Sri Lanka an education hub in Asia soon – Minister Dissanayake

Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake said the Government will never deprive students of free education in State universities. The Government has no intention to levy a fee from students who study at State universities. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said State universities will provide opportunity to students to display their talent and enter universities on merit.

The Minister said in Sri Lanka, tertiary education,and education at advanced technological institutes and vocational training institutes are given free.

It is not correct to compare free education given in a country like Sri Lanka with other countries which levy a fee for education.

Minister Dissanayake said the establishment of foreign universities will not have an adverse effect on free education or State universities as highlighted by certain sections of the people. This same argument was put forward when international schools were opening up in Sri Lanka. Certain sections attempted to portray that the setting up of international schools would be the downfall of key government-schools of the likes of Ananda, Nalanda, Royal, Visakha and Devi Balika. In fact after the setting up of international schools, State schools vastly improved. Even today standards at these Government schools are far above international schools.

The Minister said at present the majority of university teachers are doing well in universities. Such teachers, professors and senior lecturers have joined hands with the university administration to ensure discipline among students and develop the university system.

They don’t resort to strikes. They love the university, their students and the country. I would like to call upon those clamouring for salary increases and other privileges also to intervene to stop ragging and other harassment faced by students in universities.


Q:According to you what is the significance of Budget 2012? Has it introduced any future vision to take the country forward?

A: Budget 2012 is based on a scientific and methodical plan.

The Budget has touched every aspect while it has increased subsidies and welfare measures given to low income groups. The Budget has also increased the allowance given to disabled including disabled war heroes.

The Government is continuing the fertiliser subsidy by allocating Rs.40 billion. It has increased subsidies given to minor exports and agriculture.

The allowance given for the re-cultivation of coconut, tea, cinnamon and pepper has also been increased. Incentives have been given to those engaged in traditional industries to develop their industries. Funds have been allocated to develop the fisheries sector. Credit facilities to small scale factory owners and tax has been exempted for machinery and equipment for them.

Protection for medium and large scale businessmen has also been provided.

A series of fresh proposals to develop higher education and tourism sectors has also been included. Steps have been taken to safeguard money sent by expatriate workers. A pay hike has been given to public servants including pensioners. The Budget has laid emphasis starting from the poorest to large scale businessmen.

It has introduced separate projects to provide housing, electricity and to develop infrastructure facilities. I believe we would be able to carpet the remaining major roads and to provide electricity to all households by the end of next year. Shanty dwellers in Colombo city will be resettled in condominiums. A series of development activities are also in progress to beautify and make the entire country clean.

Measures have been taken to develop the aviation sector. SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka are running at a loss, this is correct, we are infants competing with leading airlines in the world. Profit cannot be made as soon as we begin an airline service. It will take some time to achieve an enviable position in this field. That is why Mihin Air has started to fly to several countries by offering concessionary rates to passengers.

The government has formed a strong airline with a fleet of 30 aircraft today due to the clear vision and target set out by president Mahinda Rajapaksa. This Budget has allocated funds to establish domestic airports in Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Galle, Jaffna and Kilinochchi. The Government has already started a sea plane service as well. The tourism industry has achieved tremendous growth. The Budget is a well-planned one targeting development.

Q: Are you satisfied with budgetary allocations made for higher education?

A: Definitely. During the debate on the Higher Education Ministry votes, some Opposition MPs submitted various statistics about financial allocations made for higher education in countries like Singapore, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. But these MPs should be aware that all these countries levy a fee for higher education. In Sri Lanka, education at universities, advanced technological institutes and vocational training institutes are given free.

In addition, Mahapola scholarships are also given to university students and those who study in technological institutes.

They should not compare the hundred percent free education given in a country like Sri Lanka with other countries where a fee is levied. The Government will never deprive students of free education.

It has no intention whatsoever to levy a fee from students who study at State universities.

State universities will allow students to display their talent and enter universities by obtaining the best marks.

Foreign students should also be enrolled to State universities. Universities have been given permission to recruit five percent foreign students for 2012. Universities have the capacity to recruit nearly 1,000 foreign students. If 10 percent foreign students are recruited, recurrent expenditure of universities can be covered.

We know we would not be able to enrol even five percent foreign students to universities as the quality of courses not upto the mark when compared to international ranking of universities.

This is our target. We have decided to offer 100 scholarships to foreign students. To upgrade the international ranking of universities, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the previous Budget pledged to provide Rs. 3 billion in three years. Rs.1 billion was granted last year and was allocated to six universities.

We will get another Rs.1 billion this year and the balance Rs.1 billion will be given next year. Our intention is to systematically turn Sri Lanka into a key educational hub in the Asian region.

Q: What is the present position regarding the establishment of foreign universities?

A: A large number of foreign universities are ready to come to Sri Lanka. Some of them are now arriving.

These universities are going to bring lot of foreign students to Sri Lanka. Manipal University, India intends to bring nearly 80 percent foreign students. Another two or three Indian universities are due to come here.

