Peace-loving Sinhalese Suffer Acute Discrimination in University Admissions in Silence
Posted on June 11th, 2009

Dilrook Kannangara

If a road accident occurs in Sri Lanka, it is still not uncommon that the most assertive and loud party to the accident, though the wrongdoer, has it his way. He would convince the innocent party that it is he (the innocent party) was at fault and it is beneficial for him (the innocent party) not to take the matter to the authorities. A similar thing has happened in the case of admission to government universities. Government universities are taxpayer funded and therefore it makes sense to distribute the fruits of university education right throughout the country in an equitable manner. In order to do this standardization was introduced in 1972. The Tamil Elam movement that was rampant by that time claimed that standardization was unfair by them and went to the extent of committing mass murder over it. However, in reality, Tamils were always unfairly advantaged in university admissions. At all times Tamil students in the university system far exceeded their ethnic percentage.

It didn’t end there. After various reforms, the present university admission formula fills 55% of the opportunities based on mid year population. Alas! No census was held in the seven districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Mulaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Trincomalee for 28 years after 1981. All these districts have a majority of Tamils and the districts Jaffna, Mannar, Mulaitivu and Kilinochchi only have a Tamil population after the LTTE ethnically cleansed these districts of all other communities. The war that was raging for 26 years affected these seven (7) districts very badly and forced even Tamils to leave them in large numbers. Relative population in these districts has fallen since 1981 as people migrated internally and externally in millions. This is why the use of outdated population figures unfairly favor Tamil students in these districts at the expense of mostly Sinhala students in other districts. While a Tamil can enter university from 25 districts, a Sinhalese could only enter university from 21 districts thanks to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE and other Tamil Elam groups over the years.

The table below shows district-wise population percentages rounded to the closest whole number.



  The cut-off marks (also known as z-scores) for each study stream in universities vary by districts and are based on relative population of each district. However, the massive relative drop in population in the above mentioned seven (7) districts is not recognized in the formula. The result is hilarious at best and acutely discriminatory against Sinhala students at worst.

According to the 1981 census the percentages of ethnic communities were as follows; Sinhalese – 73.8%, Tamils – 17.7%, Muslims and others – 8.5%. Muslims and others study in either Sinhala or Tamil. Tamil students excluding Muslims and others enrolled in 1982 in each faculty is given below.



Obviously there is a huge gap between the national total Tamil population percentage and the percentage of Tamils in each of the faculties. In a number of instances, the universities have more than double the national share of Tamils! This pushes the percentage of other students down. As an example, although Sinhalese were 73.4% of the population, their percentage in the Dental Faculty could not have exceeded 60%.

Based on the latest available z-scores for the admission year 2007/08 the following analysis has been performed. Out of 71 courses, the most popular 25 study courses were selected for the purpose of this analysis. The most popular 25 were selected based on the highest cut-off marks across all districts for the study course. As an example “Medicine” has the highest overall cut-off marks and hence it is the most popular study course. Engineering (MPR) comes next.

Clearly students from Sinhala majority areas have to score much more in almost all the study courses than students from Tamil majority areas. Simply put it Sinhala students have to score much more marks to enter university than Tamil students.

The study course “Peace & Conflict Resolution” has been excluded because marks required to study it is same across all districts.



As can be seen from SECTION 1 in the above table, except for the study courses, “Law”, “Quantity Surveying” and “Speech & Language Therapy” all other study courses demand that students from Sinhala majority districts obtain higher marks than students from Tamil majority areas in order to enter university. It is because of the use of outdated and wrong mid-year population statistics. On the other hand the lowest cut-off marks always belong to a Tamil majority district except in the case of “Information Technology”. Please refer SECTION 2 above.

This disparity affects very badly Sinhala students. The following table highlights their extremely unfair plight beyond any doubt. Out of the 24 most popular study courses, 21 study courses recorded the highest cut-off marks from Sinhala majority areas while it was just 3 for Tamil majority areas. In the case of second and third highest cut-off marks, this was 18 & 6 and 21 & 3 respectively. The rank of Tamil majority districts in the cut-off marks ranking is given in the last column. It is very clear that on average their rank is 7 which means the highest marks for Tamil majority areas is six steps below the highest cut-off marks for Sinhala majority areas. All this happens while sections of the Tamil community howls that the Standardization scheme unfairly affects Tamil students! This is daytime robbery!





This grave injustice to Sinhala students must end forthwith. Although the next census is due in 2011 there is no earthly reason why it cannot be held now. The 10 year cycle was not always followed and there were censuses held in 1946 and 1953. In fact following the war, the government must conduct a proper census as soon as possible and adjust the mid year population to the correct number. Only this can fix the grave injustice caused to Sinhala and Muslim students which they put up in innocent silence. Neglecting it only because they don’t kill over it is absurd logic and the right thing must be done no matter who is affected. It is wholly unfair to cross subsidize the education of a section of the population while gravely discriminating another section of the population just because a proper census could not be held for 28 years.

The Government must act on this now. Else it will be a total waste of opportunities and discrimination against the majority community as in Apartheid South Africa, Iraq under Saddam Hussein or Sri Lanka under the British.

Please circulate this to build awareness on a subject that was considered taboo even to discuss! Making good use of this silence, grave injustice was committed upon the people. Coming back to the example at the start of the article, it is time we appreciate the fact that the noisiest is not necessarily the right one; he may well be wrong and in most cases he is.

Sources: Table 1 and all population data – Department of Census and Statistics. Table 2 – Department of Census and Statistics and publications of the Ministry of Higher Education. Table 3 & 4 – compiled from data from the University Grants Commission website.

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