Why have our Universities failed?
Posted on July 5th, 2020

By Garvin Karunaratne

I would like our authorities to give deep thought to the salient points I have raised in an earlier paper of mine. 

Our country is deeply in debt today by blindingly following the IMF

It is sad that our dons in econ, the real people that matter on this subject are silent.

I would kindly request our professors of economics to rethink strategies and consider a move to commence studies on the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF, following which our country became indebted.

This is not a subject in any university and the first university to commence studies will gain immense prestige.  It will also help all Third World countries.

Why have our Universities Failed?

By Garvin Karunaratne

I am a product of both Universities- Colombo and Peradeniya, entering Colombo in 1950 and ending at Peradeniya in 1954.

In the initial period, called the Golden Age, our University did shine and it held personages like Dr Malalasekera and Dr Ediriweera Sarathchandra, who I think were in a super class, inspiring all of us.

Since then our Universities have been falling back.  The World Ranking of Peradeniya is 2044 while Colombo ranks 2191. Even by the QS(QuacquarelliSymonnds) ranking of Asian Universities Peradeniya ranks at 242 while Colombo ranks 156.

The problem today is that Peradeniya as well as our other Universities have concentrated more on teaching, whereas the emphasis should have been wider- a contribution to the country and also to the world. To my mind the many ills of our country today- its foreign debt that has gradually built up, the poverty that engulfs the people etc. deserve attention by our University dons.

In a discussion with my contemporary the late Professor A.V.Suraweera, I was told that a major difference between then and now is that the vibrant relationship that we students then had with the Faculty members are not existent now because most professors decamp the campus after their lectures. Then the Faculty happened to be a part of us throughout. I learnt my econ ideas from Dr GVS de Silva though I was not a student in econ.  The Faculty members inspired us. We were bonded ; they would always give us a lift if they passed us in their cars and they would even invite us for a morning drink of meera(sweet toddy), evening tea or dinner. In the Kandy town samasamaja poster pasting campaign, done discreetly at midnight, which was a weekly event, we worked using the cars of Faculty members.. There were many informal sessions like learning Bengali songs at Dr Sarkar’s residence, Nadagam songs at Dr Sarathchandra’s, where Faculty and students  participated informally. There were faculty members who could have commanded hundreds of us impromptu. That was a great relationship that inspired us and was an essential part of campus life which appears missing today. At Michigan State University too, where I was a doctoral student, we were close associates of professors. They went out of their way to look after our well being.

To deal with another aspect, it so happens that Sri Lanka is perhaps the only Third World country that has free tertiary education. It is incumbent therefore  that university education should make a contribution to the development of Sri Lanka. Instead, our universities have kept away from development. I quote specific instances:

At Matara I was the Government Agent in 1971 and we were concentrating on creating employment for our youth. We had to attend to the import substitution type of industry and I had a raw graduate in chemistry from the University of Colombo as my Planning Officer. That was his first appointment. I directed him to find the art of making crayons. In an earlier posting of mine as Deputy Director of  Small Industries I had to approve small industries and in that I had seen many items being made. I knew the ingredients, the process but little of the proportions. I told him what I knew and he,  aided by  Science teachers conducted a myriad experiments closeted in the science lab at Rahula College, the most equipped science lab in the District, after school hours. In about a month we got somewhere but the product was far from satisfactory. Vetus Fernando, the Planning Officer sought my approval to go to his professors at the Chemistry Department of the University of Colombo from which he had graduated a year earlier. I was elated and approved the request and he went off enthusiastically. Vetus approached all the lecturers, spent three days going behind them beseeching advice but was turned away. He was told that they were too busy in lecturing,  marking answer scripts and tutorials. Vetus came back with his tale of woe, a broken down man. I was not going to take it lying down. The refusal made us more determined than ever. We doubled on endless experiments and in around a month we found the formulae to make crayons. We perfected it. A Crayon Factory was established at Morawaka and sales were opened by Minister Subasinghe, the Minister of Industries. Minister Illangaratne when he saw the crayons we made insisted on my establishing a factory at Kolonnawa. Coop Crayon   had islandwide sales and became the flagship industry of the DDC Programme. In the USA any State University would have waited for such an opportunity. Any ailing industry would be closely studied- credits given to a few students who will be assigned that task and professors will ensure success. That is a great role of the State Universities in the USA.

It is  important to note that the success of the American economy of today is ascribed to the services provided by the Land Grant State Universities– the State universities that took charge of development in addition to teaching. University Teaching was related to achievement in actual practice, a task in which  our Universities failed.

Our country has since the late Seventies moved from a self sufficient, self reliant economy that had no debts,  to a country that following the IMF has today piled up a foreign debt of some $ 60 billion. In the Fifties the entire Gal Oya Development Scheme was built with the funds that Sri Lanka held. Not a cent was borrowed.

