Saturday, January 28, 2012

Unrest in Universities and The Private Universites Bill

Chat with Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan & Dr.Harini Amarasuriya from Young Asia Television on Vimeo.

Connections | January 23, 2012 from Young Asia Television on Vimeo.

UK Government set to drop private universities plan

The Guardian, 24/01/2012

Higher education bill due to be introduced in Queen's speech reported to have been delayed indefinitely
David Willetts said there would be further discussion of the private universities plan
David Willetts said there would be further discussion of the private universities plan. Photograph: Geraint Lewis/Alamy
The government has abandoned plans to reform the university system that would have made it easier for private colleges to set up new universities.
A higher education bill due to be introduced in the Queen's speech has been delayed indefinitely, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The Liberal Democrats were opposed to further reforms to higher education after the controversial decision to raise tuition fees, the paper reported.
The universities minister, David Willetts, said: "There's going to be a further discussion in cabinet in the next couple of weeks. There's no final decision either way yet."
Two private universities in England – Buckingham and BPP – have degree-awarding powers, and several other private providers focus on professional courses such as business studies, management and law.
They are not subject to the same government requirements on widening access to students from poorer backgrounds, or the cap on student numbers.
The maximum state-backed loan available for students at private universities has risen from just over £3,000 to £6,000 for students starting this autumn in a move Willetts described as a first step towards bringing in private providers of higher education.
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, the college lecturers' union, said: "Plans to allow private companies greater access to taxpayers' money would have seen them getting rich at the expense of the UK taxpayer.
"In the US, for-profit universities and colleges have been investigated for the mis-selling of qualifications to vulnerable students and their families. That is the last thing we needed here as students struggle to adapt to the new fees regime.
"The government should be applauded for appearing to listen to the experts in the case. We will continue to expose the dangers of allowing those whose first priority is to their shareholders a greater hold on our higher education system."
The coalition has already introduced sweeping change to the university system without the need for primary legislation, including increasing the cap on tuition fees and giving universities the power to recruit unlimited numbers of the best performing students.

GCE A/L - 2011 : Urgent review of results a must

Sunday Times, 22/01/2012

Open letter to Ministers of Education and Higher Education
I have watched with great pain of mind the events and developments that took place after the release of the results of the GCE A/L Examination held in 2011. Many errors and omissions in the results have been reported and a presidential committee was appointed to look into this matter. The report of this committee has now been submitted to the President.
Of the national examinations conducted in Sri Lanka, the GCE A/L examination is considered the most important and most highly competitive examination, which determines the future of our youth. Unlike in most other countries performance at this examination is the only criterion for university admission in Sri Lanka. It also serves as a barrier for admission to foreign universities and other professional/ training institutions. Over the years this examination has maintained high international standards allowing our students to gain admission to prestigious universities all over the world. I am personally aware that our students who have done well at the GCE A/L exam are performing extremely well in US universities.
Results of the GCE A/L examination this time have been openly challenged. It is essential to restore public confidence in this examination as early as possible. The whole procedure of processing marks at the Examination Department should be investigated to understand the root of the problem. Urgent action also should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such errors in the future. It must be stressed at the outset that any attempt to cover up this issue will lead to much greater repercussions and complications affecting a large number of youth in Sri Lanka. It is in this context I have been compelled to write this letter.
I was personally responsible for initiating a dialogue, appointing a committee and implementing the Z-score method to rank students for university admission when I was serving as the Secretary to the Ministry. The Z-score method is much superior to aggregates in ranking students in different streams. There are difficult low scoring subjects and relatively easy high scoring subjects at the GCE A/L exam. Z-score brings the marks of the subjects to the same level so that meaningful rankings can be worked out. It has been proved that the ranking on this basis is more fair and reliable, and it is considered the best and simplest option available to minimize discrepancies that arise due to different subjects, number of subjects, variable marking and different curricula (old syllabus/ new syllabus).
A comprehensive proposal in this regard was forwarded by Professor R.O. Thattil of the University of Peradeniya who served as the consultant to the Ministry and the UGC to implement this scheme during 2000/2001. It was successfully implemented in 2001 with two groups (one group offered 3 subjects and the other group 4 subjects) who sat the GCE A/L exam. Since then this method was in operation smoothly until 2011.
Two issues regarding the results of GCE A/L Examination held in 2011 have been highlighted.
1. Errors in district and island rankings issued by the Department of Examinations
2. Issue raised by experts regarding the formula used to calculate the Z-score
Both these issues are of equal importance and it is necessary to rectify the situation without any further delay.
I have read in the newspapers that errors in rankings are due to wrong entries and processing errors done by the Department of Examinations. It is regrettable to note that independent checks/ audits have not been carried out. Is this the way national examinations are conducted in Sri Lanka? If this is true how can we accept the accuracy of the other entries and Z-scores? All the entries and the processing steps therefore should be rechecked to confirm accuracy of the results.
Secondly, the ministries involved have not used the original consultant to work out the formula to calculate the Z-score this time. Particularly, the officials of the UGC are aware of the history of the introduction of Z-score method and the consultants originally used for this purpose. In spite of this, Professor R.O. Thattil who designed the scheme in 2001 was not included in the committee this time. According to Professor Thattil (Island January 13, 2012) the formula proposed by the new committee is incorrect complicating the A/L results issue still further.
This time the mean and variances of a subject from the old and new syllabi were pooled together to calculate the Z-score. This is a fundamental error made by the expert committee. In this type of situation two student groups should be considered as two separate populations and the Z-score for each group separately calculated. Then the average Z-scores of the three subjects can be used to rank students. This is the method we followed successfully in 2001 for the two groups (3- subjects and 4-subjects).
Unfortunately, the presidential committee appointed to look into this matter has overlooked this important issue of using a wrong formula for the calculation of Z-scores. This has affected all the Z-scores, and the rankings worked out using these erroneous Z-scores are also incorrect. Thus, Z-scores and rankings of all the streams need to be corrected.
I read in the newspapers that a teachers union is contemplating legal action against the Department of Examinations regarding this issue. If this happens, undoubtedly it will be a prolonged battle lasting for months if not years. Such action will lead to a serious situation where the results will be invalidated for some time. Then, the students who sat this examination will not be in a position to gain admission to any higher education institution in Sri Lanka or abroad for a considerable period of time. This is a harmful and serious situation affecting the future of our young generation. If this happens, it will be one of the most serious setbacks in the history of education in Sri Lanka. Therefore, all parties concerned should make a concerted effort to avoid this situation at any cost.
There is another issue which needs the attention of education authorities urgently. During 2000/2001 we initiated action to hold the A/L exam in April instead of August due to strong reasons. We arranged A/L classes to commence in schools immediately after the O/L results are released, and the A/L exam was held for the first time in April 2002. Now it has been changed to August again for the convenience of officials disregarding all the benefits of having the exam in April. Let me explain the benefits of this change.
When the A/L exam is held in August, it is not possible to begin A/L classes for the students who sat the O/L exam in December of the previous year until September the following year. As a result, these students wait for nearly nine months wasting their valuable time. Similarly after the A/L exam in August the students have to wait till October next year for admission to universities losing about two years in their prime life time. This can be avoided by commencing A/L classes in April this year and conducting the A/L exam in April 2014 and onwards. If this is implemented, those who qualify for admission to universities based on the results of this exam can be admitted to universities in the same year minimizing the waiting period. This effectively saves about two years of their prime life time, which can be profitably used in their higher education.
The following steps are strongly recommended.
1.A complete comprehensive review of all the entries and processing steps of the results of GCE A/L Exam- 2011 should be carried out in the presence of observers / experts nominated by the University Grants Commission.
2. Recalculation of Z-scores should be carried out using the correct formula employed previously in 2001 in consultation with Professor R.O. Thattil,who served as a consultant to the UGC/ Higher Education Ministry in 2001.
3. Release of the corrected results after completing (1) and (2) procedures indicated above.
4. Make necessary arrangements to conduct the GCE A/L examination in April every year with effect from 2014 and streamline the university admission process with a common academic year.
I earnestly request the two Ministers to give serious consideration to the above proposal and implement the same in the best interest of the nation.
Professor R.P. Gunawardane, Indiana State University, USA - (Formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Secretary, Higher Education and IT Development, Chairman, National Education Commission, Senior Professor & Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya) (The writer may be contacted by Email:

