Monday, March 26, 2012

Official committee report says Government agencies misled by school authorities

Sunday Times, 25/03/2012

Malabe private medical venture
  • Repeated warnings by SLMC regarding the real position ignored by parents
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
The entire process of setting up the controversial private medical school at Malabe was flawed, a high-powered official committee has charged. The committee, headed by Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravindra Ruberu, said the private medical school authorities particularly its founder Dr. Neville Fernando had misled Government agencies and despite repeated warnings by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) regarding the real status of its medical degrees, parents continued to enrol their children in response to SAITM advertisements.
The committee confirmed that the accreditation of foreign and overseas-connected medical universities lies with the SLMC and that the future of the medical school of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) is a decision the SLMC has to make.
“… the SLMC should decide whether the accreditation should be denied or conditional accreditation or full accreditation should be granted,” it said, in the report which was handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Thursday by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena. The SLMC is the only regulatory body that accredits foreign medical colleges which allows those graduates to practise in Sri Lanka once they pass the Examination for Registration to Practise Medicine (ERPM) – earlier known as the Act 16 exam.
The probe followed complaints and concerns by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the SLMC that the institute had not followed proper procedures. It had registered as a Board of Investment (BOI) enterprise, not as a medical university and not obtained SLMC sanction.
Much of these concerns were reported by the Sunday Times on September 18, last year, headlined, ‘Management sees guinea pig students as way out of crisis.’
The committee comprising Dr. H.R.U. Indrasiri (the Health Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Education, Training and Research), Prof. Jayantha Jayawardena (Director of the Post-Graduate Institute of Medicine), Dr. Palitha Abeykoon (former Director of the World Health Organization) and Mrs. A.R. Ahamed (the Health Ministry’s Legal Officer), made a strong recommendation that in future any application for a private medical college must be considered by a joint committee comprising representatives from the Health Ministry, BOI, SLMC and the University Grants Commission (UGC) while also seeking the views of the relevant trade unions and professional associations.
“The approval to establish a medical faculty and the degree awarding status should be granted only following such an agreement,” the report, a copy of which is in the possession of the Sunday Times, said.
The committee said SAITM should apply to the SLMC for accreditation and the SLMC should respond by initiating the process. “Whether this should be done before or after completion of the new hospital, has to be resolved by the SLMC. It is desirable to commence the process as soon as possible since students have already been admitted after the Gazette notification and it is necessary to monitor the academic and administrative conditions,” the report said.
It noted that even after the newspaper announcement of the Health Ministry that SAITM should suspend enrolment of new students for the medical degree until the issues are resolved, it had made a public advertisement to enrol the 5th batch. The committee dealt at length with the process that SAITM and its founder Dr. Fernando followed, finding flaws in the process. For example, it said when SAITM applied for BOI approval there was no medical degree involved in the courses which included health sciences.
“Thus it was established without a Medical Degree Programme.”
The BOI had said that SAITM should seek approval from the Health Ministry prior to starting training in health sciences and that it is permitted to offer degrees only after affiliating to a recognized foreign university, both of which, the committee states, were not done as the evidence shows. Furthermore, two batches of students were taken in without prior approval from the Health Ministry or the SLMC.
Referring to a letter written by Dr. Neville Fernando to the BOI stating that “the Health Ministry approval has been obtained”, the committee observed that no such approval had been obtained from the Ministry.
The committee also found that several statements in letters written by Dr. Fernando to the BOI and other authorities were incorrect.
It also said that students for the medical degree programme were admitted in September 2009 much before SAITM got official confirmation of affiliation with the Russian-based Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy (NNSMA) - another violation of the rules.
It referred to repeated warnings by the SLMC to the public in respect of the legal position of SAITM and its medical degree programme which had said SAITM advertisements were misleading and had incorrect information.
In the discussion with SAITM officials, the report also said….“on a question posed to them, the officials admitted that they had admitted two students who did not meet the current SLMC criteria for admission and that they will ensure this will not be repeated.” In the observation, the committee states that in this batch of students it appears that “at least” two do not meet the criteria.
Meanwhile, health circles are perturbed that the Director of Private Health Sector Development of the Health Ministry at that time, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, had allegedly issued a letter that the “……ministry approves the project in principle” and “congratulates SAITM on establishing a high-tech hospital for teaching in Malabe”.
What authority did he have, queried many sources, pointing out also a “conflict of interest” in the light of speculation that his offspring is a student at Malabe. The Sunday Times contacted the residence of Mr. Fernando yesterday, but he was not available for comment.
GMOA happy with report but has reservations
Our concerns have been substantiated, said GMOA Assistant Secretary Dr. Sankalpa Marasinghe, when contacted by the Sunday Times. While “happy with the observations overall”, Dr. Marasinghe, however, expressed reservations that the committee had gone beyond its mandate to suggest a way out of the mess for SAITM.
He urged the authorities including the Health Ministry, BOI and the judiciary to act on the findings, particularly to look into the involvement of non-authorized officers.

Universities: the new profit-chasing factories?

Counterfire, Monday, 16 May 2011 11:08

The disastrous tuition fee rises will hurt part-time students at institutions like Birkbeck in particular, disenfranchising a generation, argues Sean Rillo Raczka, chair of Birkbeck students' union.