A leading Australian university has already commenced educational activities here.

Several other foreign universities are waiting until the Non-State University Council Act is introduced.

We have already completed the formulation of this Act and it will be presented to Parliament soon after the Budget.

After this Act is introduced, a separate council will be formed for accreditation and monitoring of non-State universities.

Necessary steps will be taken to maintain the quality of all the offshore universities, affiliated universities and other institutions which conduct joint university programs here.

As we are aware, there are some places which offer diplomas within one or two months and give higher diplomas within three or six months. Some of them offer degrees within a year.

They cannot be allowed to do so.

According to the qualification framework formulated by the Ministry, it has clearly mentioned the number of credits and hours required for the diploma, higher diploma, degree and postgraduate degree.

All these foreign universities and other affiliated institutions should be conducted in accordance with this qualification framework. Steps will be taken to close educational institutions which are not able to maintain this standard.

Some students in Sri Lanka go to foreign universities for higher studies. They are fabulously rich and would definitely go abroad for higher studies. But some of them who go to foreign countries for higher studies have not even passed the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examination. Even if they go abroad, they do not study.

They end up with a photograph wearing a graduate’s cloak. There are graduates of this calibre in our Parliament as well. This has become a fashion among certain people in the upper segment of society and is now a social status. However, this percentage is very low.

Some others go to foreign countries for higher studies with a lot of hardship.

After they go abroad, some students do various part time jobs to continue with their education.

There is another group of students who have no ability to go to European countries instead, they go to Bangladesh, Pakistan or Nepal for higher studies. The per capita income of these countries are lower than Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka when 150,000 students are qualified at the G.C.E. Advanced Level, only 22,000 are enrolled in universities. Can we say that all these students should be enrolled in State universities.

Has it been done anywhere in the world? Even these 22,000 students are enrolled to State universities with a lot of problems. When non-State universities are established, 20 percent of Sri Lankan students will be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Z score system. This would provide the opportunity for 20 percent Sri Lankan students to enrol in higher studies in these offshore universities, foreign universities and private universities.

Q: The Opposition claims that unlike foreign universities to be set up in Sri Lanka, most of the universities in countries like the UK have not been set up with the intention of profit making and are functioning under a trust. How do you respond to this?

A: Those days some of our schools like Ananda, Nalanda, S. Thomas’ and Trinity were also established by religious organisations. Foreign universities such as Oxford and Cambridge were based on this principle.

Harvard was established with the personnel wealth of a philanthropist called Harvard and later converted into a trust.

The Malabe Medical College set up by Dr. Neville Fernando also functions under a trust.

All private universities and other advanced technological institutes commenced in recent times have been set up jointly by academics and businessmen.

That is not wrong. It has become an industry, but they don’t exploit students as certain sections claim. Today education has turned into a competitive industry and is not in the same position it was a 100 years ago. 97,000 foreign students are studying in Singapore.

Foreign students have become the third biggest revenue in Australia. More than 60 percent of students studying in Australian universities like Monash and Melbourne universities are foreign students.

If steps are taken to develop our universities, we would also be able to invite foreign students to State universities.

This would be vital for the country’s economy. It would also open avenues to Sri Lankan students to enter these foreign universities under the Z score system.

Those who go to foreign countries for higher studies would be able to study here by paying a lesser amount of money compared to the large amount of money they pay in those countries.

The total amount of money paid by a medical student to the Malabe Medical College for five years has to be spent for one year of study in America. We are going to start a series of engineering courses in the near future.

At present the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) which is a state-owned institution is making profits. Our intention is to broaden free education opportunities and further develop State universities so as to ensure free education benefits.

We should produce a graduate who has a demand. A graduate should pass out from a university with a good personality, leadership skills and positive attitudes to take over any responsibility.

As instructed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we hope to reduce 53 percent Liberal Arts to 20 percent, increase 22 percent Science to 50 percent and bring the 25 percent Management to 30 percent within the university education system.

We have made it clear to university teachers, professors and Vice Chancellors that after a graduate passes out from a university, if he or she cannot find a job, the university should be held responsible.

The Higher Education Ministry, UGC and I have already taken over this responsibility and we call upon universities to take this responsibility and work out a plan to put out employable graduates.

This same argument was put forward when international schools were going to start in Sri Lanka.

Certain sections said establishment of international schools would lead to the downfall of government schools like Ananda, Nalanda, Royal, Visakha and Devi Balika.

What happened? These schools developed even more. Aren’t these government schools above the standard of international schools? In addition this same argument was applied when private banks and foreign banks commenced here. But the establishment of private banks led to a complete change in the outlook of State banks, by turning them into more efficient and competitive business ventures. Universities such as Peradeniya, Colombo, Sri Jayawardenepura, Kelaniya, Katubedda and Jaffna are giant universities.

Wayamba, Rajarata , Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and Oluvil universities are emerging as giants. If an affiliated foreign university or offshore university is established in Sri Lanka, local universities will not collapse. State universities will definitely emerge being competitive.