Examinations Department should pass the “Integrity Test”

Colombo Telegraph, 21/01/2012
By JC Weliamuna -

JC Weliamuna
In the late 1970s, a Deputy Commissioner of Examinations was prosecuted for interfering with the results of a son of a Minister and a son of a school principal. He was jailed. It was possible to prosecute him because the then Commissioner got wind of this illegal activity and moved for prosecution of this officer. Is this possible now? Can an officer who extends favours to a politician in power be ever prosecuted presently? This is the question before you and me today.
Let me also raise few other questions. When credible foreign universities offer places to Sri Lankan students for undergraduate studies, they presume that the Advanced Level results reflect the genuine talent of the student concerned. What would happen if the main foreign universities have doubts about the credibility of the A/L examination results issued by the Department of Examinations? If a list of students is given by a powerful politician to the Department to ensure university entrance, can the Commissioner say “No”? If a powerful politician indicates to the Department that he/she wants best results from his/her area or his/her past school, can the Commissioner say “No”?
In this article, I share my thoughts on some aspects of the present status of governance and how it has affected the integrity of the Department of Education.
Proud history of Excellence to a Questionable Entity
In 1952, one year after its establishment, the Department of Examinations had conducted 8 local examinations and 27 foreign examinations. When the Senior School Certificate (SSC – as the GCO Ordinary Level was then known) was started in 1952, there were 53,000 candidates. The number of subjects offered was 60. The Higher School Certificate (HSC) was started in 1945 and continued until 1963 when the examination became the GCE Advanced Level (‘A’ level).. At that time only 31,011 candidates sat the examination, as compared presently with something in the region of 300,000. In 1968, the Examinations Ordinance was enacted authorizing the Department to conduct all public examinations. This indicates the nature and responsibilities cast on the Department whose integrity and recognition is absolutely vital for the nation and its citizens.

With the appointment of Mr. Edirisinghe, the dark period started around 2005 raising many internal issues. We have witnessed the collapse of integrity of several other public institutions with one single wrong appointment at the top.
When the Department of Examinations commenced in 1951, its first head was Mr. L.L.K. Gunatunga (1951-59). Recently the 18th Commissioner took over. Seven of the former Heads of the Department are still among the living. Until the 17th Commissioner Anura Edirisinghe assumed office in 2005 as the Commissioner- General of Examinations, this Department had maintained the highest integrity. If at all there were any issues, they revolved around a few corrupt individuals who were dealt with severely. With the appointment of Mr. Edirisinghe, the dark period started around 2005 raising many internal issues. We have witnessed the collapse of integrity of several other public institutions with one single wrong appointment at the top.
Fortunately, the Media (in particular, the alternative media) closely monitored and reported unprecedented scale of irregularities in the Department since then. Unfortunately the authorities and the public did not take sufficient notice of it or meaningful actions to remedy the situation.
Jayasiri Withana (Ravaya) exposed through series of article an evidential trail of irregularities demonstrating how this department lost its credibility under the leadership of Mr. Edirisinghe. Let me share with you one instance how credibility of examinations came under serious challenge but no one was held accountable. The then principal of Rahula College, Kithrisi Liyanagamage challenged the Chemistry results of 2004 A/L results. Previously, the school had about 40 “ A Grade” passes but that year it had only 9 “A Grade passes” for the entire Matara district. Those who analysed the results sensed some irregularity or at least a serious lapse. This led to a teachers’ meeting at which Edirisinghe was requested to review the results of 10 of the best students. Edirisinghe reiterated the accuracy of the results and said that if there was any change (even 1%), he would not stay in office. There was a review of result in the entire district resulting in major changes. The 5A’s of Rahula College became 63 but Edirisinghe stayed on. This, however, led to a committee being appointed by the President comprising former Supreme Court Justice Priyantha Perera, Mr. Gunapala Wickramaratne, a distinguished former commissioner and another but the report of the committee was never released to the public. What we heard was that the responsibility had been passed on to the “Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machine”.
Present A/L Fiasco & Refusal to Identify Errors
The present A/L saga was perhaps the worst of all. It had distorted the entire results. It should be remembered that there were two syllabuses for A/L last year – let me call ‘Old Syllabus’ and ‘New Syllabus’. For each subject, there were two different syllabuses, different examination papers, different marking schemes and different structures in every sense. The Education Sector trade unions were the first to raise the issue of major irregularities in the results. Then the results were not released. When the President directed the Department to issue the results, the Department issued it within One Day.

First the Department said the answer scripts were misplaced and later said they were found. How were they misplaced? Who has found them and how? Besides this, those students had now received (after two weeks) their results without District Ranking and Island Ranking!
Let us start with the main THREE ERRORS in the AL results. When the trade unions and candidates raised issues, the Minister of Higher Education and the Minister of Education made hilarious explanations. First it was said that the mistake is only about the district ranking and not about Z-score. But, up to now, no explanation was offered why District Ranking had gone wrong. Then Prof. Raphel O. Thattil, who played a major role in introducing the Z-Score challenged the mode of calculating the Z-score. Those who are familiar with the mathematical calculation of Z-score are aware that the Z-score is a calculation based on standard normal distribution of certain figures (in this instance, marks) of an identified single population/pool. It may be technically difficult for a person without some mathematical knowledge to understand but it is not difficult to understand that the Z-score for a subject is based only on that subject of one examination of one syllabus. The Department appears to have taken the Old Syllabus subject and the New Syllabus subject (e.g. old syllabus Chemistry and New Syllabus Chemistry) into the same pool in calculating the Z-Score of that subject. If a score of average/mean is to be made, such can be mathematically done after calculating the Z-scores separately and then averaging it with an acceptable formula. Instead, what appears to have been done by the Department is to take some unknown method to calculate “combined mean” erroneously. To me the entire Z-score crisis is this. When Prof. Thattil and many other mathematicians pointed out this basic error, there was an aggressive humiliation on them in the government media, which is the propaganda machine of the government.
The second error is that results of a subject were not released. Many candidates who offered the Russian language did not get the results. Students at Rahula National School of Alawwa, known to be among the best in the Arts stream in the country, particularly for languages suffered seriously when their Russian Language marks were not given. Among the students was an outstanding student with 2 “A Grade” passes (German language and Logic). If she had obtained an A Grade with high Z-score, probably the best student in Arts might have come from Alawwa, and not form the Hambantota District. First the Department said the answer scripts were misplaced and later said they were found. How were they misplaced? Who has found them and how? Besides this, those students had now received (after two weeks) their results without District Ranking and Island Ranking!
The third error is individual-based. For the first time in the history of public examinations in the country, thousands of candidates received distorted results. Students received results for subjects they have never sat for. Hundreds of students did not receive full results for their subjects. Private candidates did not receive results for many weeks. The government or the Department of Examinations has failed to tender any explanation to many of those errors occurred in respect of individual results, such as not entering District or All Island Rank, omitting Z-Score, and mixing up of subjects. The uncertainty and confusion was such that public began to wonder whether the results were completely manipulated or whether the results were handled by an amateur group without any experience in examination work. Undoubtedly this cannot be a simple computer error.
The correct results are imperative. For the sake of governance, it is also imperative to let the public know how the results were distorted in the most important competitive examination in the country. The biggest error is therefore that failure on the part of the authorities to offer any valid and logical explanation. Probably it will not happened unless the public demand it.
Presidential Committee

