A Requirements Based University Admissions Policy Needed
Posted on September 30th, 2009

Dilrook Kannangara

Sri Lanka’s university admission policy has always been mired in one controversy after another. On top of that the university system is in total disarray as the Minister of Higher Education stated in parliament. Thirdly, it is a well known fact that there is a dangerous subculture in universities. These suboptimal systems have their beneficiaries. Unfortunately the nation and its people are the losers although it is their money that is at play to the tune of 20 billion rupees (US$190 million). Separatist groups cleverly exploited the fear psychosis created by them that a certain ethnic group of the population must be provided with unfairly higher university opportunities, else armed struggle! Today poor Sri Lanka is producing the professionals of rich Canada free of charge on one hand and on the other churning out graduates to the local market with no real economic prospects. 

 Primary focus of university education seems to have gone wrong as it tries to gratify the students than the nation and the national economy. Producing whatever graduate is not going to help. Graduates must be produced based on the requirement out there in the “ƒ”¹…”market’.

 Ministry of Health figures show that there were only 0.589 physicians per 1000 people in 2006. (Source: National Census of Health Manpower, 2006). Conversely it means there were 1,700 people for a doctor. This puts Sri Lanka in a very bad position incompatible with its high Human Development Index ranking and per capita income. It is incredible how this nation managed the casualties of war. This is despite the fact that Sri Lanka produces about 950 medical graduates each year at a cost of 1.5 million rupees each. (Source: UGC 2008). In addition about 150 overseas medical graduates join in the workforce every year. However, the very low physicians per 1,000 people figure continues unfettered. What is the main reason for this consistently low ratio?

Going by these percentages, it can be deduced that 10%-20% of qualified doctors/dentists migrate, having benefited from free taxpayer funded education. This is only in the medical profession. The trend applies to most university graduates, especially graduates costing higher to produce.

 Corruption worse than politicians

Producing a graduate cost taxpayers on average 1.2 million rupees excluding certain additional facilities awarded to most undergraduates. If the study course takes 4 years to complete, it costs 300,000 rupees a year. Alas! 300,000 rupees a year is higher than the average earnings of a Sri Lankan! If 250 graduates leave the country annually, it costs taxpayers 300 million rupees a year and for six years it is 1.8 billion rupees. Actual numbers may be much higher. This ranks them in par with politicians in terms of corruption. Corruption is defined as an unwarranted outflow from the system with no resultant benefits.

 Worse of all a small percentage of migrated graduates engage in anti-Sri Lankan activities abroad. It is a double whammy. Government must look into this as it is a crime against the nation and its poor taxpayers. This act of siphoning out taxpayer funds always goes undetected. Emphasis should be added that there is nothing wrong with professionals migrating abroad as it brings vital foreign exchange to the country. What needs fixing is getting the due return for the investment in whatever form.

 Discrimination and its Unseen Impact-1

Not all variables are same across the board. Disparities can be traced to ethnic groups as it has always been. Facts may surprise many who still believe in 1970s separatist propaganda. University opportunities are not available to all those who pass Advanced Level. Only a very limited number of opportunities are available in universities. Severe inequalities across ethnicity make the present admission policy discriminatory. Although 74% of taxpayers are Sinhalese, university opportunities for Sinhalas are significantly lower. In some study courses it is lower than 60%. On the other hand the present admission policy favours Tamils unfairly. Although Tamils comprised 17.7% of the total population of Sri Lanka in 1982, their numbers were 23.3%-40% in universities. The complete table is given below. (Source: UGC publications. Relates to 1982)

FACULTY PECENTAGE OF TAMIL STUDENTS NATIONAL PERCENAGE OF TAMILS EXCESS ALLOCATION
Vet Science

23.3%

17.7%

32%

Architecture

23.9%

17.7%

35%

Medicine

25.3%

17.7%

43%

Agriculture

27.1%

17.7%

53%

Bio Science

28.9%

17.7%

63%

Engineering

30.5%

17.7%

72%

Commerce

34.2%

17.7%

93%

Phy Science

38.0%

17.7%

115%

Dentistry

40.0%

17.7%

126%

 Due to the effects of war a couple of universities are inaccessible to Sinhalas and Muslims. As a result of that and also due to the spread of Tamils around the country while the concentration of Sinhalas in fewer districts than in 1981, the above percentages have worsened today. Further, the national Tamil population percentage has reduced due to mass migration.

