FUTA takes Wijeyadasa to task

Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) yesterday (19), criticized Minister of Higher Education, President’s Counsel Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe for allegedly insulting University lecturers and the State University system by publishing a list containing the names of signatories who have taken loans to study abroad.

Dr. Rajapakshe this week announced that the Government would file legal action against approximately 483 academics in State Universities, the majority of whom, according to him, are working or domiciled overseas, for allegedly defaulting, over a considerable period of time, on the repayment of loans obtained for academic purposes (such as pursuing doctorates) and allegedly violating the bonds signed in this regard. He claimed that with the interest amounts added, the total cost to State coffers roughly amounted to Rs one billion. He further stated that Heads of Universities had been given the authority to recommend and approve the said loans. It was also alleged by him that several University Heads were uncooperative with regard to the probe in this connection.

President of the FUTA, Professor Anura Kumara said this at a media briefing on the matter, and added that the Minister should have followed a different approach in addressing the issue.

He further claimed that there were also the names of University lecturers, who have fully repaid the bonds as well as those who are currently in the process of repayment, in the list.

“The Minister should know how to act properly. He should have first pursued legal action rather than meaninglessly publicizing this information.

In all these years that we’ve had free education, the good governance regime is the first Government to promote private education. They’re also trying to make people sick of public Universities,” he added.

The FUTA further noted that they would support any of the University academics who were wrongfully mentioned in the list, if they decide to pursue legal action.

Meanwhile, speaking to Ceylon Today, Ruhuna University Vice-Chancellor, Senior Prof. S. Gamini J.N. Senanayake, who is also the Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors (VCs) and Directors, whilst condemning the violation of service bonds as it concerned public taxpayers’ funds, however questioned the accuracy of the list published in a certain newspaper.

Certain named persons have agreed and have committed to pay back the amounts and are in the process of paying and so cannot be considered as bond violators unlike those who don’t pay despite requests, he noted, adding that the Universities are currently attempting to recover the amounts and had already recovered a significant sum, including through Court proceedings.

The procedure followed in recovering the outstanding amounts is that the University first informs the academic in question to pay up, if a breach of agreement or violation of bond occurs, and if there is no response, then the sureties (guarantors) are informed to pay and if there is no response at this particular juncture, the matter is then handed over to the Attorney General’s Department to file suit.

Elsewhere, he urged the Minister to reveal which Heads of Universities, who he claimed were not cooperating in the investigations, as Heads of these Institutions including VCs were committed to cooperating fully in relation to the matter while running Universities and delivering results, despite being plagued by fund-related restrictions and student problems.

When queried as to the proposal by the Minister to vest the power to grant such loans with the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education, Prof. Samarasinghe explained that it was “not good” as it could affect the autonomy of Universities, which are autonomous bodies with financial and administrative independence, adding that the latter should continue to be the case.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Ranmini Gunasekara and Ruwan Laknath Jayakody)