. The uncertainty and confusion was such that public began to wonder whether the results were completely manipulated or whether the results were handled by an amateur group without any experience in examination work. Undoubtedly this cannot be a simple computer error.
From the JR Jayewardene era, we have seen the President appointing a committee whenever a complex issue arose, but whether those committees ever addressed the main issues remains unanswered. Responding to the present A/L examination problem, President Rajapaksa appointed a Committee headed by a Ministry Secretary, two Vice Chancellors and two others but did not include a single retired Commissioner of Examinations. A/L results was an issue where the government was under real challenge; this could have led to a public outcry against the government itself.
In other words, the government has a political stake in the issue – very much more than the best interest of the 300,000 candidates. In such circumstances, any committee appointed should have credibility and acceptance along with public confidence. The Committee’s mandate and approach should be objective. There should not be any doubt about its work and should not allow people to think that it will whitewash the failures of the Government/Department of Examination.
I do not wish to say anything general about the members of this committee, because at least some of them have shown independence in the past. However, take the case of Vice Chancellors appointed to the committee. Vice Chancellor of Colombo University (Prof. Shanika Hirimburegama) came on public platforms during last election to politically support President Rajapaksa. She has defended the government in almost all the challenging political issues. Another stakeholder in the examination mechanism, though not a member of this committee, is the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, (Prof. Gamini Samaranayaka) who was also on the same political platforms, defending this government at any cost. In my view, some members of the committee have an enormous vested interest in the government and such members will always consider the interest of the government, rather than independent judgment. Such persons will want to defend and protect the image of the government. Undoubtedly the public and trade unions will raise doubts on the findings of this committee, even if the committee addresses some of the main issues.
Who is to be Blamed and Who is Accountable?
It is interesting to note that no one is held accountable for the mess. This is the usual pattern of governance today in many institutions, which are plagued with corruption, maladministration and irregularities. Hard earned reputation, once collapsed, is not easy to regain.
Anura Ekanayaka retired with a pension and obviously there is no likelihood him being held accountable. When these issues were raised relating to the last A/L examination, a Minister said the Department of Examinations is independent and therefore, the government cannot interfere with its work! This statement was just proved wrong with the present Commissioner General Pushpakumara assuming office. This is a department which never welcomed politicians even for functions. This occasion was graced by the Education Minister, who was entangled with the controversy of the Department itself. The new commissioner virtually bent down before the Minister Gunawardana, disclosing the true nature of the character and demeanor of the new head of the Department.
We have witnessed what happened to the Judiciary with the appointment of former Attorney General SN Silva as Chief Justice (CJ). When he was appointed as CJ, there were two motions on his professional misconduct before the very same Supreme Court. Nevertheless, President Kumaratunga appointed him purely on political considerations. This example demonstrated that a single bad appointment (as head of an institution) is sufficient to ruin the institution beyond repair. The same fate has now befallen on the Department of Examinations. This department has crumbled reminding us of one eternal truth; an institution cannot run on its own without integrity of those who run it.
Who should be a head of the Examinations Department? This was once answered by the respected former Commissioner, Gunapala Wickramaratne in his article titled “Perceptive Encomium to Examination (souvenir published by the Department to celebrated its 50th year – 2001).
“….. There is an unwritten law not to advertise the post of Commissioner General but to select from within or outside, an officer with administrative ability, very high quality character and higher quality of independence and integrity …….. The Commissioner General is the Head of a department quite distinct from any other Heads of the Public Service. The credibility and public confidence in evaluation and certification depend on the degree of realization of and the dedication and commitment to the onerous responsibility….”
The degeneration of the public service and institutions did not happen overnight. The 1972 and 1978 Constitutions and those who administered them were mainly responsible for this decay; nevertheless we had some individuals who were not prepared to bow down to pressure and were not motivated by vested interest. Honorable individuals constantly realize that the government’s policy and individual conscience are two different things. Though the government policy can be manipulated, the conscience of decent human beings cannot be manipulated. Unfortunately, most of the high positions have been filled today not on merit and objective criteria but purely on political connections. The objectives of institutions can easily be manipulated to suit the appointing authority – the political chief. The appointees have a vested interest in the political mater’s survival and do not care about their legitimate duties. They believe that Mahinda Chintanaya (policy) has to take precedence over their conscience and values.
The crisis of the Department of Examinations is thus a yet another reflection of the present status of governance and nothing else. Sooner the public realize it, the better it is. The A/L level mess demonstrates how the decay of governance can affect a future of a nation. The conduct of the Head of the Department reminds us of the famous quotation of Thomas Jefferson, scholar and statesman, who once said,
“Never suppose that in any possible situation or under any circumstances that it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing however slightly so it may appear to you… Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise … and that exercise will make them habitual…”
*JC Weliamuna -Constitutional Lawyer, Eisenhower Fellow, Senior Ashoka Fellow and former Executive Director of the Transparency International Sri Lanka

Following the Protest Movement in Sri Lankan Universities, January 23, 2012, by
Some of the stronger protests and forceful political debates in Sri Lanka are taking place in relation to student rights, university teachers pay, allocation of government expenditure on education and inequalities relating to the Government’s private university bill. University students have been on the boil over issues from militarisation of the universities, including compulsory military training for entering university students last year, to attempts to ban student unions. University teachers carried out strike action for months last year extracting promises of higher pay and input into educational policy which were not carried forward with the Budget, leading to a token strike on January 17th. I wrote an article on the neoliberalisation of university education in the Sunday Island on Jan 15th discussing the larger project at work with the backing of the World Bank and IMF. Kumar David has written an article in the Jan 22nd issue of the Sunday Island explaining the z-scores scandal – about the Advanced Level exam results which are used for university entrance – and its relationship to the protests against the private university bill. The Young Asia Television in their episode of Connections today has documented the recent protests including some interviews with student leaders and university teachers. The uteachers blog is an excellent resource to find more articles and presentations by academics involved in the recent protests and actions. Historically, the universities have been a hot bed of protest as well as social and political change in Sri Lanka, and those in solidarity with progressive forces struggling for social justice in Sri Lanka may want to follow the protest movement gaining ground in the universities.

A-Level fiasco and private universities Bill - Pressure mounts on the government

Island, January 21, 2012, 3:51 pm

Kumar David

It is no coincidence that in the face of the storm created by  the A-Level results fiasco the government hastily withdrew the Bill to permit  private universities. Indeed the regime has been frying on several fronts and is  beating a hasty retreat on most. The most serious of the current crises is the  A-Level fiasco and public anger will not subside despite the analgesic of a  Presidential Committee that fudged the conundrum. Anti-government sections will  exploit it and President Rajapaksa, Higher Education Minister SB and Education  Minister Bandula are in for a torrid time when university admission lists are  finalised. The New-JVP is sure to lead a campaign that will attract public  support.

Though no supporter of the UPFA or the Rajapaksa brothers, I had  thought that thanks to war victory and the sweep of chauvinism through the  Sinhalese community, this government would be stable for most of its full term  of office following the 2010 election cycle. I am not so sure anymore; already  2012 is emerging as a year of uncertainty on this and many more issues.

The A-Level fiasco

The best available information is that the cock-up in the  A-Level results happened for a simple reason; candidates who sat the examination  under the Old Syllabus (OS) and under the New Syllabus (NS) were treated as a  single ‘population’ (a statistical term) in the calculation of z-scores. Bear  with me and let me explain what z-scores are; it is useful for everybody to get  a handle since it has become a hot topic.

Obviously, scoring patterns (raw marks) in say mathematics  (several candidates may score 100%) and in say literature are quite different.  So how do we compare subjects with wide divergences in raw marks? The method is  to bring the means (subject averages) of all subjects to a common point;  statistically, that’s easy enough. Then comparison is possible by examining how  far above or below the mean a candidate’s attainment is in any subject.

