra speaks of the threats to him and his supporters. Quoting Pastor Niemöller passionately, albeit inaccurately, he sounds a warning to fellow-SLFPers: “This shadow of death will someday come to their doorstep. I am telling you. Beware!” ( It is an oddly prescient remark, a warning any SLFPer unwilling to become a Rajapaksa-cipher should heed. Because if the Rajapaksas are not restrained, there will be other Duminda Silvas, and therefore other Bhraratha Lakshman Premachandras….
Land-grabbing: North and South
Recently, TULF leader V. Anandasangaree (whose anti-Tiger credentials are impeccable) protested to President Rajapaksa about the regime’s plans to launch a land-registration drive in the North. Itemising the inappositeness of such a move in a province still reeling from war-ravages, he warned that “the people who had lost almost all their possessions are now scared that they will lose more under this scheme”. Obviously the Northern Tamils fear that this registration drive is an attempt by the state to use the post-war confusion to grab their traditional lands.
It is a reasonable fear, given the regime’s land-grabbing activities in the South. The latest such case is from Anuradhapura: “Residents of Palmadullagama say that they have been severely inconvenienced after their traditional farming lands were taken over by the state…  They question the justice of these lands being taken over by the government and being used for development initiatives… Meanwhile, huts that had been built in Chenas in the Udaththawa (Hasalaka), have been burnt to the ground…..” (News First – 12.10.2011).
Impunity respects no boundaries, geographic, ethno-religious or political. So Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra met the same fate as the beggars murdered in Kelaniya and innumerable victims of custodial-killings.
The Sinhala peasants of Anuradhapura and the Tamil peasants of the North are to be dispossessed of their lands. The rest of us too will experience the ravages of this cancer; no citizen is safe when the Rule of Law is replaced by the law-of-the-rulers.
So the UPFA lost Colombo, despite the no-holds-barred campaign by all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, plus the King’s family and the King himself.
Colombo’s poor know of the Rajapaksas’ plan to evict them from their homes and Colombo’s citizens are arguably better informed than their counterparts elsewhere and thus more aware of Rajapaksa crimes and misdeeds. This confluence of economic and governance issues prevented a Rajapaksa-victory in Colombo, despite a weakened and fractured opposition.
But if the opposition fails to unite to prevent mass-evictions and defeat the anti-democratic Colombo Corporation plan, this victory may be its swan-song.

Monday, October 17, 2011



Jaffna Student Leader Assaulted

The Daily Mirror, 16/10/2011,

Jaffna University students association leader Subramaniam Thavapalasingam (24) was assaulted by an unidentified group in Jaffna town today afternoon, sources said.

According to Mr. Thavapalasingam he was attacked while he was traveling along Palm Road in Jaffna by a 10 member group. “They assaulted me while asking whether I want a separate state” he said.

Thavapalasingam has been admitted to the Jaffna Hospital. Jaffna police are conducting the further investigations. (By Kavi suki and Nawam)

Don't turn Universities into job training

National Post, 18/08/2011, By Patrick Keeney,

When Woodrow Wilson resigned as president of Princeton University to run for president of the United States, he was asked why he would choose to move to Washington and leave behind the comforts of university life. "I couldn't stand the politics," was his reply.

University politics can be fractious and unforgiving, especially when academics debate the fundamental questions: What, exactly, is the mandate of the university? And what is a university education for?

Canadian universities have undergone radical alterations in their mandate. As recently as 1983, the distinguished American scholar Edward Shils could confidently assert that the distinctive mission of the university "is the methodical discovery and the teaching of truths about serious and important matters." But in the current age of micromanagement, mission statements and diversity offices, this description seems a quaint echo from a bygone age.

Democratic societies have always entertained competing conceptions of the university. But at the heart of our current dilemma lies a straightforward conflict between a view of the university as an institution designed for the preservation and dissemination of scholarship and education, with that of a training school, which focuses on providing students with skills relevant to employment and the economy.

Simply put, is the university an educational institution or a vocational one?

As a society, we need to be vigilant in defending the ideal of a liberal education. This ideal goes back to the Greeks, who believed that a liberal education is the most appropriate kind of preparation for freeborn citizens. The basic premise holds that education consists of developing the mind through humane learning, and that all educational activities should be subordinate to that end. Various writers have defined this ideal, but Leo Strauss pithily captures its essence: "Reading with care what the best minds had to say about the most important questions."

