Friday, June 22, 2012

A remedy worse than the malady


Galle District UPFA MP Nishantha Muthuhettigama, who underwent psychiatric tests in compliance with a court order a few years ago, suggested that sanity tests be conducted on all politicians. The government should have taken his suggestion seriously and contracted a psychiatrist to examine at least its ministers and assess whether they are sane enough to carry out their duties and responsibilities. Its failure to do so has made people risk their sanity!

National universities are in an unholy mess. Non-academics have been on a strike for nearly three weeks. Dons are likely to follow suit unless the government meets their demands without further delay. The Higher Education Ministry carries on regardless. It is conducting leadership training programmes for prospective university entrants and reality shows for undergraduates while universities remain crippled.

Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake has unveiled a grandiose plan to build our universities to the level of their prestigious counterparts in the developed world. The government wants to turn Sri Lanka into the knowledge hub of Asia. Surprisingly, they want to attain these lofty goals without making a serious effort to solve the problems of university teachers, non-academics and undergrads so as to ensure the smooth functioning of universities.

It is ironical that Minister Dissanayake, who took upon himself the task of crushing a politically motivated student movement blamed for disrupting universities, has failed to be different. Meddlesome and aggressive, he stands accused of undue interference and arbitrary action that has provoked academics and students alike. His latest battle is with the University of the Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA).

Minister Dissanayake has drawn heavy flak for his decision to scrap the UVPA aptitude test to sift prospective entrants. A well-known senior don, Prof. Sarath Chandrajeewa, in his article on this page today presents an eloquent argument for retaining that test.

One of the demands that the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) has put forth is that teachers be consulted when vital decisions on universities are taken. It is natural that the UVPA teachers have taken umbrage over Minister Dissanayake's decision to abolish the aptitude test arbitrarily on the grounds that there has been a spate of complaints of malpractices.

One cannot but agree with the academics that they, as stakeholders, should have a right to be consulted on such a crucial matter. The minister should have had the alleged irregularities probed and action taken against the culprits without scrapping the aptitude test, as Prof. Chandrajeewa rightly argues.

University dons are far from perfect. Some of them are even corrupt and abuse their privileged positions just like politicians. There are allegations of examination malpractices and favourites of some lecturers being given higher grades than the deserving. So, Minister Dissanayake may have received complaints from students about malpractices in the aptitude test as he claims. But, the abolition of the test is not the answer.

Prof. Chandrajeewa says Dean of the Creative Art Faculty of the Wollongong University, Australia, who was appointed to look into issues related to the aptitude test following its suspension way back in 1998, assessed it as essential for strengthening and developing art education and making it more productive. This being the expert opinion, the minister should have desisted from abolishing the test.

We are at one with Minister Dissanayake on the need to rid universities of inhuman ragging and disruptive elements, but he must stop meddling in matters that are best left to university teachers and playing politics with higher education. The abolition of the UVPA aptitude test has all the trappings of an ill-conceived political decision that needs to be reversed. His remedy is far worse than the malady!

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