But there is a second problem; the natural spread of raw marks  is different in different subjects. In some subjects the raw marks may naturally  spread all the way from say 100 to nearly zero, while in others marks may be  bunched around the average. How to compare subjects with divergent spreads? This  is done by scaling in such a way that, after processing, the marks in all  subjects have the same pattern of spread, that is, distributions are made  similar. Statistically speaking, all marks have been processed so as to have the  same variance (or standard deviation).

A candidate’s z-score is his/her mark, in each subject, after  both mean and variance in each subject, has been aligned in the aforesaid  manner. Now one can compare the z-score of one candidate in mathematics and  another in literature without being in a situation of comparing apples and  oranges. A statistician would say that different subjects are being handled as  distinct ‘populations’ and scores aligned to a consistent pattern.

Candidates who sit for different examination papers in similar  subjects, say physics old syllabus (POS) and physics new syllabus (PNS), should  similarly be treated as different ‘populations’. For example, say the average  mark in POS is 50 and the average mark in PNS is 60. Then can you really say  that a candidate who scores 62 in PNS is better than one who scores 61 in POS?  Of course not; OS and NS candidates in similar subjects should be treated like  candidates who take different subjects. That is to say their z-scores should be  processed as distinct ‘populations’. From all reports the fiasco has arisen  because OS and NS scores were not processed as separate ‘populations’ in z-score  calculations. When this is not done the final z-scores are a jumbled mess from  pooling two distinct ‘populations’, say POS and PNS, into one. Different  z-scores within the jumble cannot be meaningfully compared; they are indeed  apples and oranges shoved into one basket.

The examination authorities and ministry had two years lead time  to think, design and disclose to the public how it intended to handle this  apparent conflict of interest between OS and NS. The authorities failed to do so  and have infuriated the public. The President has taken a goodly share of the  anger upon himself by rushing the authorities to release examination results  prematurely.

There have been errors in the finalisation of district lists but  these are errors pure and simple, not matters of methodological significance. We  are assured that they have been rectified and I am prepared to accept the  assurance. The problem lies elsewhere. If the z-scores are recomputed as  suggested above, rankings will change and some candidates who are currently  ineligible for university admission will become eligible, pushing out others who  are currently ‘eligible’. If the scores are not recomputed all those currently  excluded will argue that they have been unfairly excluded. There is no respite;  the government has caught a tiger by the tail! I do not see how not just Bandula,  but even Rajapaksa is going to extricate himself from this hole. Bandula must  take formal responsibility and resign; did I hear you say "Fat hopes"?

The private universities debate

A Bill to allow private universities – invariably in partnership  with established overseas institutions – was drafted in secrecy and was to be  rushed through parliament. It masquerades under the wolf in sheep’s clothing  pseudonym ‘Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Qualification Frame Bill’. The  university teachers’ federation publicised a leaked copy and it is a hair  raising document that tramples academic independence underfoot. Power would be  centralised and the minister would decide what is to be taught and who would  teach, and much else.

The ever pliant Supreme Court would have certified it as an  urgent Bill as it did with the foul 18th Amendment and the Act nationalising 35  enterprises. Apart from strangulation and burial of the public university system  this mode of enactment is an affront to democratic rights of citizens in a  matter of utmost public importance. In the 1940s the Act to establish the  University of Ceylon went through protracted public consultation and refinement  by more than one committee of local and international experts. Colonial  liberalism was more open, transparent and democratic than the Rajapaksa regime!

JVP led student bodies, are on the boil; protest marches are  breaking out and SB, whose penchant for strong-arm stuff is known, is  threatening hell and fury. The case of the student bodies and the majority of  the academic community is that the government is attempting to scuttle Lanka’s  university free education system. This reading is made against the background a  sharp pro-business rightward turn in economic policy concocted in cahoots with  the IMF.

In my view the suspicion that the government is bent on  undermining the university system, now all public but for the contested Malabe  medical school, is justified. The fear is substantiated by the treatment  successive governments have meted out to the universities for decades. While  neighbours like India, Singapore and Malaysia are proud of their public  universities and venture to grow their best into centres of international  excellence, Sri Lanka has simply starved its universities of: (i) funds  (library, laboratory and lodgings), (ii) a research ethos and opportunities,  (iii) national recognition, and (iv) international connections. For an account  of how public universities are being run to the ground see Ranga Jayasuriya’s  piece on page 5 of LakbimaNews, 15 January.

The government wants a by now problematic and potentially  expensive public university system off its hands; it would like to delegate  high-flyer slots to new fee levying private universities. Thereafter a second  class rump public university system will be retained for the yako classes. Lanka  is the lowest spender on education in South Asia as a percentage of GDP (2%) and  a percentage of the budget (7.5%).

Yes, having fee-levying private universities is good; it expands  opportunity for those who can afford to pay. However, remember that the worlds  finest, Harvard, Princeton, MIT etc, are private but not-for-profit schools.  Actually they use the income from their huge endowment funds to provide  scholarships for outstanding financially strapped applicants from the US and  anywhere in the world. The fundamental thing is that these are universities,  centres of academic excellence, not business ventures. Their raison d’etre is  different from institutions outreaching, mainly out of the UK and Australia (no  offence meant), to earn profit overseas due to funding difficulties at home. The  latter are primarily business ventures, they subscribe to the philosophy of  education as a marketed commodity; often they are degree factories with lax  standards where one can buy Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, even PhDs. OK this  is an overstatement, but you get the gist of what I am saying, and I speak from  knowledge of such outreach ventures in Hong Kong.

Private universities are fine in principle but if they are to be  built over the dead body of the public university system by a government with  deeply step-motherly motives, well that’s another matter. Oxford and Cambridge  take no notice of private colleges on the banks of the Thames; the latter offer  no competition. But when public universities are being run to the ground instead  of being nurtured as centres of excellence, then privatisation is an entirely  different story.

In this context the GCE(A/L) examination mess is seen by most as  a deliberate conspiracy by the government and the Ministries of Education and  Higher Education to turn the public against the free education system and rush  through an iniquitous Bill. Though I find this conspiracy theory far fetched it  has taken a grip on the public mind. Swathes of public opinion buy it; parent’s  associations, teacher’s unions and grass roots bodies are mobilising for a  showdown. The standoff between government and student-teacher-parent combine may  turn out to be a more serious conflict than just A-Level results. SB must take  responsibility and resign; but did I hear you say "Fat hopes" again!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Higher Education (Non-state), Bill

By Deepika Udagama, UT4DD,

Download The Googledoc Ariticle

The Sri Lanka Qualifications Framework, Quality Assurance_Deepika

University Governance

By Jayadeva Uyangoda, Arts Faculty Teacher's Union, University of Colombo

Download the google doc document

University Governance_Uyangoda.pdf

Wider Implications of the new bill

By Sudesh Mantilleke, University of Peradeniya,

On 17th January 2012, at the Arts Theater of the University of Peradeniya there were informative sessions on Higher Education and so called 'Private University Bill'. At the end of presentations and discussion, it was understood that the new bill that is to be tabled in the parliament is not only about private or new universities but has enormous impact on public universities.

Initially, most of the members were in a view that the impact of the new bill on the public Universities is indirect. However, now it is clear that the bill has a direct impact on public Universities. The new bill, if approved, will establish a very powerful Agency (Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency) that can manipulate the public University system. Final Decisions even regarding study programs (basically what to teach) will not be taken by the Faculty boards and Senates of the respective Universities, but by so called 'Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency' in which the minister of HE has a tremendous power.

Therefore, if we identify the new bill as the 'Private University Bill' that underestimates its real impact on Public University System of this country.