The tripling of university tuition fees from the 2012/13 academic year is clearly a disaster for those wishing to attend university in the traditional way at 18, and will no doubt be a massive barrier to participation for poorer students, as well as entrenching the reputation of some institutions as ‘second class’ (not to mention ‘economically unviable’). Widening participation will intrinsically be hit by the regressive impact of the Brown review.
As part-time students, Birkbeckians, in a way, have more to lose. Part-time fees will become regulated for the first time, and will no doubt be massively increased towards the £9,000 (current) maximum. Part-time students will be forced to take out government regulated loans to cover these sky-high fees. Currently less well off part-time students studying for their first degree can receive a grant from their local authority covering fees, and fundamentally this opportunity for a free education is a real incentive to those less willing to take on debt, or simply daunted by university. Part-time students will be forced to start paying their loans back after three and a half years if they are earning £21K or more, and let me remind you that the minimum length of a part-time degree is four years, so you’ll have to start paying even before graduating.
Loans will increase by 3.5% plus RPI yearly, a not inconsiderable sum, especially for the low paid, whose loans will become bigger and payable over a longer period than those earning high salaries due to this interest. So if you are on £19K when you graduate, you won’t be paying your loan back immediately, however the interest will start to accrue, and when you get a pay rise you’ll be liable for an even bigger debt for longer. This regime is simply unfair and goes against any definition of the word progressive. It will put off many working Londoners from coming to Birkbeck to get an education, people who are struggling to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Having to pay back your loan before graduation is one of the most astonishing and regressive parts of the government plans, but has attracted little public comment.
Students taking one-year foundation degrees, who then go straight on to do a degree, will also likely (we await final confirmation from the White Paper) have to start paying the first year of their loan back immediately, meaning even though they have 3 years remaining to collect their degree, the financial penalties of getting an education will have kicked in. These measures, along with cutting EMA (an allownance of £10-30 per week paid to 16-18 year olds from poorer families and in further education) and abolishing the right for the under 25s who were failed by the schools system to retake their GCSEs for free, will do much to restrict education in the coming years.
People have flocked to Birkbeck to gain an education in order to increase their job prospects and others simply for the joy of learning. Indeed Birkbeck is unique in offering those with no previous qualifications the chance to study. These changes are bad for us and should be resisted. Make no mistake, these fees move us towards the full marketisation of education, exclude the poor and judge education solely based on pounds earned for the institution (and latterly the exchequer). This anti-intellectual smashing of widening participation is emblematic of the ideological crusade of this government.
Current Birkbeck students will continue on the current fees regime, with a massive inflation-busting fees rise for 2011/12, but I fear for the very future of the institution and the students we cater for. Will Birkbeck turn into a profit-chasing factory for those doing vocational and work-funded qualifications (nothing wrong in vocational qualification I should add), or indeed just a place where those who can afford it are welcomed? What will happen to learning for advancement without work funding, or learning for pleasure?
As Birkbeck students we need to defend Birkbeck and our education, we must ensure that people can learn for the sake of learning, that education is based on ability, not ability or inclination to pay. The insidious idea that we should pay individually for our education is one that I think all those who value education and genuine lifelong learning should reject. Education is clearly a public good, and access to it should be as essential as access to healthcare.
As for cuts to higher education, the government have gone for the jugular, cutting all teaching funding for social sciences (fees are meant to replace this income), as well as implementing across the board cuts to each institution.
We see London Met - a widening participation institution in inner London with large numbers of working class and black students - being savagely attacked by the government and their own senior management. Seventy percent of courses will be cut, and many staff sacked. Those already on courses will be transferred to elsewhere, sometimes out of London - impossible for some with family or jobs here. The bulk of courses to be cut are in the arts and social sciences. A clear sign to less well off students that non-vocational or business-related courses are not for them. Which institution will be next to implement such draconian cuts?
Fees and cuts will disenfranchise a generation. How can politicians, who all obtained elite education paid for by the state, betray young people in this way? Pricing young people out of even basic qualifications is a clear indicator of the government’s priority. That is not to mention the effect on mature and retired students, who will be pushed out by marketisation and price increases.
What of the Birkbeck management, and indeed Vice Chancellors in general? I feel that (nearly) all university leaders have let down higher education, they have argued for their special interest, fought internecine battles for supremacy and been too scared to raise their voices in defence of education in order to keep their names on the Business Department’s cocktail party guest lists. This leads me to believe that some heads of college are actually more interested in running a business and making massive amounts of money, then defending education and academia, let alone students.
The senior management and governors of Birkbeck College (of which I am a dissenting member on this issue), however well intentioned, decided not to campaign against the Browne Review or government cuts; decided not to seek a coalition of Universities against these cuts; and decided, basically, to say nothing. In fact Birkbeck College sadly welcomes some aspects of the Browne Review, clearly against the interests of our students. I handed a petition signed by hundreds of students to a Governors meeting earlier this year, asking for even a mild public statement of disapproval on the cuts (whilst around 100 students protested outside the meeting). This was rejected, and my arguments dismissed. This is a sad state of affairs, as I feel the College has been too quick to deny the many pitfalls the institution will face under the new regime.
I hope Birkbeck can weather the storm of cuts and fees, and continue to offer a wide range of subjects to mature and part-time students, with entry based on potential and ability, not distant school exam grades, and continue to attract those who would not have otherwise thought of going to university, and those who wish to learn for pleasure. I and many others will continue to campaign at Birkbeck and beyond for a better vision of education for all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

FUTA demands: Communiques with the MOHE

MOHE_Letter_06_03_2012 FUTA Letterto Minister on Salary Revisions Jan 29 (1)