There will always be debates about what those questions are, and who is best positioned to speak on them. But the overarching aim of a liberal education was never in doubt: free citizens need to develop their minds - as opposed to simply acquiring marketable skills - to achieve lives that are rich, meaningful and rewarding.

It is this ideal that, in one form or another, has remained a constant in the imagination of the West, and was, until recent years, the animating spirit in our universities. And most professors still acknowledge this ideal - or some version of it - as a crucial part of the university's mission. Yet this ideal is being eroded and undermined, if not deliberately bulldozed, in the name of a reckless, unrelenting economic pragmatism.

What is undeniable is that there has been a widespread drift away from the arts and humanities and toward professional, applied and vocational study. The notion of studying anything for its intrinsic value, for the sheer joy and pleasure that such study brings, is rapidly giving way to a new sort of industrial utilitarianism, where the only learning that is considered worthwhile is that which is directly linked to a job or a career. We seem to have forgotten Aristotle's observation that humans are, by their very nature, creatures who desire to know.

There are some university programs that undeniably lead students directly to specific career opportunities, particularly in the hard sciences (a student studying to become the proverbial rocket scientist isn't ignoring the value of a liberal education, after all - he's taking the educational steps necessary to accomplish a laudable professional goal). But it is easy to overlook the fact that liberal education has a practical side. True, it does not seek to train people for specific jobs, but it does aim to provide students with a good, general intelligence, which individuals can then apply to any career they see fit to pursue.

As Matthew Barrett, former CEO of the Bank of Montreal, once remarked: "Anyone who can detect themes in Chaucer is certainly capable of learning double-entry bookkeeping in my bank."

The ever-expanding list of courses in business and technology, along with the inclusion of work experience as a part of university study, breaks down any distinction between a university that educates and a vocational college that focuses on trades and skills. The reason that administrators value vocational courses and programming is straightforward: They attract students and bring in more money. Universities can charge higher fees if the student thinks there is a direct and immediate economic payoff. And business groups are, by and large, more likely to provide donations, grants, scholarships, bursaries and so on if the universities are offering courses which they believe will ultimately benefit the business world.

Yet to buy into this "bottomline" view of the university is to deny that universities exists for any reason other than job preparation; it is to allow economic considerations to set our educational priorities; it is to repudiate any vision of education beyond a pragmatic, hard-headed, business model; it is to squander the gravitas that a university education once bestowed upon its graduates; and it is to ignore that part of the human spirit, which desires to know simply for the sake of knowing.

Governments in various jurisdictions have been successful in persuading people to accept the view that universities should become more like vocational schools. It is time to ask ourselves if this hollowing out of a crucial institution and enfeebling of a cherished educational ideal is worth the price.

- Patrick Keeney is the editor of Prospero, a Journal of New Thinking in Philosophy for Education. He is currently an adjunct professor in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University.

University Students Stage a Massive Protest

University students staged an Islandwide protest on 5th October urging the protection of public funded Universities.

Demonstrators camp out at downtown park for Occupy Toronto

City News Toronto, 15/10/2011, By Shawne McKeown,

Inspired by a wave of anti-Wall Street protests in the United States, thousands of people gathered downtown Saturday to voice frustration about what protesters have called corporate greed and the imbalance of wealth in Canada.

The largely peaceful Occupy Toronto demonstration began at King and Bay streets around 10 a.m. Protesters, some with their children, then settled in St. James Park, at King and Church. Many plan to stick it out for the long-haul, with dozens setting up camp and sleeping outside overnight.

Around 7:30 p.m., some demonstrators marched away from the park and headed towards Yonge Street. About 200 people carrying signs took over Yonge-Dundas Square, while others continued south toward Adelaide Street. The protesters then returned to the park.

Two people were arrested at the Commerce Court building, near King and Bay streets, around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. One person was charged with trespassing and the other was charged with failure to comply - but police wouldn't say with what. Police said Saturday night they will not be issuing tickets to people who decide to sleep at St James Park.

Organizers said this demonstration will last for an undetermined amount of time, as has been the case with mass occupations in New York and other cities.

“It’s important not to sit this one out,” protester Vandad Kardar said. “Change in the world needs to come sooner or later and by that I mean more equality.”