This is a suggestion to all members and collectives who are against this new bill to characterize it as 'University Reforms Bill', 'Higher Education Reforms Bill' or any other suitable label instead of just 'Private University Bill'.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Another Brick In The Wall

The Sunday Leader, 15/01/2012,

  • Education and Sri Lankan Ministers
  • By Nirmala Kannangara

    S.B. Dissanayake, Bandula Gunawardena and Mohan Lal Grero
    Sri Lanka must surely boast the largest number of education ministers although none of them have discharged their duties as expected but contributed to an all time mock-up of the system.
    The recent A/L result fiasco, the public outcry against the government and its education ministers have taken center stage for messing up the future of children.
    Typically none of the five ministers have come forward to take responsibility but instead have passed the buck on to certain government officials. In addition the country’s entire higher education system too is in the doldrums.
    From the time Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake took office university unrest has worsened. Universities are closed for a good part of each semester.
    Considering all these factors questions have now been raised as to why a small country like ours need so many education ministers.
    In the central government alone there are five ministers for education- Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena and his Deputy Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soyza, Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake and his Deputy Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake and Mohan Lal Grero as the Monitoring Education MP.
    In addition all the nine provinces have their own Education Ministers and their deputies and Monitoring Provincial Council Members. What their duties are and whether they have fulfilled them is the multi million rupee question – which is costing this country and her future generation dearly.
    Eyebrows are being raised as to why such a number of ministers are maintained with public money when they have failed even to regularize a proper mechanism for grade one admission.
    From grade one to grade twelve each year the debacles remain endless. Closure of schools, lack of teachers in remote schools, grade one admission mess, delay in printing government text books or delay in distributing uniform materials, errors in school text books, disclosure of grade five scholarship exam papers, errors in O/L exam papers and the latest being the A/L result fiasco.
    The question is who is responsible?
    With regard to the A/L fiasco, according to the government the preliminary investigations have revealed that it was the data entry operators that have messed up the results but nothing to do with the relevant ministers. Sri Lanka is the only country that puts the blame on officials when it comes to any irregularity but grabs credit to the government for any achievements.
    There were protests all over the country demanding the review of the A/L results as there were instances that students have received results for different subjects for which they have not sat at the examination.
    “This is the state of this wonder of Asia. The vision for the future which is the emerging wonder of Sri Lanka as stated in the bankrupt Mahinda Chinthanaya,” said an angry teacher from one of Sri Lanka’s premier boys schools Royal College Colombo.
    Meanwhile, many universities have been shut indefinitely after university students protested against the formation of private universities in the country.
    Despite the arrests of student leaders last year, and the pending trials, college unrest has returned on a large scale causing major disruption in the country’s higher education system
    Amongst the abuse meted out against the students are – virginity tests that were carried out forcefully on female students by the head of the Sri Jayawardenapura University, providing security to some universities by a private security firm owned by a certain high official in the Defence Ministry and deploying army and police to thwart student protests.
    “Protesting students had been evicted from the Sri Jayawardenapura university last week by a court order following a monument of a killed student being destroyed by the army although they (army) deny the claim,” a university student said.
    Meanwhile these university students claim that the government is interfering in their work and accused the Higher Education Minister who too was a union leader in his days at the Peradeniya University for trying to privatize the country’s higher education system.
    “This is why all these suppressions are meted out against us. The primary and secondary schools are now in the process of closing down systematically. That was why the President clearly stated in his budget speech that selected 1000 schools in the country would be re-organized. If so what will happen to the other 8662 schools in the country. Nearly 300 schools have already closed down and it is estimated that there are 1528 schools in the country with less than 100 students in each school. Sufficient infrastructure has to be provided to these schools together with the required number of teachers. Without concentrating to these lapses they are trying to privatize the entire education system,” a student of Jayawardenapura University told The Sunday Leader on condition of anonymity.
    Meanwhile adding worst to the higher education system in the country the Executive Committee of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), at its meeting held on January 6, has decided to resort to trade union action to urge the government and the higher educational authorities to uphold the commitments made to the academics in the country.
    As its first move, all members of the unions affiliated to the FUTA will hold a token strike on Tuesday January 17.
    According to the FUTA the government deliberately failed to uphold the promise given to them when they had the discussion with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2011.
    “The three month long trade union action launched by the FUTA last year was temporarily suspended following the agreements reached between the FUTA and the government through the direct intervention of the President. Since then the FUTA worked tirelessly with University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Higher Education Ministry to reach the goals but however, the higher educational authorities consistently failed to uphold the assurances given to the university academics,” The FUTA said.
    The FUTA wishes to summarize the foremost amongst the commitments that were promised by the governmental authorities.
    “We demanded FUTA representation at decision-making processes pertaining to the
education and higher education- which was one of the key demands to which the
authorities agreed. However we have reliably understands that Quality Assurance Accreditation and Qualification Framework Bill commonly known as the Non-State University Bill which has already received the cabinet approval will be presented to the Parliament this month without a proper dialogue of Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Deans, Heads of Academic Departments, Senate and Council members and academic staff of the universities. As a result the academic staff have deeply disturbed and puzzled over the secrecy behind the purported bill which is against the agreement,” President FUTA said.
    FUTA also stressed the need of proving enough of money on higher education.
    “A recent World Bank report shows that Sri Lanka spends only 1 .9% of the GDP on education although it has to be increased up to 6% of the GDP, the lowest in the region, while other middle income countries spend on average 4.6% of their GDP. To fulfill Sri Lanka’s aspirations of becoming a knowledge hub, FUTA recommended that this has to be increased; however this recommendation too has been neglected,” alleged the FUTA
    Meanwhile they alleged that the right of the Universities to spend even the small amounts of money allocated for the education of the students has been taken away.
    “Even the pittance provided for higher education has been snatched away in order to pay for costly government sponsored projects such as imposing ultra-expensive security firms while the standard tender procedures of hiring and outsourcing have been deliberately avoided,” FUTA President Prof. Nirmal Ranjith said.
    The implementations of the salary scheme in compliance with the Jiffry-Malik proposals of 2008 too have failed by the government according to Prof. Ranjith.
    “Though the authorities agreed to consider the above proposal, there has been no genuine
interest in implementing the proposals while no attempts have been made to address the salary issue of the university teachers from the previous budget,” he said.

FUTA Spokesperson, Dr. Mahim Mendis told The Sunday Leader that the proposed trade union actions followed by the token strike would be extremely serious.
    “Leave alone our salaries why could not the government allocate at least 6% from the gross domestic product (GDP). When the government has allocated much more funds to other unimportant sectors, the allocation for the higher education is far more less than the other countries in the region. This is the reason why the country’s tertiary literacy level is below 7% although the primary literacy level is said to be 90%,” claimed Dr. Mendis.
    Dr. Mendis said that their salaries too have to be increased on par with the Central Bank salary scales.
    “We wanted the government to increase our salaries step by step to reach the Central Bank salary scale. It is the university academics that produce the experts for the national development in the country. As a result of this step-motherly treatment to university lecturers, the brain drain will get accelerated and that was why our universities have failed to retain PhD holders but surviving mainly with the BA and MA holders,” said Dr. Mendis.
    According to Dr. Mendis, there are not more than 25- 30% PhD holders in each university academic staff and accuses the government for its failure to retain them due to poor salary structures.
    “University Dons with PhD leave the country in search of greener pasture as they are not paid well. How could a country produce intellectuals without a proper education given to the university students by PhD holders? In Sri Lanka the university students are taught by BA and MA holders who are qualified to lecture primary and secondary education,” alleged Dr. Mendis.
    When contacted, Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that he was able to streamline the country’s education system and has new plans to upgrade the schools in the country specially the remote schools.
    However he got annoyed when asked as to what happened to the A/L examination fiasco and who was at fault.
    Deputy Education Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soyza after an ‘official’ foreign tour was not available for a comment as his mobile phone was switched off since his arrival to the country.
    Higher Education Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake was away in UK for a world education forum from January 9 to 11 but his ministry officials told The Sunday Leader that he will be back only after January 15. Education Monitoring MP Mohan Lal Grero too was out of the country and not available for comment.