Q: What is your comment on the prevailing situation in universities? What action has been taken to ensure discipline?

A: During the past 30 years, universities were controlled by students. We can recall how the JVP resorted to killing Vice Chancellors, professors and students during the 1988 and 1989 period.

They deprived even the voting rights of university students.

At university elections those days, 10 or 15 student groups contested these elections. After 1989, the right to contest at these elections was stopped by force due to the influence of the JVP-led student groups. However, we broke this monopoly created by the JVP. At present, university administration has been vested with Vice Chancellors, the Senate and the University Council. University teachers should take the responsibility now.

I am not happy with the move taken by university teachers demanding for a pay hike.

I would like to ask, has even a single university teacher come forward to ensure discipline of university students within universities? Do they extend support to vice Chancellors to stop ragging in universities? At present inhuman ragging is bring carried out within the Peradeniya university. Instead of making a huge cry to increase salaries, who are the university teachers helping Vice Chancellors to ensure discipline and stop ragging? Even today, anti-rag students are not permitted to go to the canteen or to watch a drama at the open air theatre of the Peradeniya university. These anti-rag students have been prevented from going to the library and they do not even have hostel facilities.

Why hasn’t even a single university teacher come forward and said accommodation should be given to these students who oppose ragging? There is a group of university teachers who have dedicated and criticise these activities.

There are some university teachers who speak about salaries but do not even work even an hour per month.

I would like to say that a majority of university teachers are doing well. Such university teachers, professors and senior lecturers have joined hands with the university administration to ensure discipline among students and to develop the university system.

They don’t resort to strikes. They love the university, their students and the country. I would like to call upon those who always clamour for salary increases and other privileges also to intervene to stop ragging.

The anti-rag students of Peradeniya University are not even allowed to appear for the batch photograph. Even with regard to the recent ragging faced by a student, the teachers of the Peradeniya University should have done something to ensure discipline.

Q: Various complaints are made on the deterioration of discipline among Bhikku students who study in universities specially at the Buddhashrawaka Dhamma Pithaya, Anuradhapura and Buddhist and Pali University, Homagama. Is there any truth in these complaints?

A: Discipline among Bhikku students who study at “Buddhasharawaka Dhamma Pithaya”, Anuradhapura has deteriorated.

All teachers suspended classes for nearly 200 Bhikku students.

Now, the situation within this university is under control. But a very dangerous trend is developing within the Buddhist and Pali University at Homagama. Nearly 80 percent of Bhikkus who passed out from this university have disrobed.

These Bhikkus had assaulted lay students thinking that they would expose the situation. Some of these assaulted students had been hospitalised.

this situation should change.

This university is controlled by a few Bhikku students and they should not be allowed to do so. The Bhikku students of the Inter University Students Federation who resort to this unruly behaviour within the university should be punished.

Compelling innocent Bhikku students to this kind of behaviour is a crime. Because these innocent Bhikku Students are sent to universities by Chief Incumbents with the intention of producing erudite Bhikkus. But a group of unruly Bhikku students compel innocent members to disrobe.

Over one hundred foreign Bhikkus are studying at this university. Nearly 90 percent of Bhikku students want to change the present situation. This is only an attempt made by 25 or 30 Bhikku students to disrupt education in the university. We should convert these universities into genuine Buddhist educational institutions. The attempt made by 25 or 30 unruly Bhikkus to govern Anuradhapura and Homagama universities should be stopped immediately.

Q: Do you think there is an organised attempt behind the recent incidents to disrupt education in universities?

A: Earlier the JVP was behind these incidents. Now it is only the JVP’s radical group which is behind this.

That is why some students of Vidyalankara university suffered stab injuries while another student of the Anuradhapura university had also faced a similar situation. This shows the violent nature of this radical student group. But we should put an end to this violent culture unleashed by student groups in universities. The support of university teachers is essential to overcome this situation.

I saw a group of teachers of the Arts Faculty of Peradeniya university formulating a massive report highlighting that leadership training as being a violation of the university Act and that it has become a severe problem to university autonomy. I would like to ask from these teachers whether they are aware of the harassment faced by the anti-rag students at Peradeniya university? Everyday these anti-rag students take their meals sitting on the floor of Senate House as they are not allowed to go to the canteen.

Those who talk about various theories in accordance with the University Act, do not see these inhuman acts taking place in universities.

What action have they taken regarding the recent ragging incident which took place in Peradeniya university? Some universities are ‘governed’ by extremist student groups trained by the JVP.

If an anti-rag student can’t stay in a hostel at Peradeniya university, what action has been taken on their behalf by these university teachers who talk about autonomy? Hundreds of innocent and poor children have been deprived of their right to stay in hostels as they do not agree with ragging.

What steps have been taken by these teachers to develop the mental and physical fitness of university students? When we introduce some program to address this issue, some university teachers build various arguments saying it is a violation of certain clauses of the University Act.


Courtesy: Sunday Observer