“There’s a ton of different issues right across the board," he said. "This isn’t an organization with one platform, this is literally a chance for anyone who has anything that they want to voice to come out and voice it.”

There were nearly as many messages as there were protesters, which came as no surprise to NDP MP Olivia Chow.

"Whether you're a student graduating with huge debt, or a mom that has to work two jobs and still can't pay for childcare, or a person who just got laid off even though you have a lot of degrees, there are a lot of different concerns that all come together.

"Is our government really representing us? Is the government really helping this country a better and fairer place to be? 99 per cent of people say they've been left behind," Chow said.

Toronto police had high praise for the demonstrators, saying they had been peaceful and communicating with police.

“From a policing side, it’s been a good day,” Toronto police Insp. Howie Page told CityNews.

“They’ve been lawful, they’ve been peaceful, they told us where they were going to go…they were more than willing to work with us and facilitate what we were asking,” Page added.

Page said that while police are "keeping their guard up" for Black Block protesters, it has been a lawful demonstration.

A team of volunteers providing food to activists is prepared to serve between 1,000 and 2,000 vegetarian meals a day and has supplies to last for a few days. A food tent has been erected near St. James Cathedral to distribute meals that are being delivered to the park.

Organizers set up designated trash sites and port-a-potties were also brought to the park.

Designated sleeping and medic sites have also been established.

“I think [demonstrators] have been pretty accommodating and I think there’s a lot of people that are curious, but it’s not disruptive,” RCMP officer Paul Stevens said near St. James Park.

Organizers expected at least 2,000 people to show up for the event. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was one of them. He showed up at St. James Park around noon.

"There's huge insecurity out there right now and a lot of frustration that banks get bailed out very quickly but others don't get bailed out so quickly," he told CityNews.

NDP MP Peggy Nash also turned out for the event.

Click here for our "Occupy Toronto" live blog and click here to see live results for #OccupyToronto on Twitter.

While it’s hard to escape comparisons to the G20 summit protests in the summer of 2010, demonstrators have repeatedly insisted their protest will be non-violent.

There have been reports on Twitter of a few protesters sporting black clothing with black bandannas concealing their faces. The event has been a peaceful one and there is a heavy police and security presence in the area as a precaution.

“This is a really exciting movement, we haven’t seen this type of thing since the 60s,” Joel Duff of the Ontario Federation of Labour told CityNews Saturday morning.

“Our governments are collaborating with the corporate sector to make sure that they download the fiscal crisis onto the backs of working people and while corporations make record profits. We just think that’s fundamentally unfair.”

Other union leaders attended the event.

"Any group of people that raises the reality of the growing inequalities in our communities is something we need to support," CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said.

While the economic situation in Canada is different from that in the U.S., unions and other activists have said job security is one of the main reasons why they're participating in the Occupy event.

Protests also happened in more than a dozen cities across the country Saturday, including Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Militarisation of Sri Lanka and its infiltration into Higher Education

