Friday, January 18, 2013

Dayan Jayatilleka - on FUTA, 

Special interview for with Dayan Jayatilleka.

You are going back into the corridors of academe in SL. Your thoughts
on the future of university education in the context of the
unprecedented recent FUTA strike.

The FUTA struggle was an important one, in that it represented an
awakening of one of the most vital social sectors in this or any
country. Not since the general election campaign of 1970 has there
been such a mobilization of the university academics. The future of
any society resides with its educated youth and therefore with its
institutions of higher education, especially the universities. A
country that boasts of 7-8% growth must surely invest more in higher
education, including in its cadre of university teachers which
constitutes the segment in society with the highest levels of
education. A highly educated populace is a foundation of national
security and sovereignty. Absolutely nothing can justify the declinein
the spending on education in postwar Sri Lanka. How is it even
conceivable that a country spends less on education in peacetime than
it did in wartime? This will make Sri Lanka far less able to deal with
the challenges it faces in the Cold war that is being waged against it
by the separatist faction of the Tamil Diaspora. We can win the Cold
war only if we have the highly educated and internationally
competitive human resources to do so.

This having been said, I must add that there were tactical errors and
a rhetorical inflation in the FUTA struggle, which brought it to a
risky impasse. It is good that Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri and Ven
Dambara Amila Thero, who are politically literate, managed to avoid a
July 1980 type defeat that would have resulted from the tactic of
frontal confrontation.

One of the weaknesses of the FUTA strike was that there were a large
number of academics who did not sign up; who did not participate. I do
not refer to the handful who took the side of the Establishment; I
refer to the middle ground. So it seems to me that FUTA should have
continued the public pedagogy and agitation for a longer period,
broadening and deepening its support base, convincing the middle
ground among the academics, before it resorted to strike action.

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