 However, the requirements of the society are different. The society needs at least 74% Sinhala speaking doctors, dentists, agriculture graduates, engineers, etc. But the output is far less. Conversely, there is an excess of Tamil speaking graduates produced by universities due to the mismatch between the requirement and admission/output. 

 Clearly the university admission policy is discriminatory. But what are the effects of discrimination? Does this crime stop at this? Unfortunately, no.

 Discrimination and its Unseen Impact-2

Originally due to the war and subsequently due to economic pressures, a large number of Tamils have migrated to western countries. It is estimated that close to a million Tamils migrated after 1983. End of the war doesn’t make things any better for them. When relatives and friends are earning five to ten times more, it exerts enormous pressure on Tamils living in Sri Lanka to follow their successful cousins. This never ending cycle ensures continued migration of educated Tamils. As there are 3 million Tamils in the country today, and a million abroad, it means 25% of the Lankan Tamil community has migrated. In professional circles this percentage is even higher.

 Statistics aren’t available to exact the impact. Still, based on the above and available information an accurate figure can be derived. The following analysis contains professional accountants produced by the premier local accounting body.

  TAMILS NON-TAMILS TOTAL
Resident in Sri Lanka

51%

80%

75%

Resident abroad

49%

20%

25%

 Particularly this field of work has a higher tendency to encourage emigration; other fields have considerably lower incidence. Conclusion number one is – the number of Tamils migrating is twice that of others. Conclusion number two is – on average 25%-30% of all Tamil graduates migrate. National average of migration rate is much lower. 

 The third aggravating factor is lower remittances per individual in the case of expatriate Tamils than others. Main reason is most expatriate Tamils don’t have close family members living in Sri Lanka. Most of their immediate family members have also migrated.  Hence no need to remit money. In the case of Sinhalas and Muslims this is not so.

 What happens when the rate of migration among Tamil professionals is twice higher than others and when Tamils get an unfairly higher share of university opportunities? We are wasting scarce, limited and expensive resources unfairly to our own disadvantage.

 This is what is happening in Sri Lanka. Poor taxpayers are milked to the maximum to produce the professionals of rich countries with no return to them. It is not at all the fault of Tamil brothers and sisters who are making the most of the defect in the system. Fault lies in authorities for not having a fair university admission system that gives a return on investment for the nation and its poor taxpayers. 

 How to fix it?

Fixing the problem is three fold. A fair university admission policy needs to be adopted based on requirement. Country needs at least 74% Sinhala speaking professionals and at least 18% Tamil speaking professionals. Therefore it makes perfect sense to allocate university opportunities based on the language of proficiency. For practical purposes, these percentages can be calculated each year based on the percentages of candidates sitting Advanced Level examination subject to above limits.

 E.g. If in any year the total number of first time sitting bio science students equal 100,000 of which 77,000; 15,000 and 8,000 completes the exam in Sinhala, Tamil and English media respectively, university positions should be allocated this way. Vacancies in medicine, dentistry and bio sciences, should be filled by candidates who sat the exam in Tamil, Sinhala and English media in the proportion 18% (since 15% is lower than 18%); 74% and 8% respectively.

 As the percentage of English medium students increase, the allocation can also be increased with a proportionate reduction in the allocation of candidates sitting in Sinhala and Tamil media.

 This is a perfectly fair system and above all, it is a transparent system. No one would be able to allege discrimination if this system is followed. Taxpayers too get their fair share of return. But the biggest advantage of it is the matching of the societal requirement with “ƒ”¹…”production’.  

 In the same token, the number of undergraduate opportunities for study courses that offer fewer prospects in the marketplace need to be reduced while increasing opportunities for in demanded professions. Closer links with relevant industries is a must for technology courses. Identifying emerging industries and introducing new courses to harness them is a definite requirement.  

 Secondly, the financial aspect needs addressing. Graduates shouldn’t be stopped from leaving the country. Every graduate is charged a notional cost. Notional in the sense it need not be repaid if a specified number of years’ service is provided to Sri Lanka in return for free university education received. If leaving the country before that, a percentage of the cost based on the number of years of service to Sri Lanka, needs to be recovered financially. Per head cost varies from 200,000 rupees (law) to 2.2 million (dentistry) depending on the course of study. Paying a portion of this over a period of time is next to nothing for an expatriate.