The disappearing virtual library, 01/03/2012, by Christopher Kelty Christopher M. Kelty is an Associate Professor of Information Studies and Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. The shutdown of is creating a virtual showdown between would-be learners and the publishing industry. Los Angeles, CA - Last week a website called "" disappeared. A coalition of international scholarly publishers accused the site of piracy and convinced a judge in Munich to shut it down. (formerly Gigapedia) had offered, if the reports are to be believed, between 400,000 and a million digital books for free. And not just any books - not romance novels or the latest best-sellers - but scholarly books: textbooks, secondary treatises, obscure monographs, biographical analyses, technical manuals, collections of cutting-edge research in engineering, mathematics, biology, social science and humanities. The texts ranged from so-called "orphan works" (out-of-print, but still copyrighted) to recent issues; from poorly scanned to expertly ripped; from English to German to French to Spanish to Russian, with the occasional Japanese or Chinese text. It was a remarkable effort of collective connoisseurship. Even the pornography was scholarly: guidebooks and scholarly books about the pornography industry. For a criminal underground site to be mercifully free of pornography must alone count as a triumph of civilisation. To the publishing industry, this event was a victory in the campaign to bring the unruly internet under some much-needed discipline. To many other people - namely the users of the site - it was met with anger, sadness and fatalism. But who were these sad criminals, these barbarians at the gates ready to bring our information economy to its knees? They are students and scholars, from every corner of the planet. Pirating to learn "The world, it should not come as a surprise, is filled with people who want desperately to learn." The world, it should not come as a surprise, is filled with people who want desperately to learn. This is what our world should be filled with. This is what scholars work hard to create: a world of reading, learning, thinking and scholarship. The users of were would-be scholars: those in the outer atmosphere of learning who wanted to know, argue, dispute, experiment and write just as those in the universities do. Maybe they were students once, but went on to find jobs and found families. We made them in some cases - we gave them a four-year taste of the life of the mind before sending them on their way with unsupportable loans. In other cases, they made themselves, by hook or by crook. So what does the shutdown of mean? The publishers think it is a great success in the war on piracy; that it will lead to more revenue and more control over who buys what, if not who reads what. The pirates - the people who create and run such sites - think that shutting down will only lead to a thousand more sites, stronger and better than before. But both are missing the point: the global demand for learning and scholarship is not being met by the contemporary publishing industry. It cannot be, not with the current business models and the prices. The users of - these barbarians at the gate of the publishing industry and the university - are legion. They live all over the world, but especially in Latin and South America, in China, in Eastern Europe, in Africa and in India. It's hard to get accurate numbers, but any perusal of the tweets mentioning or the comments on blog posts about it reveal that the main users of the site are the global middle class. They are not the truly poor, they are not slum-denizens or rural poor - but nonetheless they do not have much money. They are the real 99 per cent (as compared to the Euro-American 1 per cent). They may be scientists or scholars themselves: some work in schools, universities or corporations, others are doubly outside of the elite learned class - jobholders whose desire to learn is and will only ever be an avocation. They are a global market engaged in what we in the elite institutions of the world are otherwise telling them to do all the time: educate yourself; become scholars and thinkers; read and think for yourselves; bring civilisation, development and modernity to your people. Sharing is caring was making that learning possible where publishers have not. It made a good show of being a "book review" site - it was called after all, and not "". It was not cluttered with advertisements, nor did it "suggest" other books constantly. It gave straight answers to straightforward searches, and provided user reviews of the 400,000 or more books in the database. It was only the fact that included a link to another site ("sharehosting" sites like,, or containing the complete version of a digital text that brought into the realm of what passes for crime these days. But the legality of is also not the issue: trading in scanned, leaked or even properly purchased versions of digital books is thoroughly illegal. This is so much the case that it can't be long before reading a book - making an unauthorised copy in your brain - is also made illegal. But shared books; it did not sell them. If it made any money, it was not from the texts themselves, but from advertising revenue. As with Napster in 1999, was facilitating discovery: the ability to search deeper and deeper into the musical or scholarly tastes fellow humans and to discover their connections that no recommendation algorithm will ever be able to make. In their effort to control this market, publishers alongside the movie and music industry have been effectively criminalising sharing, learning and creating - not stealing. Users of did not have to upload texts to the site in order to use it, but they were rewarded if they did. There were formal rules (and informal ones, to be sure), concerning how one might "level up" in the community. The site developed as websites do, adding features here and there, and obviously expanding its infrastructure as necessary. The administrators of the site maintained absolute control over who could participate and who could not - no doubt in order to protect the site from skulking FBI agents and enthusiastic newbies alike. Even a casual observer could have seen that the frequent changes to the site were the effects of the cat-and-mouse game underway as law authorities and publishers sought to understand and eventually seek legal action against this community. In the end, it was only by donating to the site that law authorities discovered the real people behind the site - pirates too have PayPal accounts. Shutting down learning The winter of 2012 has seen a series of assaults on file-sharing sites in the wake of the failed SOPA and PIPA legislation. (the brainchild of eccentric master pirate Kim Dotcom - he legally changed his name in 2005) was seized by the US Department of Justice; torrent site voluntarily closed down for fear of litigation. In the last few days before they closed for good, winked in and out of existence, finally (and ironically), displayed a page saying "this domain has been revoked by .nu domain" (the island nation of Niue). It prominently displays a link to a book (on Amazon!) called Blue Latitudes, about the voyage of Captain Cook. A story about that other kind of pirate branches off here. So what does the shutdown of mean? One thing it means is that these barbarians - these pirates who are also scholars - are angry. We scholars have long been singing the praises of education, learning, mutual aid and the virtues of getting a good degree. We scholars have been telling the world of desperate learners to do just what they are doing, if not in so many terms. So there are a lot of angry young middle-class learners in the world this month. Some are existentially angry about the injustice of this system, some are pragmatically angry they must now spend $100 - if they even have that much - on a textbook instead of on themselves or their friends. All of them are angry that what looked to everyone like the new horizon of learning - and the promise of the vaunted new digital economy - has just disappeared behind the dark eclipse of a Munich judge's cease and desist order. Writers and scholars in Europe and the US are complicit in the shutdown. The publishing companies are protecting themselves and their profits, but they do so with the assent, if not the active support, of those who still depend on them. They are protecting us - we scholars - or so they say. These barbarians - these desperate learners - are stealing our property and should be made to pay for it. Profiteering In reality, however, the scholarly publishing industry has entered a phase like the one the pharmaceutical industry entered in the 1990s, when life-saving AIDS medicines were deliberately restricted to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies' patents and profits. The comparison is perhaps inflammatory; after all, scholarly monographs are life-saving in only the most distant and abstract sense, but the situation is - legally speaking - nearly identical. is not unlike those clever - and also illegal - local corporations in India and Africa who created generic versions of AIDS medicines. Why doesn't the publishing industry want these consumers? For one thing, the US and European book-buying libraries have been willing pay the prices necessary to keep the industry happy - and not just happy, in many cases obscenely profitable. Rather than provide our work at cheap enough prices that anyone in the world might purchase, they have taken the opposite route - making the prices higher and higher until only very rich institutions can afford them. Scholarly publishers have made the trade-off between offering a very low price to a very large market or a very high price to a very small market. But here is the rub: books and their scholars are the losers in this trade-off - especially cutting edge research from the best institutions in the world. The publishing industry we have today cannot - or will not - deliver our books to this enormous global market of people who desperately want to read them. Instead, they print a handful of copies - less than 100, often - and sell them to libraries for hundreds of dollars each. When they do offer digital versions, they are so wrapped up in restrictions and encumbrances and licencing terms as to make using them supremely frustrating. To make matters worse, our university libraries can no longer afford to buy these books and journals; and our few bookstores are no longer willing to carry them. So the result is that most of our best scholarship is being shot into some publisher's black hole where it will never escape. That is, until and its successors make it available. What these sites represent most clearly is a viable route towards education and learning for vast numbers of people around the world. The question it raises is: on which side of this battle do European and American scholars want to be? Christopher M Kelty is an Associate Professor of Information Studies and Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. Source: Al Jazeera

Why America's Education Isn't Worth the Money

Why America's Education Isn't Worth the Money

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ATIs to get degree awarding status

The Island,  

by Dasun Edirisinghe

Advanced Technological Institutes in the country would be gazetted as degree awarding institutions soon, Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake said.

All the ATI’s would be upgraded with necessary facilities to enable them to function as degree conferring higher education institutes, the minister said adding that initiatives had already been taken to change the medium of instructions in those institutes from Sinhala and Tamil to English.

Minister Dissanayake said that the government expects to recruit foreign students too to the ATIs. The ministry would introduce new courses to the ATIs in parallel to granting them degree awarding status. He said that they would expand the course duration from two years to three years in ATIs.

At present only 20 per cent from those who qualify at the GCE (A/L) examination entered the Science stream courses in the universities and 50 per cent for Art stream courses. The reset for any other courses, Dissanayake said.

According to ministry statistics, there were 40,000 students who sought tertiary education but a large number was shut out as the university system could accommodate limited only a limited number of students per year, he said.

Therefore, the ministry had to provide higher education opportunities for them.

"We have also received reports about several ragging incidents from the ATIs around the country," Dissanayake said adding the ministry had to take tough decisions to stop inhuman ragging in ATIs.

මානව ප්‍රාග්ධන මූල්‍ය පනත මාසයක්‌ තුළ පාර්ලිමේන්තුවට ගේනවා, 06/03/2012

උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන ඇමැති එස්‌. බී. දිසානායක

"මානව ප්‍රාග්ධන මූල්‍ය පනත" මාසයක්‌ ඇතුළත පාර්ලිමේන්තුවට ඉදිරිපත් කරන බව උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන ඇමැති එස්‌. බී. දිසානායක මහතා පැවැසීය.

උපාධිය අවසන් කිරීමට පෙර වෙනත් වෘත්තීය පාඨමාලාවක්‌ හැදැරීමට මෙම පනත මගින් අවස්‌ථාව සැලසෙන බවද ඒ මහතා සඳහන් කළේය.

