CHAOS AT SRI LANKAN UNIVERSITIES!-REFORM UNIVERSITIES BEFORE EMBARKING ON FOREIGN UNIVERSITY PROJECT!
Posted on October 24th, 2010

By DR M D P DISSANAYAKE

The tiny island of Sri Lanka has 13 Universities,   funded by the Government of Sri Lanka via the University Grants Commission. The list is stagerring, nevertheless the Universities   are known as Colombo/Peradeniya/Jayawardenapura/Kelaniya/Moratuwa/Jaffna/Open/Eastern/South Eastern/Rajarata/Sabaragamuwa/Wayamba/Uva Wellassa and Visual Arts. They are growing like rabbits in numbers, who knows by the time this article goes into publication,  there might be additional Universities.

In addition, there are 2 Universities funded by the Ministry of Education, known as Buddhist and Pali University and Buddhasravaka Bhiksu  University. Then General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University funded by the Ministry of Defence. And then, the University of Vocational Technology funded by the Ministry of Vocational and Technical Training. Then there are  6 more Graduate and Undergraduate degree offering  Institutes such as Information of Technology, Technology Studies, Surveying and Mapping, Aquinas College of Higher Studies, National Institute of Social Development and Institute of Business Management. Then there are five Postgraduate Institutes of: Management in Colombo, Archeololgy in Colombo, English in Colombo, Pali and Buddhist studies in Colombo, Development Administration in Colombo.

 Kelaniya and Jayawardenepura Universities- the trouble makers:

 Originally Sri Lanka had one University known as The University of Ceylon, which later became The  University of Sri Lanka, with its two campuses in Colombo and Peradeniya.  We also  had two elite Seminaries (Pirivenas) known as Vidyodaya Pirivena  in Gangodawila and   Vidyalankara Pirivena in Kelaniya. The  Late Hon. Prime Minister Mr S W R D Bandaranaike, in his wisdom to enhance, Buddhism, Pali, Astrology etc. upgraded these two bodies into University Status. His intentions  were very clear, concise and lucid.  He wanted Buddhist monks to enhance their knowledge of Buddhist Philosophy and promote the basic teachings our Great Gauthma Buddha to the world, to make it a peaceful place to live. He allowed laymen also to enter these two Universities

 The students (including Buddhist monks) at the Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara did not like the names of their Universities and protested vehemently boycotting classes, demonstrations etc. demanding  that the words “Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara” should be dropped and should be  called University of Sri Lanka  ( same as Colombo and Peradeniya).  In 1978 the spineless government  dropped the illustrious titles of Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara to satisfy ruthless bunch of idiotic undergraduates. Consequently, Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya  changed its name  ( in name only) from Pirivena to University and then to University of Kelaniya and Jayawardenepura. The name of original University of Sri Lanka ( Colombo and Peradeniya)   was also changed accordingly, to their current names as  University of Colombo and University Peradeniya, much to the annoyance and confusion of undergraduates, teaching staff and the world at large.

 Judging by the current status of affairs of these 2 Universities, had the Founding Pioneers of Vidyalankara Pirivena Ven Ratmalane Sri Darmaloka Thero, Sangaraja Sri Saranankara Thero, Mohittiwatte Gunananda Thero, are still living, they will be saddened to witness the demise of their great projects.  How many Buddhist monks Graduated from these two Universities are meeting the ambitions of the Founding Father of the two Universities?  In fact how many Buddhist monks who have graduated are  still Monks? Is there an Official Register to verify, if not, why?

 How many Buddhists Monks graduated are now spreading the message of Lord Buddha locally and internationally, with the caliber of Ven. Kotagama Vachissara,  Ven. Rahula, Rev. Naradha? How many laymen  graduated from these 2 Universities have reached the hallmarks of Dr W S Karunaratne, Prof. K N Jayatilleke etc.  Some of the graduates of these Universities are now in Australia, it is disgusting to listen to their Dhamma speeches, when compared with Kotagama and W S’s oratory skills.  How many Buddhists Monks can deliver the Dhamma in good English, French, German? Where is the Return on Funds invested on Buddhist Universities?   Wasn’t it a colossal waste  of public funds in the name of Buddhism? 

