TEN PROBLEMS – ONE SOLUTION
Posted on November 28th, 2011

By Ian

The President in his speech at the Southern Expressway said that this could be a beginning of building of a modern society. He also mentioned that had there been such an expressway linking the north with the south the divisions the extremists would not have succeeded in capitalizing the mistrust among the communities.  Subsequent documentary mentioned that it will bring benefits to villages as opposed to the claims of skeptics that the Expressway would divide the villages. These slogans gave me a boost of dozen of Red Bull’s realizing that our leaders are once again capable of strategizing.

After a heavy mid day meal I was relaxing on my LAZYBOY, contemplating on the the strategic thinking mode of the government which was the first time after the conclusion of the war. I learned from the evening news that the President has summoned a urgent brainstorming session of the big brains of the land namely the Secretary of Defense, Governor of the Central Bank, The Secretary to the Treasury, The Minister and the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education, and all ministers who hold of doctorates, and also few bigwigs of the infamous bid for commonwealth games. The reporter went on to say that, like the expressway, the team is supposed to find one common magic solution to multitude of issues faced by the country such as; 

  1. Disparity in access to higher education.
  2. Issues on salaries of University Dons.
  3. Resistance to private degree awarding institutions as they are not accessible to the poor.
  4. Massive annual outflow of dollars for overseas education of the children from International Schools.
  5. Issues with sending low end workers (nannies & housemaids) to foreign countries.
  6. Limitations in the avenues of significantly increasing the remittances by the expatriates.
  7. The need of development of another significant and sustainable source of income to the country in addition to produce, tourism, foreign remittances.
  8. Inability to get high end FDI’s due to lack of employable graduates.
  9. Corporate sector complaining of lack of employable graduates while the organization of unemployed and under employed graduates is one of the groups with largest membership.
  10. Having to make good on the promise of making the country the Miracle of Asia.

Once the brain storming session was over and the team was coming out of the room, like the eyes of the Minister of Higher education, my eyes too followed the shapely female coordinating secretary walking in imitation of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the famous L’Oreal advertisement. To my amazement our Rai was to proclaim the success of the session with the pay off line a “Ten problems one Solution”

In the press conference that followed the eminent persons went on to recommend to the President a three pronged magic solution comprising 1. Comprehensive Student Loan scheme similar to what is in operation in Australia and New Zealand by allocating Rs. 200 billion from EPF, ETF, and state banks as seed capital, 2. Establishing knowledge parks close to each of the inter changes of the new expressway 3.  Inviting large state sector companies, banks and large private sector companies to fast track the establishment of Universities with 30:70 mix of foreign and local faculty and 30:70 mix of foreign and local students and awarding degrees in high demand categories such as Medicine, IT, Electronic Engineering, Software Development,  Nursing, etc. While the evergreen governor led the train dance around the podium, the no nonsense secretary of defense was explaining the details such as;

  1. Establishment a Higher Education Fund with EPF, Inland Revenue and Immigration Departments together managing it to ensure high level of recover
  2. Based on the performance in GCE Advanced Level, 50 “”…” 75,000 students (apart from the 25,000 who get admission to universities) to be eligible for loans ranging from Rs. 250,000 to Rs. 800,000 a year for 3-5 years depending on the duration of the degre
  3. The loans are given only to study in local universities and not for education in foreign universitie
  4. The loans are only made available to children whose parents’ income is lower than Rs. 1.2 million per year.
  5. The proceeds of the loan to be paid direct to the University at the beginning of each semester.  Only 2 additional semesters for the whole duration of the degree will be allowed extra in the cases of failure to complete the requirements. This will reduce the non productive non academic activities o the students
  6. The state sector Universities embark on immediate capacity expansion on borrowed funds while few selected public and private sector establishments are also invited to set up formal Universities with state recognition. A Regulatory Authority is established to set standards and regular monitoring quality and compliance
  7. Once the graduate is employed 10% of the income will be deducted at source as repayment of the student loan. The contribution to EPF & ETF which is approx 20% 25% (including employer contribution) can be reduced to 10% to 15% until the loan is fully paid. Hence there will not be a change of the amount the employee receives as the net salary.

The Secretary of Defense also mentioned that the committee has not agreed to the request made by a good doctor form Kelaniya to sub-contract the recovery of defaulted student loans to him. I was also pleased to hear that several local and foreign based Sri Lankan millionaires who had benefitted from the Sri Lankan higher education system have come forward to donate Rs. 2.5 million each to the higher education fund as their “ƒ”¹…”repayment’ of their dues to the country. The government with a view to appreciate the gesture and to honor them with “ƒ”¹…”Dehsaguna’ medal which I was told means that “ƒ”¹…”gratitude to the nation’ and do not have any reference to the metrological department’s failure to predict the recent cyclone conditions.

 Few Years after this magic solution was ceremonially implemented, in 2018 or so the President and the Minister of Finance was delivering his 14th budget speech and was explaining its success as.

  1. The output of the skilled employees in the country has increased resulting in higher living standards, higher demand for goods and resultant additional job creation
  2. The country has become the supplier of skilled labor such as Doctors, Nurses, IT experts, Engineers and Accountants to the world as opposed to nannies, and housemaids. This also has resulted in a massive upgrade of the standard of living in these families and this too has ended up creating additional demand for goods and jobs
  3. Massive leap in the foreign exchange reserves due to substantial increase in remittances from overseas employment and savings on foreign exchange spent on overseas education.
  4. Increase in high-end FDI rather than low end skill based FDI’s and higher contributions to EPF & ETF due to higher salaries due to higher level of employment.
  5. Due to additional (fee paying) students State Universities has had additional cash flows and profits that has been used to increase the capacities for the free education segment from 25,000 a year to 50,000 a year.
  6. Similar to the Southern Expressway the knowledge parks at the inter changes has brought development to the areas the new Universities are established providing large number of employment opportunities. In fact knowledge cities (with 5-6 universities) are now located near the Inter Changes of the Expressway making such universities easily accessible for local and foreign students.
  7. The families, friends or the foreign students have given a boost to the tourist arrivals by increasing the number to 3 million.

About this time the government MP’s who were doing the now customary tradition of chasing of the opposition members out of the parliament during the budget speech re-entered, the chamber and took their seats. Needless to say I was so pleased with the success of the magic solution but felt cheated when my son woke me up to the reality of TV news full of mundane and micro issues.  Naturally that made me do the hand gesture that made Russian news Caster Tatyana Limanova, famous.

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