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Quality of University Education


    Prof. S. Amaratunga

    There had been several letters in The Island on the subject of university education written by erudite scholars. In this brief note I would attempt to present another aspect of this problem. There was a time when the objective of university education was to train a person for life. Now the aim of university education it seems is to train a person for a job. In fact the employability of the product appears to be the main criterion for assessment of the quality of university education. Times have changed it appears and perhaps everybody is enslaved in the struggle for achieving the dubious goal of economic development. The important question is, caught as we are in that predicament, could anybody or any university pursue a different path and have a different goal. Could university education while improving the employability of its product also instill the good human qualities that equip a person for life? Or is the world so degenerate that these two goals are incompatible?

    University education may have several important objectives and the following three may be more important in the context of the need to improve employability while enhancing the human qualities; (1) improve the problem solving ability of the graduate, (2) improve the creative ability of the graduate and (3) enhance the sensitivity of the graduate, which could be defined as heightened awareness of oneself and others within the context of personal and social relationships. Obviously good human qualities would stand in good stead in the procurement of employment as well and thus there is no need for these two goals to be incompatible. The above three objectives if realised would significantly enable a person not only to find a job but also to lead a harmonious life.

    A university graduate has to be of a higher caliber and must posses the intellect and the capacity to solve the problems that afflict the individual, the community or the environment as the case may be depending on the work he or she is engaged in. Whether the graduate is a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, a scientist, a bank manager, an economist, an agriculturist or a factory manager what he or she would be called upon to do very often is problem solving. If this person has not been adequately trained in the methods of problem solving he would not make a good doctor, an engineer, a scientist etc. The concept of problem based learning which has been incorporated in the curricula of some universities has arisen out of the need for the above mentioned competency. The employability of a graduate and also the prospects of keeping a job and gaining promotion would very much depend on his or her problem solving ability. Problems arise not only in employment but abundantly in life too. A person who has a developed ability to solve problems would be well equipped to face life. Unfortunately the curricula and particularly the learning methods adopted by most of the Sri Lankan universities do not focus adequately on this aspect of education.

    Creativity is an inherent human characteristic and its manifestation is variable among human beings. When creativity is nurtured to its optimum capacity the chances of producing great poets, musicians, novelists, scientists, engineers, physicians etc. are enhanced. Else those who have the potential, if denied of the environment and the opportunities, may never develop to their full capacity. Unfortunately in the universities creativity appears to be considered less important except perhaps in the area of fine arts. Even in the areas like literature and architecture, weightage given for creativity and the facilitation provided for its growth are inadequate. This is understandable given the present need to train people to perform stereotyped functions like machines in order to be able to contribute to the economic development. However this need not be so. Space for creativity could be provided to advantage in any curriculum at the required level whether in humanities, science, medicine, agriculture, engineering or any other. Further creativity and problem solving ability are complementary characteristics. A creative doctor would be a better doctor and so it is with other professions and jobs. A creative person is better equipped to solve life’s problems including personal problems.

    Universities in the larger context have an obligation to make their products more sensitive to the needs and attitudes of their fellow beings. They should be able to appreciate human weaknesses and strengths and respond in a positive manner. They should be able to accommodate different points of view. If this characteristic is lacking maximum use of the other two abilities, problem solving and creativity, cannot be satisfactorily achieved. Sensitivity is one of the natural good human qualities which everybody posses in varying degree and which could be developed to a desirable level by means of education and exposure to humanizing experiences. Learning subjects like humanities and exposure to good literature, drama, music and art is one way of achieving this objective. Studies carried out in the medical faculties in the USA have found that introduction of humanities in small modules into the medical curriculum could result in making the doctors more sensitive to their patients’ needs. It was found that such a measure could positively reduce the brutalisation that may result from following an isolated, compartmentalised curriculum that focuses on human morbidity.

    University student violence in general and "ragging" in particular could be a phenomenon that has its origins in the insensitivity that prevails among the present younger generation. Brutalising nature of the whole education system must take the blame for this sad state of affairs. True, there is a political element in the causation of student violence but it is the insensitive mind set that makes the individual student vulnerable to the political manipulations and the consequent conviction that violence is the means that could bring about change. They are insensitive to the agony that the victim of their ragging undergoes or the damage they cause to state property or the indignity they cause to the university dons.

    University curricula in Sri Lanka at present are compartmentalised and fragmented into areas called science, arts, commerce and so on. One has to fit into one of these water tight compartments irrespective of ones talents and desires. If one has an interest for instance in both science and arts, or say geography and mathematics, history and music or any other selection of subjects one should be able to expect the university to provide facilities to pursue such an interest as far as possible. But in our system this is not possible. One should be able to read for a degree in say mathematics and literature. The fostering of such a combination of talents by the university may result in the birth of a mathematician with deep sensitivity and creativity. Even the professional courses such as medicine and engineering could have modules in humanities, music, literature, drama etc. which would help in making the student appreciative of the wider world and better trained for life. Moreover it would remove to a great extent the dehumanizing factor that could lurk in a narrow based education.

    The malady however does not lie entirely within the university system. The school education must take its share of the blame. After all the raw material for university education is produced in the schools. Fragmentation and compartmentalization start in the schools. Separation into science, arts and commerce streams which starts at Advanced Level continues into the university and other higher education systems. The rot sets in even before that. From year one in school a child should be given the freedom, the encouragement and the facilities for the development of his or her inherent talents, natural thirst for knowledge, inborn creativity, flair and imagination. Instead the child is burdened with an excessive quantity of "learning" which blunts the more desirable inborn qualities such as self learning ability, creativity etc. The child does not enjoy his or her childhood but is forced to learn things he may not like. At the fifth year in school the child is induced to take a highly competitive examination that has a vast syllabus. Tuition classes start very early in the child’s life and this goes on until the A Level exam is taken. If the child survives the ordeal without damage to his or her mental state he may enter the university but is he prepared for a university education in the true sense of the word. This young person has very little thirst for learning which he considers to be a burden, his creative talents are blunted, he has inadequate problem solving ability and he may not be very sensitive of the feelings of his fellow beings. What is worse he may be selfish, aggressive, and competitive to an extreme degree. School education seems to be designed to facilitate the development of undesirable human qualities.

    Thus the young person who enters the university expects everything to be taught to him. His horizon is very narrow and his interests are also limited. He is not looking for opportunities to express his creativity, or practice his problem solving ability for they are not adequately developed. I suppose a university can do nothing more than what it does given the material it has to deal with.

    Dispossession of Education and Youth Indebtedness


    By Ahilan Kadirgamar

    One of the strongest pillars of our society is again under attack by the State. Generations of educationists, concerned parents, students and the broader citizenry contributed towards building a solid free education system, and the foundation they laid has withstood major insurrections, counter repression, civil war and economic crises. And now, given the post-war opportunity for social development, public investment in education should be aggressively increased to build on that legacy. However, the Rajapaksa regime is on the short-sighted and socially devastating path to end free education. Neo-liberal privatisation of education, which I will address here, is being pushed by states around the world in the interest of finance capital. It is ironic that while it is the economic crisis that is blamed in the Western world for budget cuts and the neoliberalisation of education, in Sri Lanka the assault on education is thrust forward with the false promise of a prosperous economic future.