 Thirdly, private medical colleges, etc. must be allowed. As shown above, approximately 150 overseas medical graduates join the workforce every year. This is 12% of total annual addition to the medical workforce. It is a significant number. Unfortunately they have to pay a colossal amount of money (also in foreign currency) to get their education. It should not be so. If private medical colleges are established, all these undue costs will be saved. Not allowing private medical colleges and other educational institutions just because unions are against it is a national crime. The government must take a broader view on this.

 Myths should not stand in the way to fair play and development but sadly, they do. There was a true story of a highway construction project coming to a standstill for days because workers were reluctant to cut down a tree said to house a spirit! Ridiculous? Not much when you consider racial allegations made by separatists on the university admissions policy. However, following the above method certainly dispels not only the possibility of discrimination but also the myth some created to extort an unfair share of limited opportunities from the silent majority.

 The popular dictum of King Parakum is very appropriate here; not an iota of our resources should be allowed to leave us without proper use.

2 Responses to “A Requirements Based University Admissions Policy Needed”

  1. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    I value this website for carrying many informative and interesting articles that are relevant to us. Obviously our so-called education system built by English for a specific objective has come a long way though it seems it is going nowhere now. As you detailed, it exactly does fulfil its intended target. I speak only for Sinhala people and have no idea what is good for any other ethnic group. For Sinhala people, knowledge is the key to life and they have every right to access their ancestral knowledge without external obstructions. Unfortunately, what we are concerned about is the education system mostly benefiting the Local English community with some remote links to native Sinhala people and with hardly any relevance to Tamils of Tamil Nadu. I see it legitimate under any type of law including Natural Law that Tamil speaking migrants and those following English are to be considered as English subjects.

    Having come through the same system and contributed so much in return, I am in a much better position to describe the gains and losses faced by the Sinhala community. In fact, it is a waste of time, money, resources and Sinhala children to pursue this education. I even feel that Sinhala kids including myself who have been through this horrible brain killing and slave-turning system should be given a chance to punish those engaged in enforcing continued presence amongst us. I wish we could use some of those engaged in maintaining this system including the ministerial fellows for ploughing paddy fields. I also would be there with them, not intended to hurt them, but to make them understand that even buffaloes need some very important physical and mental skills to do their job. This may also explain the unworthiness of the current system.

    What we need is not education that decides life and death (job or no money), but something that help us live better. Obviously, I can tell that we have already found what has to be done and are in the early stages of implementation. Unless we have a system transferring our knowledge to make children get more chances of life than their parents, we are going backward. This is the objective and the performance indicator of worthiness in education.

    My first task after taking up the first job (it has a very public history as the politicians sold it as an ongoing concern to aliens) paid back any debts for many generations (hath muth paramparawatama). With a migrant history, my real concern is the garbage that I learnt holding back my natural capabilities for a long time in a state of servility that denied my people the benefit of my services.

    It is absurd to tie education with the right to live as done today. Sinhala kids must have the right to do every subject that gives them knowledge to benefit living. It should come free from the right people. Those who have true knowledge shall never ask for money but seek the right people to depart with their knowledge. Is there anyone among you? I have to hold back any further comments here for obvious reasons.

    Only thing I do not agree with you is your saying of “myth” related to the reluctance of removing a tree for development. If you have to turn land into a desert under any circumstances, it is not DEVELOPMENT but DESTRUCTION. Only English and their followers want destruction to build a transport network, housing schemes, industries etc. For the record, we have developed a much better, faster, hassle-free, more efficient and reliable transport system for all travellers that is transferable from one generation to the next even without any natural destruction. Neither the reluctance was a myth for some reasons beyond your radar. In the name of development, the Local English community (also called Sri Lankan) including the current regime headed by strange man called MR from my own neighbourhood have done so much damage to our country, and they are all cursed. You will find soon what it really means. Education is just one of the many areas where this community is wasting our resources. The most shameful act done by this community is the spending of foreign exchange earned by poor men and women to import their personal needs. If not for these parasites installed by English, we have already corrected most of our historical shortcomings by now and live the life we always enjoy at the top.

    We have to do much better than King Parakum and I am sure we can.

  2. Samson Says:

    Very informative article. Thank you Lankaweb.com for carrying it.

    We are wasting money many ways. Education is only one area.

    A group of people blame the country for not giving them enough when actually they are getting more than what is due to them.

    This is called daylight robbery. I hope the government have the guts to stop this. When two brothers are fighting and when the stronger one grabs the other’s toys, parent interfere and share toys fairly. It should happen.

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