What Sri Lankan university students should remember at all times (Updated)
Posted on October 23rd, 2010

Shenali Waduge

When less than 23,000 students are eligible for higher studies in the 15 state universities in Sri Lanka one would expect these students to not only value their placement but do their utmost to successfully complete their studies that would facilitate further education or their ability to enter employment.

 This is not what is taking place in Sri Lanka’s universities.

 Let us discuss the issue at hand without bias. Education in Sri Lanka is state funded & offered free upto university level. Additionally free textbooks & school uniforms are provided. There are 10,390 government schools, 33 non-fee-levying assisted private schools, 33 fee-levying private schools and plenty of international schools some BOI approved while others are not. In addition to the 15 state universities there are medical schools, engineering schools, law schools, technical & vocational training schools & the national college of education. Admission to undergraduate studies has been based on the Advanced Level results & the Z-score. A dual criteria is adapted for selection to university. Merit on all island basis plus merit on district basis qualifies students for selection to the university. District basis merit is primarily as a result of disparities in educational facilities. [40% based on Z-score, 55% based on district merit, 5% educationally disadvantaged, 1-2% special admission. However, Arts, Indigenous Medicine, Fine Arts & Law admissions are on all island merit basis] While around 15% may actually qualify to enter university 85% though qualified end up having to choose alternative means of continuing higher studies.

 In 2009, of the 240,000 students who sat for Advanced Levels 130,000 qualified for higher education, 40,000 applied for higher education, 22,000 qualified for university education, 3000 entered higher technical education, 2000 joined BOI education centers while 6000 opted to go abroad for studies. Thus we see that not only affluent but middle class families are also opting to send their children overseas for higher studies while others enroll their children for professional courses such as CIMA, SLIT, CIM etc..

 In a country offering state-funded education and ensuring higher education criteria does not deny entrance to less privileged students why cannot these students take optimum use of the opportunity given to them?

 Given that the majority of university students come from less privileged backgrounds one would expect these students to be hardworking, determined & committed towards completing their studies, given that their parents toil to earn something extra to pass on to their unemployed children to meet expenses related to purchase of books, clothes etc. why are these students disappointing their parents?

 While, we do not accuse all students of indulging in activities that go contrary to what they are meant to be doing in university, we realize that a small minority rule prevails and this minority has been having their way for many years. This small minority has now turned into a cult like movement harmful to all those that come their way.

 While we shall explore the political association in the next paragraphs, what is important for students to remember is who they are, where they have come from and to ask themselves where do they want to end up?

 Political affiliations no doubt may bring them into prominence as student leaders “¦but these affiliations certainly have their drawbacks. Most of the political parties that entice university students use their innocence to get their dirty work done. Brainwashed youth are easy to handle, in their youthful years. Political parties find it easy to portray injustice, demands of equality, and slogans of freedom because they tap the emotional weaknesses of these youth. It is easy for these political parties to target the youth’s anger towards richer establishments. More often than not students from affluent backgrounds who qualify to enter universities are reluctant to enter for fear of becoming the target of anger slogans. Not being privileged is not anyone’s fault & it is unfair & unjust to wage war on those born affluent. They did not ask to be born that way. No one is to blame for the manner in which we are born. We, especially university students and most importantly the university student federations must come to terms with that first of all. By shouting slogans, using foul language against those privileged is unlikely to change anyone’s status quo.

 However, with proper determination, a focused plan & a will power, any person can rise up in life and end up in better circumstances. This is what students of todays universities need to be reminded at all times. Blaming people for one’s predicament is going to get no one anywhere. Dressing in rags, forcing the few affluent who enter universities to be ridiculed & shamed is unlikely to lead these students far either. But this seems to be the trend & it is clear that the majority of these university children because of their less-privileged backgrounds their inferiority & the complexes that they suffer from is what is making them aggressive individuals. This type of aggression & unfair reactions to reality is bound to lead them towards their own downfall.

 In many of the corporate environments to which under programs like the Tharuna Aruna undergraduate students have been placed, companies are utterly disappointed with the outcome. The common grievances have been that the newly joined undergraduates are not proactive, only desire to fulfill their rights, do not wish to do work other than what they have been assigned to do & lack innovation & creativity. This is no surprise, the quality of the students passing out have dropped drastically. Not only do they lack a sense of confidence they are bloated with a sense of feeling they rule the world. That is largely because of the manner in which they have been molded into by these student unions that think they own the universities. Shouting, protesting and outwardly projecting a “no care” approach will end up in a no-win situation for these students while completely ruining the opportunity to make the best of their youth and causing much heartache to their poor parents who anxiously look upon their children to better their living standards.