    Ending Free Education

    "Four regulatory and monitoring bodies will be established under the proposed Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Qualification Framework Act to monitor and regulate private degree-awarding institutions, private universities and academies..." claimed a news item earlier this week. It went on to quote the Higher Education Ministry Secretary, Sunil Navaratne, who said that " these monitoring bodies would oversee degree programmes, time allocated for degree and diploma programmes, the time allocated to lectures, the qualifications of the academic staff, the recruiting policies and minimum qualifications required for degree and diploma programmes" and continued, "private higher educational institutes have been registered under the Department of Registration of Companies or under the BOI or both as private establishments. But there is no proper monitoring system…"

    The Act mentioned above is what others are calling the privatisation of higher education bill, and it is a bad omen for what is in store for educational policy in the coming months. The Secretary’s comments are deeply worrying for a number of reasons. First, it raises concerns about the future of academic freedom with vast powers given to the Ministry of Higher Education. Second, free education is looking to come under attack with public education cannibalised by private education. Third, the encroachment of businesses and companies into education over the past decade, rather than being curtailed or abolished, are now to be regularised. In other words, this attack on free education is going to mould the educational system with a business mind-set. The Secretary’s interview is not an aberration but reflects a much larger project at work towards privatising education. While another news item claimed that the privatisation bill has been shelved for the moment at the recent Cabinet meeting, if one is to learn from the manner in which the anti-democratic 18th Amendment was eventually passed after some dithering in 2010, one should expect the Rajapaksa regime to push this bill forward in the near future.

    The process of change expected from recent Government pronouncements is very similar to the World Bank report of July 2009, available on their website and titled, ‘The Towers of Learning: Performance, Peril and Promise of Higher Education in Sri Lanka’. Much like the Secretary, the World Bank also speaks of "National Qualification Frameworks", "quality assurance" and "accreditation". It also discusses the challenges of planning and financing higher education. While it rightly calls for an increase in government expenditure, the main thrust is towards public-private partnerships; with the government subsidising educational businesses. The World Bank report also discusses the issues of unemployment facing our graduates, but the solutions it proposes are no guarantees for employment creation. Specifically, it is uncertain how adopting a business model of education will increase employment. There is no clear link between privatising education and a rise in employment opportunities. For then, how does one account for the increasing unemployment in the Western economies whose educational system the World Bank would like us to emulate?

    This thrust of the World Bank’s approach was also echoed in the annual report of the Central Bank for 2010, released mid-year 2011. In fact, the Central Bank report even used the language of financing through the commodification of education: "Entrepreneurial orientation of university education is another possible avenue for alternative financing as well as attracting foreign students from other countries." Indeed, the Rajapaksa regime does not seem to have a vision for the economy other than making the country and our society entirely dependent on tourism, which now may be extending to foreign students and educational tourism.

    The Neo-liberal Logic of Privatising Education

    Ending free education through a major push to privatise education has thus been in the works over the last three years if not longer. It is my contention, that the post-war period and the second term of President Rajapaksa have opened worrying possibilities of neo-liberalising education as part of a second wave of neo-liberalism coming after the first wave under the Jayewardene regime. The last two budgets and the annual reports of the Central Bank reflect this second wave of neoliberalism supported by global finance capital and neoliberal institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. While I have discussed this second wave of neo-liberalism and the neo-liberal budget in the past, I would like to discuss here some specific concerns as they relate to the neo-liberalisation of education.

    I must first acknowledge some issues intrinsic to education and the educational system, which many veteran academics and activist intellectuals have already addressed. For example, several academics have pointed to the dangers of the increasing militarisation of education undermining academic freedom. Others have articulated aspects of social values, democratisation and our sense of freedom from the time of Independence that is tied to the egalitarian ethos endemic to free education. The various interventions by the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) and the seminar organised last week at the University of Colombo by the University Teachers for Democracy and Dialogue (UT4DD) reflect a range of important views on privatising education.

    My point is about the political economic aspects related to the neoliberal logic of privatising education. This process of privatisation exploits the economically weaker sections of society through "accumulation by dispossession"; where education costs are borne by the poor through increasing indebtedness in order for educational businesses to flourish and global capital to accumulate. If we are to learn from the failure of educational policies in the West, the major lesson is that the cuts in public funding towards education and a business mind-set have devastated the economic and social life of recent generations of youth. In fact, the establishment-leaning Economist magazine itself recently claimed that student loans in the US are exceeding US$ 1 trillion. Such debt has crippled the economic future of millions of youth, as they are unlikely to find jobs to pay back such enormous loans. Furthermore, increasing income inequalities over the last few decades of the tenure of neo-liberalism have further aggravated their economic situation.

    Now, one of the World Bank report’s recommendations for Sri Lanka claims: "Private HEIs [Higher Education Institution] charge fees which could make it difficult for gifted students from poor homes to access their services. This can be overcome by policies to provide talented poor students with student aid, such as vouchers, scholarships, bursaries and loans." In fact, such a move could severely indebt our youth and poorer families could lose even their meagre assets and homes in the hope of educating their children for a better future. Thus the Rajapaksa regime’s move to privatise education is not only a betrayal of the State’s so-called social contract to meet the costs of reproducing society, but also a capitulation to the interests of global finance capital preying on the rural and urban masses.

    Demands and Protests

    In this dire context, strike action by FUTA last year and particularly their demand calling for government expenditure on education equivalent to 6% of GDP was a welcome move. In fact, government expenditure on education has fallen steadily between 2006 and 2010 from 2.7% down to 1.9% of GDP. In 2010, budgetary expenditure on education was a mere 7.3% compared to the 14.9% average for South Asia. Both as a proportion of GDP and of the Budget, Sri Lanka by far spends the least on education in South Asia, and competes with lowest spenders in the world. Indeed, even the World Bank report claims that: "Countries such as South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, whose economic performance is of interest for Sri Lankan policy, invest over four percent of GDP and between 15 and 28 percent of Government expenditures on education."

    Given the post-war priorities of social reconstruction, a serious commitment towards education calls for major increases in the educational budget and similar decreases for example in the defence budget. However, the timely and forthright FUTA demand of 6% of GDP for education cannot stand on its own. Teachers and students will have to unite with other sections of society facing dispossession. Changing the structure of the economy to accommodate social welfare will have to come hand in hand with struggles for democracy to challenge the authoritarian neo-liberal bent of the Rajapaksa regime. Furthermore, engaging the economic problems in Sri Lanka should involve understanding the global context, particularly as forces shaping economic policies are global as much as they are national.

    Over the last year, there have been mounting protests and even riots by students, in Greece, US, UK and a number of other countries. Those protests have as much to do with neoliberal dispossession of education, as the protests by university students here in the context of the privatisation bill. And militarised policing in those countries have been as much a part of repression as have the recent incidents in our national universities. In the context of the State demonising students protesting at the barricades, the least we can do is show solidarity and voice our protest against the privatisation bill that will dispossess education and throw our youth into life-long indebtedness.

    GMOA statement on the prpoposed new higher education (Private Universities) bill

    බුද්ධිමය කියෑවීමක්‌ අවශ්‍යයි

    Divaina, 15/01/2012,

    විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ක්‍ෂේත්‍රයේ උද්ගතව තිබෙන අර්බුදය පිළිබඳව අදාළ බලධාරීන්ගේ හා රජයේ ප්‍රමාණවත් අවධානයක්‌ යොමු වී තිබේද? යන ප්‍රශ්නය නගමින්ම අපි මෙම තීරුව අරඹමු. එයට හේතු වන්නේ මේ වන විට පේරාදෙණිය, සබරගමුව, රුහුණ, රජරට, ජයවර්ධනපුර, කැලණිය පමණක්‌ නොව බුද්ධ ශ්‍රාවක භික්‍ෂු විශ්වවිද්‍යාලය යන ආයතන ගණනාවක්‌ම කැළඹී තිබීමය. මේ අර්බුද එකම පොදු කරුණක්‌ හෝ ඉල්ලීමක්‌ මුල්ව නිර්මාණය වූ ඒවා නොවන බවද පෙනේ.