බ්‍රිතාන්‍යයේ කළමනාකාරිත්ව ගණකාධිකාරිවරුන්ගේ වරලත් ආයතනය (සීමා) සහ උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපන අමාත්‍යාංශය අතර වෘත්තීය උපාධිධාරීන් බිහිකිරීමේ වැඩසටහනට අදාළ ගිවිසුම අත්සන් කිරීම වෙනුවෙන් පසුගියදා කොළඹ සිනමන් ග්‍රෑන්ඩ් හෝටලයේ පැවැති උළෙලේදී මේ බව සඳහන් කළ ඇමැතිවරයා මෙහිදී ප්‍රකාශ කළේ මේ වනවිට විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවල තිබෙන සාම්ප්‍රදායික විෂයයන්ට සහ සාම්ප්‍රදායික පාඨමාලාවන්ට අමතරව නව පාඨමාලා හඳුන්වා දෙන්නටත් එම පාඨමාලා සහ විෂයයන් නවීකරණය කරන්නටත් මේ වනවිට කටයුතු කෙරෙමින් පවතිනවා. විශේෂයෙන්ම ජාතික සහ ජාත්‍යන්තර වශයෙන් ඉල්ලුමක්‌ පවතින පාඨමාලා හඳුන්වා දෙමින්, අධ්‍යාපන ක්‍රමවේදයන්, විභාග ක්‍රමවේදයන් වෙනස්‌ කරමින් ජාත්‍යන්තර තලයේ විද්‍යාර්ථීන් බිහිකිරීමට කටයුතු කරමින් සිටිනවා.

ඒවගේම මීට පෙර තිබුණු සාම්ප්‍රදායික විෂයයන් දෙකක්‌, තුනක්‌ කරලා බාහිර උපාධියක්‌ ලබාගන්නා සංස්‌කෘතිය වෙනස්‌ කරලා එම සිසුන් කිසියම් රැකියාවක නිරතවෙන අය නම් තමන්ගේ ක්‍ෂේත්‍රයට අදාළ පාඨමාලාවන් ඒ ඒ විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවලින් තෝරාගෙන බාහිර උපාධිය ලබාගැනීමේ අවස්‌ථාව ලබාදෙන්නටත් අප කටයුතු කරනවා. එපමණක්‌ නොවෙයි විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවලට අනුබද්ධ ආයතනවලටත් මේ වන විට නව පාඨමාලා හඳුන්වා දෙන්නටත් කටයුතු කරනවා.

උසස්‌ අධ්‍යාපනයේ තරගකාරිත්වය බලන විට අපට පැහැදිලිව පෙනෙන දෙයක්‌ තමයි දරුවන් වගේම දෙමව්පියන් පවා තමන්ගේ දරුවන් යොමු කරන්නේ ඉංජිනේරුවකු එහෙමත් නැත්නම් වෛද්‍යවරයකු කරන්නටයි. නමුත් මතක තබාගත යුතු කාරණය තමයි මේ දෙක ම වෘත්තීය පාඨමාලා දෙකක්‌. මේ දෙකෙන් ම බිහිකරන්නේ වෘත්තිකයින්, විද්‍යාර්ථින් නොවෙයි බිහි කරන්නේ. විද්‍යාර්ථින් බිහිකරන්නේ ජීව විද්‍යාව සහ භෞතික විද්‍යා අංශයන්ගෙනුයි. ඒ අංශයන්ට ඇතුළත්වන්නට අපේ රටේ සිසුන් උනන්දුවක්‌ දක්‌වන්නේ නැහැ. ඒකට හේතුව අපේ රටේ ඒ සංස්‌කෘතිය තවමත් ඇතිවෙලා නැති නිසා. නමුත් එම අංශයන්ගෙන් තමයි ලෝකයට සේවයක්‌ කරන්නට පුළුවන් නව පර්යේෂකයෝ, විද්‍යාඥයෝ බිහිවෙන්නේ. ඒ නිසා ම ජනාධිපතිතුමාගේ දීර්ඝකාලීනව අදහසක්‌ තිබෙනවා විද්‍යා අංශය සියයට 50 දක්‌වාත් වාණිජ්‍ය අංශය සියයට 30 දක්‌වාත් වර්ධනය කොට කලා අංශය සියයට 20 දක්‌වා සංකෝචනය කරන්නටත්, එතකොට විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයට අද සිසුන් යනවා වගේ තමන්ට ඉංජිනේරු හෝ වෛද්‍ය උපාධිය සඳහා ඇතුළත් වන්නට නොහැකි වූවා යෑයි පරාජිත මානසිකත්වයකින් යා යුතු නැහැ.

මේ දිනවල පාලි හා බෞද්ධ විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ස්‌වාමීන්වහන්සේලා උද්ඝෝෂණය කරනවා. නමුත් අපි කටයුතු කරන්නේ සත්‍යයට ගරු කරමින්. ගමේ පන්සලේ හාමුදුරුවෝ, ගමේ දායක දායිකාවෝ තමන්ගේ වෙර වීර්යයෙන් සහ පිංකැටේ කඩලා පොඩි හාමුදුරුවන්ව විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයට එවන්නේ තමන්ගේ පන්සලට, ගමට හොඳ විද්‍යාර්ථියෙක්‌, හොඳ ස්‌වාමීන්වහන්සේ නමක්‌ උපාධියකුත් අරගෙන එයි කියන බලාපොරොත්තුවෙන්. නමුත් කනගාටුයි කියන්නට පසුගිය දවසක මහෝපාධ්‍යයන් වහන්සේත් එක්‌ක එම විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ස්‌වාමීන්වහන්සේලාගේ කණ්‌ඩායම් ඡායාරූපය ලබාගෙන තිබුණා. එම ඡායාරූපය ගන්න අවස්‌ථාවේ ගිහි සිසුන් 17 ක්‌ පමණයි පෙනී සිට තිබෙන්නේ. ඡායාරූපය මුද්‍රණය වෙන අවස්‌ථාවේ ගිහි සිසුන් 51 ක්‌ බවට පත්වෙලා. මේක හොඳ තත්ත්වයක්‌ නොවෙයි. රටේ ජනතාව, ගමේ ජනතාව, ගමේ හාමුදුරුවො බලාපොරොත්තුවන විද්‍යාර්ථියෙක්‌ විදියට ස්‌වාමීන්වහන්සේනමක්‌ එළියට එන්නේ නැත්නම් මේ ආයතන වහලා දාන එක තමයි හොඳ. නැත්නම් ඒවායේ වගකීම ගන්නට වෙන්නේ අපිට. පව් සිදුවන්නේ අපිට.

උපාධිධාරීන් රැකියාවක නිරතවිය හැකි තත්ත්වයට පත්කරලා එළියට දාන්න කටයුතු කරන එක බලධාරීන් වශයෙන් අපේ වගකීම. එහෙම නැතිව තොග පිටින් උපාධිධාරීන්ට රැකියා දෙන එකෙන් අසාධාරණයට ලක්‌වන්නේත් උපාධිධාරීන්ම යි. ඒ අය රැකියාවට ආ දවසේ පටන් විශ්‍රාම යන දවස තෙක්‌ ඉන්නේ කනස්‌සල්ලෙන්. ඊට හේතුව තමයි ඒ අයට උසස්‌වීම් ලබාගැනීමට මාවතක්‌ සකස්‌ කර නොමැතිකම. ඒකට අනෙත් සේවාවලින් පැමිණි රාජ්‍ය සේවකයන් විරුද්ධයි. ලිපිකරුවාට උසස්‌වීම්වලට ගිහින් අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම් දක්‌වා එන්නට පාරවල් තිබෙනවා. කම්කරුවාට ඉහළට යන්න පාරක්‌ තිබෙනවා. නමුත් උපාධිධරයාට පරිපාලන සේවා විභාගය, ක්‍රමසම්පාදන සේවා විභාගය ලියන්නට අවස්‌ථාවක්‌ දෙන්නේ නැහැ. ඉතින් මේ අය එක්‌ අතකින් අතරමං වෙනවා. ඒ නිසා විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවලින් එළියට එන උපාධිධරයාගේ මානසිකත්වය හදන්නට ඒ අයට වෘත්තීය මාර්ගයක්‌ සැලසීමට අවශ්‍ය කටයුතු සකසා දීමට උපකුලපතිවරු, ආචාර්ය මහාචාර්යවරු උත්සාහ කරන්නට අවශ්‍යයි.