 Student unions are not meant to be forums for politics. A university & unions together with students & lecturers, are meant to discuss, indulge in dialogue, take part in debate on ideologies etc but they are not meant to function as stooges for political parties to carry tins & collect funds, to paste posters on other people’s walls, to be violent & attack people or property? These are totally unethical practices that need to be stopped forthwith. If university authorities have Acts to prohibit ragging which have been signed by student & parents at the time of admission why have the University authorities not dismissed students indulging in ragging? One or two dismissals will forever put an end to ragging of the nature that is intolerable & inhuman. Why did ragging ever have to go beyond a simple song, a short dance, a skit, an innocent tease etc”¦what type of humans glory in watching fellow humans in pain, being humiliated & ridiculed”¦this is no better than how prisoners of war were treated by US troops in secret videos that were released in 2004. Nothing but sadism at its best.

 It is certainly time for all university students to be reminded of who they are, where they have come from and to remember at all times that political parties will make use of their innocence only as long as they are useful for their agendas. Do any of these political parties guarantee job opportunity? Do any of these political parties look after their families? In the end these students who have wasted their time in university, indulging in politics without concentrating on studies will if lucky pass out without learning much in terms of values needed for the working world & so their only alternative remains to demand jobs from the Government.

 These students & parents must again be reminded that it is only upto university level that state funds are allocated. NO GOVERNMENT IS RESPONSIBLE OR BOUND TO PROVIDE EMPLOYMENT TO GRADUATES. The mistake that politicians have done is to use “employment” as a slogan to obtain undergraduate votes & their vote has been tied to a promise of employment. The Government needs to clarify this clearly and ensure that its parliamentarians do not give false hopes to university students. The pitfall of such promises & actually providing employment is that totally unsuitable graduates end up taking up professions such as teaching, nursing etc“¦ bringing the public sector into further disrepute amongst the masses. This trend must stop, unless the Government should formulate some kind of “compulsory training” program in state sector.

 While it is unfair to blame the universities alone, we must add that the quality of the teaching/lecturing has also deteriorated. Lecturers are more interested in advancing their own studies than actually desiring to provide a service that the state pays them to do. In part this may be due to the lack of enthusiasm by the students who prefer to stage protests without attending lectures, attacking faculty members & destroying property, nevertheless the university authorities should have seen these irregularities and immediately addressed them without merely blaming the students and shrugging off their own commitment towards advancing higher education in Sri Lanka.

 It is also upto these university authorities to have taken upto higher levels in the Government the need to uplift university facilities, university premises, student classrooms, hostels etc..had some basic comforts been provided for the students much of these grievances would have been allayed at least the authorities would have had grounds to demand why students were protesting when funds had been allocated & spent on providing better facilities to them. Thus, the university authorities, together with the UGC, Higher Education Ministry officials need to accept their own share of accountability. Once again, we return to the need for public officials to take the mantle of their roles & responsibilities more seriously instead of clocking in & out of work. A sense of passion for their own work and a sense of doing something better is what today’s public officials lack but need. A simple productivity program across Sri Lanka’s public sector would do wonders & transform lethargies towards best practices but it would need the commitment from all.

 University students today must be repeatedly told that they are attending university on their merit when scores of others who have also been selected could not enter due to lack of space. These students must be reminded that if they want to go on the roads to protest & picket then they might as well give up the golden opportunity given to them and join these political parties enticing them and allow another more deserving student to make use of the opportunity to study.

 Again students also need to be reminded that in a global village it is desirable that they learn English. Even state sector functions in English today, all commercial transactions take place in English, even the Pettah shop owners know the importance of English for they cant order goods in Sinhala or Tamil. This is the simple truth.

 We must protect the Sinhala language but at the same time the simple truth is when political parties insist on Sinhala Only, what they are actually doing is denying the opportunity for a Sinhalese graduate to actually progress in life and advance his career. These political parties are actually denying progress to Sinhalese youth. Learning English, studying in English does not equate to giving up or forgetting Sinhala language. There have been plenty of parliamentarians responsible for promulgating Sinhala only for Sri Lanka’s student populace while their own children have been sent to learn & study in English. This is hypocrisy at its best once again.

 What is advised of students and their parents is that no one loves you but your own and the sooner students realizes this it would be easier for them to decide how they want to chart their life & studies.

 It would be nice to see Sri Lanka’s universities return to the prestige it held in yonder years, today not only the quality of students have dropped so too have the faculty & the surroundings as well.

 University students need to wake up & realize it is upto them & them alone what they make out of life”¦.political parties, student unions may give a few thousand rupees for protesting on their behalf, paint to make banners etc”¦.but this will not secure them employment. Students enter universities not just to pass out somehow”¦.university is a place of learning..not just books..but about life,”¦about the many types of people that exist”¦the manner they need to adapt & adopt themselves”¦.moreover university students should not aspire just to get a simple pass after years of suffering to complete their studies because their concentration has been elsewhere”¦they must aim for the best of results, to understand the course they have chosen, to find new theories, to explore”¦.these are what students should be doing & certainly not the types of which we are witnessing on media.

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