Sri Lanka became a debt ridden country when from  1978 she followed the IMF teachings to be liberal in spending foreign exchange, allow imports freely and when the expenses exceed demand, was advised to borrow and continue spending. This was the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF which was the conditionality to which every country that wanted Aid had to agree to. The IMF has plodded on for four decades, while none of the erudite dons in our Universities dared to critique and prove the ridiculous nature of the IMF teachings. Instead, they played poodle to the IMF.   In 1996 I addressed the dons in the Economics Department at Peradeniya in a lecture on what the IMF was doing to Sri Lanka by imposing its Structural Adjustment Programme. That was to be the beginning of a Visiting Lectureship for me. I came back to Sri Lanka in 1995 and hoped to get engaged in something worthwhile. None of them confronted my views. That lecture also ended my Visiting Lectureship perhaps because the dons felt that I was indoctrinating them with anti IMF and World Bank ideas. I rewrote the lecture and got it published in 1977: Microenterprise Development: A Strategy for Poverty Alleviation and Employment Creation in the Third World: The Way Out of the World Bank and IMF Stranglehold. (Sarasavi). That is  the first book contesting the IMF teachings. Professor Jeffery Sachs spoke of the detrimental effects of the IMF only in 2005 in his book The End of Poverty. That was  a passing reference stating that African countries were actually better off  before the inroads of the IMF and the World Bank. And later still the cat came out of the bag with John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman where he confessed to have designed Aid Packages where the projects not only failed but also somehow shunted back the Aid sent to the Donor Countries.  That type of programme was a planned method  of the IMF and such institutions  to make  our countries indebted!

Dons not only at Peradeniya but worldwide have kept away from critiquing the Milton Friedman economics that underlie the IMF’s policies. The only  notable exception is Professor Waldon Bellow of the University of Philippines. .Professors Stiglitz and Jeffery Sachs have been critical of the policies of the IMF but they only make criticisms but never get into finding an alternative path. They were themselves in the pay of those Institutions and failed to fathom the detrimental effects that their policies would bring to the Third World countries.

I can understand why the dons of Developed Country Universities have desisted from critiquing the IMF’s policies because it is the IMF policies in implementation that have seen droves of students flocking to their Universities using the liberal use of foreign exchange that is borrowed. In that process it is the fees that these students pay that help many universities to survive. Some top ranking universities in the UK have even reduced the entry criteria to grab students. The students also take away foreign exchange for their upkeep. The IMF policies ensure that the Aid given to our countries and the dollars we get on loans somehow move  back to the Developed Countries(the donors) leaving the country that borrowed in debt. This is sad story narrated in mybook: How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development (Kindle/Godages: 2017)

It is time that one of our leading Universities  takes on this mantle of delivering the Third World Countries from the clutches of the IMF and that itself will bring great worldwide prestige to any of our Universities. Our Universities at Colombo or Peradeniya, our best equipped and ideally staffed Universities will be thrust to the stature of the Ivy League if only they will dare to take on this  challenge. That task could be achieved within a year or two.

I do hope that my Alma Mater the Universities-Peradeniya or Colombo will take on this subject, develop a course structure and conduct research on this subject. They can be the first in the world if they dare. That will also help our Motherland and other Third World countries to find a New Paradigm for Development.

Garvin Karunaratne

B.A Peradeniya 1954, M.A. Peradeniya 1958

M.Ed. Manchester, M.Phil. Edinburgh & Ph.D. Michigan State University

30 th January 2018

One Response to “Why have our Universities failed?”

  1. aloy Says:

    When the country fails the universities also fail. Why the country failed was because a set of Colombians (or the so called kalu suddhas) who had no knowledge or regard for the country did everything against it including changing the name of country to an Indianized mound of earth. They crept into Mrs. B’s government and did everything against the country including use of country’s youth against it. That is how we got JVP and it continues until today; they need some minor incident anywhere in the world to create mayhem on our roads.

    As for economics, see how the west (or their allies in the east are on top. It is the technology and not the theories that various people put forward from time to time that keep them on top. And none of them will give it to us for free. In the mean time our enemies will make sure that we do not get via the universities by creating troubles there. Is there any university in our country which has a research programme with any of the top universities in the US like Berkeley, Stanford etc. who are at the forefront of technological development.

    Both S. Korea and Taiwan are at the present stage of development of the efforts of few individuals. In the case of S. Korea it was Samsung and in the case of Taiwan the pioneer was the guy who established TSMC.

    We are still groping in the dark. Those guys who re occupying the top slots in places like ICTA are mere mediocres who wouldn’t allow any progressive work to take place; they only want to give clearance for politicos to award contracts for imports and get pat on the back (awards) Just ask the innovations these guys have made although they have been occupying top slots for donkey years.

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