මෙහිදී අදහස්‌ දැක්‌වූ අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම් ආචාර්ය සුනිල් ජයන්ත නවරත්න මහතා - වෘත්තීය උපාධිධාරීන් බිහිකිරීමේ වැඩසටහනට අමතරව ව්‍යවසායකත්ව උපාධිධාරීන් බිහි කරන වැඩසටහනක්‌ ද ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීමට කටයුතු කළා. ඒ අනුව මේ වනවිටත් මොරටුව විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ මේ කටයුත්ත සාර්ථකව ක්‍රියාත්මක වෙනවා. සිසුන් 400 ක්‌ පමණ ඒ සඳහා යොමුවෙලා තිබෙනවා. තවත් සිසුන් 100 ක්‌ පමණ ඊට සහභාගිවීමට බලාපොරොත්තුවෙන් සිටිනවා. විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතිය තුළ සියයට 10 ක්‌ ව්‍යවසායකත්ව උපාධිධාරී වැඩසටහනට සම්බන්ධ කරගැනීමට ලැබුණොත් ඉතිරි සියයට 90 ට රැකියා සපයන්නට ඒ අයට හැකියාව ලැබෙනවා. ඒ නිසා එම වැඩසටහන කාලීනව ඉතා යෝග්‍ය වැඩසටහනක්‌.

වෘත්තීයමය උපාධිධාරීන් බිහිකිරීම සඳහා අනුගමනය කළ යුතු උපාය මාර්ගවලින් එකක්‌ ලෙස තමයි මෙම වැඩසටහන ක්‍රියාවට නංවන්නේ. සීමා ආයතනය මගින් සියයට 45 ක වට්‌ටමක්‌ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ශිෂ්‍ය ශිෂ්‍යාවන්ට ලබාදෙනවා. පොඩි මුදලක්‌ ගෙවන්නට සිදුවෙනවා. ඉහතින් සඳහන් කරන්නට යෙදුණු බැංකු ණය ලබාදීමෙන් පසුව ඒ කටයුත්ත සාර්ථකව කරන්නට අවස්‌ථාව ලැබෙනවා. ගමෙන් එන බුද්ධිමත් දරුවාට ජාත්‍යන්තර මට්‌ටමේ පිළිගත් උපාධියක්‌ වගේම ජාත්‍යන්තරව පිළිගත් වෘත්තීය පාඨමාලාවක්‌ හදාරන්නට ලැබෙනවා නම් ඒක කොයිතරම් භාග්‍යයක්‌ වේවිද? අපට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ එයයි යනුවෙන් පැවසීය.

මෙම අවස්‌ථාවේදී සීමා ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධ්‍යක්‍ෂක මඬුල්ලේ සභාපති ඩර්ක්‌ පෙරේරා මහතා සීමා හි මැදපෙරදිග, දකුණු ආසියානු හා උතුරු අප්‍රිකානු කලාපීය අධ්‍යක්‍ෂක බ්‍රැඩ්ලි එමර්සන් මහතා හා සීමා හි ශ්‍රී ලංකා ප්‍රධානී රැඩ්ලි ස්‌ටීවන් මහතා ද කතා කළ අතර විශ්වවිද්‍යාල උපකුලපතිවරු, පීඨාධිපතිවරු, ආචාර්ය මහාචාර්යවරු ඇතුළු විශාල පිරිසක්‌ ද සහභාගි වූහ.

National Policy Framework on Higher Education and Technical and Vocational Education-2009

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Professional Graduate Programme

Sunday Times, 04/03/2012

Inspired and led by the excellent guidance of the’ Mahinda Chinthana Idiridekma”, one of the major programs proposed by Hon. Minister S.B.Dissanayake is “Professional Graduates” which is aimed at improving the employability of the graduates was launched with CIMA, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountant UK on 27 February at the Cinnamon Lakeside.

The landmark initiative is aimed at up-skilling and building capacity of the undergraduates in order to ensure that in addition to the excellent knowledge they gain during their tenure at the university they equip themselves with a world recognized professional qualification that would give them the competencies and skills to drive their organizations to international standards.

Speaking at the media briefing Hon. Minister S.B.Dissanayake said, ‘We are now focusing on “Globally Employable” graduates. This means all graduates passing out of the university should be ready to work anywhere in the world.
All students who enter the universities are considered as the “Cream “ and those passing out as graduates should be equipped and ready with the world market need. It’s our duty to accept this responsibility and work towards developing our own graduates pro-actively so that they meet up with the challenging demands of employers in both the public and private sectors.

To meet this requirement, the Ministry of Higher Education designed this Professional Graduates programme which paves the way to do their degree while they do professional programmes like CIMA, CA, IPM, CIM, SLIM, CPA, ACCA, AAT etc
We are very happy to announce that CIMA is the first professional body to support this programme with around 45% overall discount to the undergraduates of our universities. With the assistance of Higher Education for Twenty-First Century (HETC) - a World Bank Funded project, we are initially implementing this among six universities: Colombo, Jayawardenapura, Kelaniya, Ruhuna and Jaffna.

The special features of this programme are as follows:
- Students who register will get a special discount for the Registration, and Tuition fees; They can do their studies in the campus while they are doing their degree programmes and do not need to go out of the university to follow the lectures of the professional programmes. If they need any financial assistance Banks will provide special loan scheme to help the students. Finally when they come out as graduates they can be professionals too, making them more employable graduates both in locally and globally.

We are planning to spread this programme to other universities and SLIATE too. At the same time we hope other professional bodies too follow CIMA and help our graduates to be the professional in their respective fields’.
Mr Bradley Emerson Regional Director Middle East, South Asia & North Africa said
‘This landmark event is a very futuristic and bold initiative taken by the Ministry of Higher Education. This also endorses the national vision of creating a knowledge society.