 When will  Sri Lanka ever produce another orator such as Wijesinghe Sugathadasa Karunaratne, with 12 language skills in all three departments, with powerful and colouful  vocabulary, is a devine pleasure to listen to him.  When I heard that WS was travelling from Kandy to Colombo to the  International  Buddhist Centre at Bullers Road, to deliver a speech,  I went from Singapore to Colombo to listen to this man and it was  a three and  a half hour  non stop session of life time extravaganza  in the presence of Ven. Madihe Panghaseeha.  

 After demolishing Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya, now we are spending more money on Buddhist and Pali University, Buddhasravaka Bhiksu  University, and Institutes of Pali and Buddhist studies in Colombo. What guarantees can the government give to the nation that at least these new bodies will not become failures as well.    If  there are no guarantees,  they should be shut down now.

 World Ranking for Sri Lankan Universities:

 Thus far University of Colombo and University of Peradeniya  have maintained their reputation for  academic excellence and are  placed in 2997 and 3041 ranking positions amongst  top 10000 Universities in the World. Moratuwa University is growing extremely well ranking 3056 position, perhaps  likely to become the Sri Lanka’s best, with only 59 points behind the mighty University of Colombo. (Of course we have to recognize the Course/Subject content between Colombo and Moratuwa Universities, and the relative co-efficient of co-relation difficulty  factor in comparing these rankings ). The most trouble making  Universities of Sri Lanka, viz. Kelaniya and Jayawardenepura are ranked 3941 and 4254 respectively.  In the order of worst to best, the  Uvawellasa, Wayamba, Rajarata,  Jaffna, Sabaragamuwa and Ruhuna are ranked: 9581, 7793, 7569, 6970, 6420, 4739 respectively in the ranking positions.  Cheers for Ruhuna, the best out of the worst lot!

 Disruption for Teaching, Cost Overruns, increase in course cost  per student increasing:

 For  all  courses  with 3 years duration the national budget forecast allows funds assuming the courses are   completed in 3 years for a given number of students enrolled.  It is common knowledge that in Sri Lanka, a 3 year course is taking as much as 5 years to complete, mainly to  disruptions to teaching by the University students. This means an additional 2 year cost over runs to the national budget, to teach the same number of undergraduates for the same course.   The Undergraduates  don’t care as funds are not coming out of their pockets!   Whether Universities conduct their regular classes or not, the government need to incur all  fixed costs.  If one batch of undergraduates takes extra 2 years to complete 3 year course, that also would mean limited offers available to the new entrants for the Year 1 with spiraling effect.

 It seems that the Boards of Management at the Universities are under threat of repeated violence by groups of JVP-UNP lead mafia.  Some of the undergraduates who failed to complete their courses and sacked from the Universities, are behind these sabotage activities, as they are jealous that the other undergraduates will  succeed in life. At present the dedicated undergraduates are afraid to go against the Unions due to intimidatory and bullying actions by the Unions affiliated to bankrupt political parties

 Introduction of foreign Universities:

 The Universities must go through a massive reform agenda before introducing foreign Universities.  The current structure is not working. The  Vice Chancellors and teaching staff lives are at great danger.   The JVP-UNP mafia  is re-grouping  and must be dealt with promptly.  Under the circumstances, if Sri Lanka were to invite foreign Universities , there is no guarantee that  non-foreign university students  will not create further chaos  and threaten the lives of foreign University undergraduates and the Management.  This risk will be factored into the  forecast costings by the prospective Universities as they need to mitigate the risks to ensure profitability.  No foreign University will come to Sri Lanka for their love for our  country.   They are coming to make money, ensuring  their forecast return on investment. The foreign Universities are not charitable institutions. They will come to Sri Lanka  after careful financial  modeling based on ” best case scenarios “”…” BCS” and  “worst case scenarios-WCS”. As a result, the prestigious Universities will charge exhorbitant  fees,(including Risk Mitigation Costs) which  only few  rich Sri Lankan parents could afford.  The second rated, low ranking Universities will then  jump into the wagon and offer much cheaper course fee structure, as their teaching costs are lower  and even repatriation of a “ƒ”¹…”marginal contribution’ from Sri Lanka to their parent University is a great “ƒ”¹…”contribution towards their fixed costs’ as they themselves are having financial difficulties.  In this way, our Sri Lankan students will be put into further chaos. Sri Lanka should not invite third class foreign Universities at any cost. (We have already established two top class Universities in Colombo and Peradeniya, and perhaps a Third in Moratuwa is a sure bet). There are many of  make-shift Universities in western countries, including Australia.  Many Indian students have been stranded in Australia operating from Melbourne, as these bogus Universities have run short of funds and closed down their faculties.   Lets not tarnish the image of Education in Sri Lanka by importing third class bogus Universities.