    පෞද්ගලික විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පනත හා සරසවි සිසුන් මර්දනය වැනි කරුණු ද මෙම සිසු විරෝධයට හේතු ලෙස දැක්‌වෙයි. උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන ඇමැතිවරයා විසින් වරින් වර කරන ලද බොහෝ ප්‍රකාශවලින් අනාවරණය වූයේ පෞද්ගලික විශ්වවිද්‍යාල රජය ප්‍රතිපත්තියක්‌ වශයෙන් පිළිගෙන තිබෙන බවත් එසේම ඒ සඳහා නිශ්චිත ප්‍රමිතීන් සකස්‌ විය යුතු බවත්ය. එහෙත් දැන් අලුත්ම තත්ත්වය වන්නේ රජය එබඳු පෞද්ගලික විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පනතක්‌ ඉදිරිපත් නොකරන බවය.

    තතු එසේ වුවද රජය පෞද්ගලික විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පිළිබඳ දැඩි උනන්දුවකින් සිටි බව රහසක්‌ නොවේ. රජයේම පාර්ශ්වකරුවන් වන ජාතික නිදහස්‌ පෙරමුණ මෙන්ම හෙළ උරුමය ද ඒ පිළිවෙතට විවේචන එල්ල කළ අයුරු ද අපට මතකය. එනිසා ඒ පනතට එරෙහිව නැගුණු සිසු විරෝධය ඉතා ස්‌වාභාවික හා අර්ථවත් එකක්‌ බවද කිව යුතුය. කෙසේ හෝ පෞද්ගලික විශ්වවිද්‍යාල නියාමනය කිරීම සඳහා ඉදිරිපත් කිරීමට අපේක්‍ෂා කළ පනත ඉදිරිපත් නොවීම යහපත් හා බුද්ධිමත් ක්‍රියාවක්‌ බවද නිසැකය.

    විශ්වවිද්‍යාල සිසු මර්දනය පිළිබඳ නැගෙන චෝදනාවල ද සත්‍යය දන්නේ රජය මිස අප නොවේ. සබරගමුව සරසවියේ අර්බුදයට හේතුවී ඇත්තේ සිසුන්ට එල්ලවූ මැර ප්‍රහාරයක්‌ බව කියති. ජZපුරෙන් ද එබඳුම චෝදනාවක්‌ ඇසෙයි. එසේම සබරගමුව සරසවියේ ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ ශිෂ්‍ය උපදේශකවරයාට පහරදීම, ඔහුගේ වාහනයට අලාභ සිදු කිරීම වැනි ක්‍රියාකාරකම් ඉතා තුච්ඡ ඒවා බව අපි කියමු. ඒ වර්ගයේ පාතාල මෙහෙයුම් කරන සිසුහු වෙත් නම් ඔවුන්ට එරෙහිව නීතිමය පියවර ගැනීම ද අවශ්‍යම දෙයකි.

    සරසවි සිසුවා යනු පාසල් ශිෂ්‍යයකු නොවේ. ඔහු තම හාත්පස සමාජය මෙන්ම ජාතික දේශපාලනය වැනි කරුණු පිළිබඳව ද සංවේදී අයෙකි. ඒ සරසවි ප්‍රජාව ළිං මැඬියන් අහිනක්‌ සේ දැකීම ද වරදකි. ඔවුන්ගේ තාරුණ්‍යයට හෙටක්‌ තිබේද යන ප්‍රශ්නය ඉතා සාධාරණය.

    මේ සරසවි ප්‍රජාව තුළ බංකොලොත් දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂවල රූකඩ බවට පත් වූවෝද සිටිති. තාරුණ්‍යයේ හෘද සාක්‍ෂිය නිතරම නිවැරැදි නොවන බවද ඇතැම්විට ආවේගශීලී වන බවද අපි දනිමු. විශ්වවිද්‍යාලය අපේක්‍ෂා භංගත්වයේ කාන්තාරයක්‌ බවට පත්ව තිබේ නම් මේ බොහෝ තරුණ සිසුන්ගේ ආකල්ප යහපත් හෝ පැහැපත් නොවන බවද රජය වටහාගත යුතුය.

    මේ වන විට ඇතැම් විශ්වවිද්‍යාල තුළ ශිෂ්‍ය සංගම් තහනම් කර තිබේ. පන්ති තහනම් කිරීම් ද වාර්තා වේ. ඇතැම් පීඨ පවා වසා දමා ඇත. ඒවාට සාධාරණ හා යුක්‌ති සහගත හේතු තිබේදැයි අපි නොදනිමු. නවකවධ චෝදනාව සම්බන්ධයෙන් නම් දැඩි පියවරක්‌ ගැනීම නොමැනවැයි කිව නොහැක. ඒ සඳහා දඬුවම් දීම වරදක්‌ නොවේ.

    විශ්වවිද්‍යාලය යනු මුදා නොගත් ප්‍රදේශ නොවේ. ඒවා ද මේ රටේ නීතියට යටත්ය. පාලකයන් සමග කෙබඳු ගැටුම් තිබුණත් ඒවා නිරාකරණය කරගැනීමට පිළිවෙළක්‌ තිබේ. සරසවි ආචාර්යවරුන්ට පහරදීම, සරසවි දේපළවලට අලාභහානි කිරීම කිසිසේත් අනුමත කළ නොහැක.

    විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවල ශිෂ්‍ය නායකයෝ උපකුලපති ප්‍රමුඛ පාලකයෝ ද එකිනෙකාට චෝදනා කරත් නම් එය යහපත් දෙයක්‌ නොවේ. උපකුලපති ලෙස ශිෂ්‍යයකු පත් කිරීමට ද බැරි බව මේ බුද්ධිමත් සිසුවෝ තේරුම්ගත යුතු වෙති. එසේම මුළු විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයක්‌ම එහි උපකුලපතිට හෝ පාලක පක්‍ෂයට එරෙහිව පාරට බැසීම ද නොතකා හැරිය හැකිද?

    විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පාලකයන් හා සිසුන් අතර ඇතිවන හැම ගැටුමක්‌ම සාධාරණ විය නොහැක. වඩා හොඳ පාලනයකදී ගැටුම් නිරාකරණය අසීරු නැත. ඒ සඳහා සිසූහු මෙන්ම පාලකයෝ ද නම්‍යශීලීව ක්‍රියා කළ යුතු වෙති. කිsසිවෙක්‌ පියවරක්‌ ආපස්‌සට ගැනීමට නොකැමැති නම් එයම ගැටුමක ඇරැඹුමකි.

    උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනය මෙන්ම එහි මුඛ්‍ය අංගයක්‌ වන විශ්වවිද්‍යාල වෙනුවෙන් රජයක්‌ වැය කරන මුදල බුද්ධිමය ආයෝජනයකි. එය ඵල රහිත දෙයක්‌ වේ නම් කොතැනක හෝ වරදක්‌ තිබිය යුතුමය. දේශපාලන හා වෙනත් කරුණු ද විශ්විද්‍යාල අර්බුදවලට හේතු විය හැකිය. එහෙත් පොදු ජාතික ගැටලු නිරාකරණය කරගැනීම අතිශයින් වැදගත්ය. විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතිය සකසා ගැනීමත්, සංවර්ධනය කරගැනීමත් සඳහා රජයට විවෘත සංවාදයක්‌ ඇරැඹිය හැකිය. එසේ නැතිනම් කමිටුවක්‌ හෝ පත්කර උපදෙස්‌ ලබාගත හැකිය. අද අවශ්‍යව ඇත්තේ මේ ගැටුම් හා අර්බුද පිළිබඳව බුද්ධිමය කියෑවීමක්‌ බව ද අපගේ අදහසයි.