Out of nearly half a million who sits for the OL exam only 4% gets in to university and we believe as educationist we are obliged make them rounded and globally competitive. CIMA is indeed proud to part on this national vision of transforming the local ability to global capability. We sincerely appreciate the initiative of the Minister, the Ministry official, Deans and the Vice Chancellors and our tuition providers who come together to make this a reality.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

රාජගිරිය දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයේ ඉඩම් කොටසක් ඉන්දීය සමාගමකට රාජගිරිය දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයේ ඉඩම් කොටසක් ඉන්දීය සමාගමකට

Sri Lanka Guardian, 03/03/2012

අපගේ පාරම්පරික උරුමයක් හා විශිෂ්ට දැනුම් පද්ධතියක් සහිත දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාවේ කේන්ද්‍රස්ථානයක් වන්නේ බොරැල්ල රාජගිරියේ පිහිටි දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යායතනයයි. දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාව ප්‍රචලිත කිරීම හා ජනතාවගේ සෞඛ්‍ය දියුණු කිරීම සඳහා 1967 දී ආරම්භ කළ මෙහි දැනට ආයුර්වේද හා යුනානි වෛද්‍ය පාඨමාලා පැවැත්වේ. වෛද්‍ය සිසුන් 700 ක් හා ආචාර්ය මණ්ඩලය 60 ක් පමණ ඉතා කුඩා සීමිත ඉඩ කඩක් තුළ අපමණ දුෂ්කරතා මැද අධ්‍යයන කටයුතුවල නිරත වෙති. එක් කණ්ඩායමකට සිසුන් 150 ක් පමණ බ`දවාගන්නා අතර පවතින දේශන ශාලා ප්‍රමාණවත් නොවීම හේතුවෙන් එම ආයතනයේ ප්‍රධාන ශාලාව හා විභාග ශාලාව ද දේශන කටයුතු ස`දහා යොදාගැනේ. නේවාසිකාගාර ද ඉතා කුඩා බිම් කඩක ඉදිකර ඇති බැවින් මූලික අවම පහසුකම් හෝ සිසු සිසුවියන්ට ලබාදී නොමැත.

තත්වය මෙසේ තිබියදී දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාව ආසියාවේ ප්‍රමුඛස්ථානය බවට පත් කරන බවට මහින්ද චින්තනයෙන් ද, මහින්ද චින්තන ඉදිරි දැක්මෙන්ද දස අතේ දිවුරා බලයට පැමිණි මහින්ද රාජපක‍ෂ ආණ්ඩුව දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලය සංවර්ධනය කරනු වෙනුවට එයට අයත් ඉඩම් කොටසක් ද ඉන්දීය සමාගමකට විකිණීමට කටයුතු කරමින් සිටී. ඉන්දියාවේ මුම්බායි පදනම් කරගත් සීමා සහිත ඇට්ලන්ටිස් සංවර්ධන පුද්ගලික සමාගමට ඩොලර් මිලියන 13 ක වටිනා කමින් යුත් අති සුඛෝපභෝගී මහල් නිවාස සංකීර්ණයක් ඉදි කිරීමට දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාල භූමියේ පර්චස් 10.08 ක් විකිණීම ස`දහා වන කැබිනට් මණ්ඩල සංදේශයක් 2011 ජුලි 07 දින උසස් අධ්‍යාපන ඇමති එස්.බී. දිසානායක මහතා විසින් ඉදිරිපත් කර ඇත. අමාත්‍ය මණ්ඩල පත්‍රිකා 11/1468/521/031 අංකය සහිතව 2011 සැපතැම්බර් 07 දින සාකච්ඡාවට බ`දුන් කර මහින්ද රාජපක‍ෂ ජනාධිපතිවරයා මූලිකත්වය ගත් කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලයේදී, පර්චස් 10.08 ක එම බිම් කැබැල්ල ඇට්ලන්ටිස් සමාගමට ලබාදීමට එක`ගතාවය ලබාදී ඇත. දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලය පු`ඵල් කිරීම ස`දහා ඉඩකඩ ලබාගැනීමට එහි ආචාර්ය මණ්ඩලයත්, ශිෂ්‍ය සංගමයත් වසර ගණනාවක් පුරා කරන ලද ඉල්ලීම පසෙක තබා දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාලයේ බිම් කොටසක් ඉන්දීය සමාගමකට ලබාදීමට කටයුතු යොදා ඇත.

දැයේ දූ දරුවන්ට අධ්‍යාපන අවස්ථා පු`ඵල් කර ගැනීම ස`දහා කිසිදු ආකාරයේ සහයෝගයක් නොදක්වන ආණ්ඩුව මෙසේ ධනවතුන් ස`දහා සුඛෝපභෝගී නිවාස ඉදිකිරීමට ඉන්දීය සමාගමකට විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයෙන් ඉඩම් කොටසක් විකිණීම කිසිසේත් අනුමත කළ නොහැකි කටයුත්තකි. ඒ පිළිබ`ද ආණ්ඩුවට විරෝධය පල කරන සමාජවාදී ශිෂ්‍ය සංගමය වහාම ඉඩම් විකිණීම නතර කර එම භූමිය දේශීය වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යායතනයට පවරා දෙන ලෙස බලකර සිටිමු.

නලින්ද ජයතිස්ස

Friday, March 2, 2012

Higher Education Under Attack

For a very long time there were only a few universities in the world. The total student body in these institutions was very small. This small group of students was drawn largely from the upper classes. Attending the university conferred great prestige and reflected great privilege.
This picture began to change radically after 1945. The number of universities began to expand considerably, and the percentage of persons in the age range that attended universities began to expand. Furthermore, this was not merely a question of expansion in those countries that had already had universities of note. University education was launched in a large number of countries that had few or no university institutions before 1945. Higher education became worldwide.Occupy Davis protestors pepper-sprayed by campus police (Photo: Wayne Tilcock/The Enterprise/AP)
The pressure for expansion came from above and below. From above, governments felt an important need for more university graduates to ensure their capacity to compete in the more complex technologies that were required in the exploding expansion of the world-economy. And from below, large numbers of the middle strata and even of the lower strata of the world's populations were insistent that they have access to higher education in order to improve considerably their economic and social prospects.
The expansion of the universities, which was remarkable in size, was made possible by the enormous upward expansion of the world-economy after 1945, the biggest in the history of the modern world-system. There was plenty of money available for the universities, and they were happy to make use of it.
Of course, this changed the university systems somewhat. Individual universities became much larger and began to lose the quality of intimacy that smaller structures provided. The class composition of the student body, and then of the professorate, evolved. In many countries, expansion not only meant a reduction in the monopoly of upper strata persons as students, professors, and administrators, but it often meant that "minority" groups and women began to have wider access, which had previously been totally or at least partially denied.
This rosy picture came into difficulty after about 1970. For one thing, the world-economy entered its long stagnation. And little by little, the amount of money that universities received, largely from the states, began to diminish. At the same time, the costs of university education continued to rise, and the pressures from below for continued expansion grew even stronger. The story ever since has been that of the two curves going in opposite directions - less money and increased expenses. 
By the time we arrived at the twenty-first century, this situation became dire. How have universities coped? One major way was what we have come to call “privatization.” Most universities before 1945, and even before 1970, were state institutions. The one significant exception was the United States, which had a large number of non-state institutions, most of which had evolved from religiously-based institutions. But even in these U.S. private institutions, the universities were run as non-profit structures.
What privatization began to mean throughout the world was several things: One, there began to be institutions of higher education that were established as businesses for profit. Two, public institutions began to seek and obtain money from corporate donors, which began to intrude in the internal governance of the universities. And three, universities began to seek patents for work that researchers at the university had discovered or invented, and thereupon entered as operators in the economy, that is, as businesses.
In a situation in which money was scarce, or at least seemed scarce, universities began to transform themselves into more business-like institutions. This could be seen in two major ways. The top administrative positions of universities and their faculties, which had traditionally been occupied by academics, now began to be occupied by persons whose background was in business and not university life. They raised the money, but they also began to set the criteria of allocation of the money.
There began to be evaluations of whole universities and of departments within universities in terms of their output for the money invested. This might be measured by how many students wished to pursue particular studies, or how esteemed was the research output of given universities or departments. Intellectual life was being judged by pseudo-market criteria. Even student recruitment was being measured by how much money was brought in via alternative methods of recruitment.
And, if this weren't enough, the universities began to come under attack from a basically anti-intellectual far right current that saw the universities as secular, anti-religious institutions. The university as a critical institution - critical of dominant groups and dominant ideologies - had always met with resistance and repression by the states and the elites. But their powers of survival had always been rooted in their relative financial autonomy based on the low real cost of operation. This was the university of yesteryear, not of today - and tomorrow.
One can write this off as simply one more aspect of the global chaos in which we are now living. Except that the universities were supposed to play the role of one major locus (not of course the only one) of analysis of the realities of our world-system. It is such analyses that may make possible the successful navigation of the chaotic transition towards a new, and hopefully better, world order. At the moment, the turmoil within the universities seems no easier to resolve than the turmoil in the world-economy. And even less attention is being paid to it.