 The concept of establishing foreign Universities is acceptable and Sri Lanka can show-case Peradeniya, Colombo and Moratuwa as  hallmarks of achievements our great Academicians. In Education standards, Sri Lanka enjoys a healthy position amongst Asian countries. But foreign University Project should be taken out of the political agenda.  It should be properly planned, with at least 10 year Business Plan highlighting, operational cash inflows and outflows, capital expenditure and working capital funding, finance loan and finance costs repayments etc.  Target number of students for each course per year must be determined and the basis of such data must be substantiated.  A Firm of Chartered Accountants  or Chartered Management Accountants  must conduct a due diligence on the Business Plan and express a Professional opinion.    This should be a project handled at the highest professional level and ought not be rushed into.  The Higher Education Minister  Mr  S B Dissanayake was wrong to declare a time table for establishing foreign Universities in Sri Lanka, when he has not even produced a master plan for public discussion, prior to a Business Plan and Due Diligence.

 Presidential move:

 Once again, we see the President Mahinda Rajapakse remaining calm on the issue, showing himself as a weak leader.   This calmness is parallel to what the President did just before declaring an all out war against the LTTE.   But this time, the President  will not treat undergraduates as Terrorists, but  need to make drastic changes to the structure.   Many years ago, Sri Lanka had only one Minister of Education.  Now we have one Minister of Education for years 1 “”…” 12 and another for the Universities, called Minister of Higher Education.  Mr Bandula Gunawardene, the Minister of Education has so far done great deal work and his performances may be ranked “good”, but neither “very good nor excellent”.  He knows the business of education by himself, he knows how to handle the students, he knows how to handle educationists.  He is a great orator with a simple message. He has done well, compared with his previous portfolio of Trade which was a disaster.   It is the question of selecting the “right man at the right time for the right job”.

The Minister of  Higher Education Mr S B Dissanayake, did talk tough at the beginning, but so far has not produced results.    The Universities are almost getting into a situation of out of control, firm action is needed  now.

This is perhaps another  rescue mission, for the Great brother of President.  Mr Gotabhaya Rajapkse is definitely overloaded with multiple roles in an expanded version of Defence portfolio but his strategic planning and intellectuality will not be eroded if he is appointed  with the additional tasks of “Secretary without Portfolio” to  take control of “University Discipline Enforcement and Risks Mitigation”. This function is in fact Defence related.  And his deputy should be  none other than  Dr Mervyn  Silva who is an excellent trouble shooter and a brings positive outcomes.  There will be many who would object to the mention of the name of Dr MS, but such an opposition is natural and is a full credit for Dr MS. The plan is simple. And very simple. Now need to send a clear, crystal message to the Ghosts who are haunting Sri Lankan Universities.  With the new cabinet reshuffle, by  appointing  GR and MS to the above roles, the Universities, undergraduates,  its properties and the image of the University of Education of Sri Lanka will be protected from Evils, Dangers, Bad Dreams  etc.

The Buddhist perspective of morality is given in a nutshell in the little Pali verse.
“Sabbapapassa akaranam,

 Kusalassaupasampada
Sachitta pariyodapanam, etam buddhanu sasanam”

“To keep away from all evil, cultivate good, and purify one’s mind is the advice of all Buddhas.”

The Lord Buddha advised his Samanera son Rahula:   “If you wish to do a certain action, first reflect whether the action is likely to harm yourself or other or both.   If the action is likely to cause suffering, refrain from doing it. If the action is likely to cause happiness and no harm can arise from such a deed, do it again and again.”

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