Ground Views, 13/10/2011, by Shamala Kumar,

Evidence of militarisation is everywhere – most recently in the sphere of higher education.  The armed forces are involved with development projects, in welfare, and in farming. They are even involved in city beautification, the maintenance of playgroups and shops, of course Sports, and now higher education.  Their increased presence is evident in subtle changes in our daily lives.  The large number of ‘yu ha’ vehicles dropping and picking up school-going children is one that confronts me each school day.
Militarisation is, however, not just confined to their conspicuous presence in public spaces but extends to public acceptance and reinforcement of an attitude that glorifies the forces which in turn enables the process of militarization. The military does not operate through a process of consensus building and does not, in general, function according to democratic principles. While those at the lower rungs of the military hierarchy bear the brunt of this oppressive system, civil society is not immune.
Last week, while I was shopping at a boutique, a person in uniform leaned into the shop to ask the person behind the counter to clean the portion of the street in front of the shop – technically the responsibility of the municipality. The shopkeeper agreed without argument. A few yards away from the boutique, I encountered municipal workers in fierce discussion with their supervisor. They had been ordered to clean a private residence. They were upset because their role was to clean public places, not private property. The supervisor’s response, ‘egollanta monawath kiyanna ba’ (we can’t say anything to those people) illustrates the crux of the problem – the lack of space for discussion when interacting with the armed forces. The incident also demonstrates our ambivalence in protesting or resisting their orders, because to many of us the recent cleanliness of the city is a welcome change. The command and control methods used in the military, its methods of training to resolve disputes through force, its inculcation of perceptions of entitlement as a result of military glorification, make the armed forces dangerous in a democracy. This is especially so, when the military enters higher education as we see today.
Militarisation is counter to the essence of higher education. It contradicts the ideals of higher education as a democratic space that fosters free and critical thinking. It also threatens the autonomy of universities, which is established in law, because universities need that freedom to perform their role in society. The effect of the military in higher education is multidirectional and has increased gradually.
  1. Leadership taught in Military Camps. Perhaps the most public are the leadership programmes which were held for prospective university entrants at military camps. Conspicuously absent from these programmes were institutions of higher education and the procedures of curriculum evaluation that are generally followed to ensure their quality. Instead the programmes by their very location at military camps, had the involvement of the armed forces.
  2. Minister’s Vision of Future Education. Mr. Ranawaka, in statements issued to the papers, proposes that military knowledge be taught at schools and universities in the future. These were some of his ideas for reforming education and higher education and are based on a submission he made to the President and the Ministry of Higher Education
  3. Security functions of the Universities through the Defense Ministry. The decision to hire a firm of ex-service people, under the Ministry of Defense, for all universities, circumvents the university level administration that typically makes such decisions.
  4. Provision of Higher Education. Unlike other State institutions, the military has its own university as of 2009, the Kothalawala Defense University (KDU, which is interestingly fee levying and includes a Faculty of Medicine). It falls under the purview of the Defense Ministry. As a result of a much higher pay for officers who teach and better resources for teaching and research for those attached through the officer cadre, relative to other universities, KDU has access to  resources that are unavailable in traditional universities. 
  5. The Provision of Services to the Military. Whether in the name of patriotism, nation building, or otherwise, many staff members at universities provide professional advice to the armed forces. These relationships are at times formalized through the Faculty Boards of Faculties or through other agreements. While such relationships are no different from agreements with other state institutions and are healthy for both the universities and the country, they again reinforce a presence of the military in these institutes of higher education. The fact that these relationships are increasing gives more credence to the level of involvement of the military in activities that are not within their purview such as in construction and farming, and city beautification as mentioned earlier.
In each of the instances the armed forces and its resources are gradually changing the face of higher education. While the State universities’ role in higher education is gradually reduced, even in terms of administering themselves and in determining the content of their education (such as with the leadership programme), the military’s has increased. The State University system is starved of resources and yet the military’s seems to be abundant.
The involvement of the military in higher education should be at the least questioned and debated, but such debate is difficult. To illustrate, unlike private educational institutions, which have been opposed by various groups (for example, protests against the Malambe private medical school and the Private Educational Bill), the public seems more hesitant to protest issues surrounding the military. This is to a small extent because the sheer size of the military today means that most of us have family or close friends attached to it. To a greater extent, this is because the armed forces are viewed as noble and heroic and thus unworthy of criticism.  However these emotionally evocative images associated with the armed forces are just another facet of militarization.
The military has a very specific role that does not include stadium building, selling food, and definitely not military style education and leadership building of the civil society. There are institutions that are designed to provide these services, which have done a good job in the past considering the resources available to them. In the education sector, these are institutions that have given us much to be proud of. They have created a population that has much greater access to education, than their counterparts in neighbouring countries. Compared to these other countries, Sri Lanka provides better access to education to the poor and to women – two groups that typically have trouble accessing such services.  While these services need to be improved, using the military to do so should not be an option. We must engage with the institutions charged with the services we want made better. For instance, we must increase the budgets for education so that educational institutes may provide better service and higher educational institutes may serve a larger population of the country.
The end of war did not bring about a decrease in the strength of the military, but its expansion. It also brought about institutions which were outside the purview of the military, such as the Urban Development Authority, under it and brought military influence on institutions such as higher education. Instead of providing opportunities for those who saw combat to move to institutions that could help them transition to non-military work, the Government has sought to increase the strength and breath of the armed forces. We should not accept military institutions, which are not equipped to listen, negotiate and be made accountable to the public, as a solution to needs of the civil society.  This is especially true of higher education with its ideals of a democratic space which should promote free and critical thinking.
Shamala Kumar, Ph.D., is attached to the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.