The threat to our universities

The Guardian, 24/02/2012

What are universities for? Should they be businesses 'competing on price'? Are students 'consumers', concerned only with getting jobs? A half-baked market ideology informs official thinking about higher education, and it undermines an ideal that a vast number of people cherish

University of Birmingham degree ceremony
'A corporation for the cultivation and care of the community’s highest aspirations and ideals' … Univeristy of Birmingham degree ceremony. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
Take one job centre. Add several apprenticeship programmes. Combine with an industrial lab (fold in a medical research centre for extra flavour). Throw in some subsidised gigs and a large dollop of cheap beer. Don't stir too much. Decorate with a forward-looking logo. And hey presto! – you've got a university.
  1. What are Universities For?
  2. by Stefan Collini
  3. Buy it from the Guardian bookshop
  1. Tell us what you think:Star-rate and review this book
At this point, I should be able to say (according to the formula): "Here's one I made earlier." In reality, of course, no one has ever successfully created a university by following this recipe. But if you simply go by what is now said about universities in official pronouncements from government departments or funding agencies or employers' associations, you could be forgiven for thinking that this recipe pretty much describes what these institutions are all about.
In recent years, universities have been in the news as perhaps never before, but increasingly in public discourse in Britain, they are said to serve two purposes – and two purposes only. The first is to "equip" "young people" to get jobs in "the fast-moving economy of tomorrow". The other is to contribute to "growth", to develop the "cutting-edge products" needed in "today's competitive global marketplace" (and preferably to discover the odd miracle drug, too).
I realise that by merely raising a quizzical eyebrow about the self-evident priority of these goals I am going to be damned for being out of touch with "the real world". What's even more curious is that everyone who expresses the slightest reservation about this vocabulary turns out to live at the same address. Simply to suggest that universities might have other purposes is immediately to be classed as someone who "lives in the ivory tower".
The current government certainly seems hell-bent on trying to make universities function more like cost-cutting skills retailers to whom employers can outsource their job-training (in England, anyway: Scotland remains faithful to its more democratic traditions of public higher education). And it is this element of ideological fantasy that is so worrying. For example, it's nonsense to say (as last year's white paperdid) that saddling students with future debt is a way of putting them "at the heart of the system", not least because they are already at the heart of the system. Ah, but a focus on "consumer satisfaction" will force "service providers" to "drive up standards", won't it? This management-consultancy blather has settled on the topic like a thick fog on the Thames, obscuring the view beyond Whitehall or Westminster. As a result, our higher education system is to be turned upside down, even though at no point in the Browne review or the ensuing white paper has there been any evidence-based analysis of how universities are alleged to be failing in their tasks at present.
In individual instances, they do fail of course, and perhaps fail too often, though mechanisms already exist for investigating and in some cases remedying these failings. From anecdotal evidence (especially conversations among parents of university students), it may seem that the major systemic failing is the paucity of individual attention that students receive in many universities – seminar sizes are too big and tutorial hours too few.
If true, those are serious failings, but their two main causes are not hard to identify. The first is the expansion on the cheap that has been forced on universities, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s: student-staff ratios have almost tripled in recent decades (within this pattern, there are huge variations, of course). And the second reason is the over-emphasis on research that has been encouraged by the mechanism of theresearch assessment exercise, now renamed, in best Orwellian style, the research excellence framework. A university's funding rests heavily on the outcome of these flawed exercises; as a result, career rewards are now tilted strongly towards research achievement. But the new proposals will not tackle either of these causes: most universities outside the elite will still be underfunded and overcrowded, some disastrously so, and the distorting mechanisms of research assessment will be more powerful than ever.
And even if you are among those who think that graduates should make an additional contribution to the costs of higher education beyond that which they already make as taxpayers, that is no reason to invent a fantasy-world of paying "fees" to "service providers" who "compete on price". The benefits for both the individual graduate and for society as a whole are benefits from a system of higher education, not just from a particular institution. The teaching methods, the scholarship, the research, the ethos – these are not the creation of a single self-contained institution any more than are the careers of those who teach there. The single greatest defect of the new funding arrangements is not the whole elaborate machinery of loans itself, expensive and unfair though that is: it is the core notion of universities as businesses "competing on price" (ie "variable fees") and the half-baked market ideology that informs it. And this in turn reflects an impoverished notion of what universities are "for".
Clearly, we need to start from somewhere else.
Because the huge expansion of recent decades has involved a growth not just in student numbers but also in the range of subjects and types of institution, it is too late in the day to attempt to be insistently purist about the usage of the term "university": for better or worse it is now applied to a great variety of forms of post-secondary educational institution. And these institutions are expected to serve several important social functions, from vocational training to technology transfer, just as they are asked to further several admirable social goals, from inculcating civic values to promoting social justice.
The picture is further complicated by the great multiplication of subjects of study and research. In reality, many universities have long offered courses that went beyond the traditional core of disciplines in the humanities and the social and natural sciences, but there has been a marked expansion of such courses in recent decades. Diplomas in golf course management sit alongside masters in software design; professorships of neo-natal care are established alongside postdoctoral fellowships in heritage studies.
It is worth emphasising, in the face of routine dismissals by snobbish commentators, that many of these courses may be intellectually fruitful as well as practical: media studies are often singled out as being the most egregiously valueless, yet there can be few forces in modern societies so obviously in need of more systematic and disinterested understanding than the media themselves. In addition, universities are increasingly centres of the creative and performing arts as well as hubs of policy advice.
We have to recognise the speed and scale of the transformation that has taken place. Nearly two-thirds of the roughly 130 university-level institutions in Britain today did not exist as universities as recently as 20 years ago. And with this expansion have gone dramatic changes in the character of our universities. At present, over five times as many students in British universities study business studies and accounting as study English, over six times as many are doing courses in practical subjects allied to healthcare as in history, and so on.
And for the most part, the largest numbers of students are to be found in the least traditional universities. Leaving aside the Open University, which is obviously a special case, 18 of the 24 largest universities in Britain (in terms of student numbers) in 2010 did not exist as universities before 1992. Such educational enfranchisement has, in principle, been a great democratic good, one we should continue to support, but there is no doubt that it has complicated public perception of the nature and role of universities.
During the same period we have also seen a dizzying growth in the costs of big science and of the share of university budgets now taken up by science, engineering and medicine. In the most research-intensiveRussell Group universities, these subjects alone account for almost five-sixths of the universities' turnover. So, in discussing higher education, we have to be realistic about these characteristics of the present system. Mass education, vocational training and big science are among the dominant realities, and are here to stay.
But however important these features are, they, too, are not the whole story. And one way to get these features in perspective is to realise that, throughout the long history of universities, there has been a constant tension between the practical ends that society thinks it is furthering by founding or supporting universities, and the ineluctable pull towards open-ended inquiry that comes to shape these institutions over time. In fact, the very open-endedness of their principal activities threatens to legitimate forms of inquiry that may run counter to the aims of those who founded or supported them.
Since universities are in some ways puzzling and opaque institutions, attempts to describe them naturally tend to bracket them with more familiar or immediately intelligible concepts. Perhaps the most frequent, because most plausible, misconception about universities is, as I have suggested, that they are simply a marriage of convenience between a type of vocational school and a type of industrial research laboratory. But analogies between universities and quite other types of institution may, precisely because they are less fashionable, be more illuminating. Some, at least, of what lies at the heart of a university is closer to the nature of a museum or gallery than is usually allowed or than most of today's spokespersons for universities would be comfortable with. The latter would doubtless be afraid that it would make universities seem too "backward-looking" – a damning phrase from the lexicon of contemporary right-mindedness. One of the reasons why the question "What are museums/galleries for?" can be helpful in thinking about universities is precisely because it reminds us that the answers do not depend just on the interests of the current generation. All conservation, all transmission or handing-on, and in fact all inquiry, is implicitly governed by its relation to the future.
There are other aspects of universities that may suggest resemblances to a variety of quite different types of organisation – to thinktanks, accreditation quangos and performing arts complexes, as well as to sports clubs, community centres and dating agencies. In addition, as we are now often reminded, universities are large employers and one of the chief sources of prosperity for local economies. But all of these comparisons pick up on what are contingent or inessential features of universities, on functions that have come to be appended to their main tasks of extending understanding through teaching and research, and this brings us back to the central question of how best to characterise these main tasks.
Almost a century ago, the American social critic Thorstein Veblenpublished a book entitled The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Businessmen, in which he declared: "Ideally, and in the popular apprehension, the university is, as it has always been, a corporation for the cultivation and care of the community's highest aspirations and ideals." Given that Veblen's larger purpose, as indicated by his book's subtitle, involved a vigorous critique of current tendencies in American higher education, the confidence and downrightness of this declaration are striking. And I particularly like his passing insistence that this elevated conception of the university and the "popular apprehension" of it coincide, about which he was surely right.
Even today, after all the vast changes that have overtaken universities and that separate them from the institutions that Veblen knew, and despite – as much as because of – the great educational enfranchisement that has taken place in recent decades, there still lingers this popular conception, almost a longing, that the university should be a protected space in which thoughts and ideas of this kind can be pursued to the highest level. Whatever the reality of the experience of actually attending one of today's semi-marketised, employment-oriented institutions, there remains a strong popular desire that they should, at their best, incarnate a set of "aspirations and ideals" that go beyond any form of economic return.
It is crucial that attempts to make the case for universities in present circumstances should not lose sight of this deep and pervasive conviction. In saying this I am certainly not forgetting or underestimating the degree of misunderstanding and hostility that universities, in England at least, have encountered from some politicians and some sections of the media over the past two or three decades. But I suspect that among the public at large there is, potentially, a much greater reservoir of interest in, and latent appreciation of, the work of universities than this narrow and defensive official discourse ever succeeds in tapping into.
In talking to audiences outside universities (some of whom may be graduates), I am struck by the level of curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, ideas and the quest for greater understanding, whether in history and literature, or physics and biology, or any number of other fields. Some members of these audiences may not have had the chance to study these things themselves, but they very much want their children to have the opportunity to do so; others may have enjoyed only limited and perhaps not altogether happy experience of higher education in their own lives, but have now in their adulthood discovered a keen amateur reading interest in these subjects; others still may have retired from occupations that largely frustrated their intellectual or aesthetic inclinations and are now hungry for stimulation.
Such audiences do not want to be told that we judge the success of a university education by how much more graduates can earn than non-graduates, any more than they want to hear how much scholarship and science may indirectly contribute to GDP. They are, rather, susceptible to the romance of ideas and the power of beauty; they want to learn about far-off times and faraway worlds; they expect to hear language used more inventively, more exactly, more evocatively than it normally is in their workaday world; they want to know that, somewhere, human understanding is being pressed to its limits, unconstrained by immediate practical outcomes.
These audiences are not all of one mind, needless to say, and not all sections of society are equally well represented among them. At various points in their lives their members may have other priorities, and there will always be competing demands on their interests and sympathies. But it is noticeable, and surely regrettable, how little the public debate about universities in contemporary Britain makes any kind of appeal to this widespread appreciation on the part of ordinary intelligent citizens that there should be places where these kinds of inquiries are being pursued at their highest level. Part of the problem may be that while universities are spectacularly good at producing new forms of understanding, they are not always very good at explaining what they are doing when they do this.
Major universities are complex organisms, fostering an extraordinary variety of intellectual, scientific and cultural activity, and the significance and value of much that goes on within them cannot be restricted to a single national framework or to the present generation. They have become an important medium – perhaps the single most important institutional medium – for conserving, understanding, extending and handing on to subsequent generations the intellectual, scientific, and artistic heritage of mankind. In thinking about the conditions necessary for their flourishing, we should not, therefore, take too short-term or too purely local a view, nor should we focus exclusively on undergraduate teaching.
Adopting this wider perspective may also help us become more aware of the limitations of treating economic growth as the overriding test of value. Taking a longer-term view of the history, and indeed the future, of universities encourages us to ask fundamental questions of the goal of "contributing to national economic prosperity". How much prosperity do we need (and who counts as "we")? Is it desirable at any cost? What is it, in its turn, good for? And so on. Any serious attempt to address these questions will inevitably have to invoke non-economic values. Most people recognise the standing of such values in their own lives – they do not care for their partners or their children in order to generate a profit any more than they admire a beautiful view or a natural wonder because it increases employment – but it has become difficult to appeal to such values in a public sphere the language of which is chiefly framed by the combination of individualism and instrumentalism.
Universities are not just good places in which to undertake such fundamental questioning; they also embody an alternative set of values in their very rationale. If we are only trustees for our generation of the peculiar cultural achievement that is the university, then those of us whose lives have been shaped by the immeasurable privilege of teaching and working in a university are not entitled to give up on the attempt to make the case for its best purposes and to make that case tell in the public domain, however discouraging the immediate circumstances. After all, no previous generation entirely surrendered this ideal of the university to those fantasists who think they represent the real world. Asking ourselves "What are universities for?" may help remind us, amid distracting circumstances, that we – all of us, inside universities or out – are indeed merely custodians for the present generation of a complex intellectual inheritance which we did not create, and which is not ours to destroy.
Extracted from What Are Universities For? by Stefan Collini, published by Penguin at GBP 9.99