Increase Education Allocation to 3% after Establishing Equity and Efficiency with Focus on Primary Education
Posted on September 15th, 2012

Dilrook Kannangara

University students led by NGO activists and JVP bankrupts have launched another round of strikes. This time their demand is to raise education allocation to 6% from the present 1.9%. They credit themselves as “the most intelligent” or the “cream” of the society which is an apparent lie because they don’t seem to understand numbers and their true worth and burden. Even Japan with its very high Human Development Index allocates only around 3% of GDP to education and that is adequate. There is little argument against increasing the education spend if it benefits the nation. Bulk of the increase should go to pre-school and primary school activities, not to universities, as it benefits the nation most.

 It is not the loudest who should get money in their till, but the most deserving.

 Put into Perspective

Only less than 2% of the population get to study in taxpayer funded free universities. 98% of the population does not get this opportunity. Services provided by graduates do not come to the society as expected. With very high level of brain drain, unemployment, unemployability of some graduates due to their attitude to work and underemployment, the society does not get a sufficient return on their investment. It costs more than Rs. 3.5 million (in 2008 rupees) in direct expenses alone to produce one doctor. According to World Bank figures 33.6% (In year 2000; Source: Bhargava, Docquier, and Moullan 2010) of locally educated doctors who are the products of taxpayer funded universities leave the island annually. Why waste for their education? Why produce doctors who are unwilling to serve their poor financiers?

 On the other hand Sri Lanka (94%) must be ashamed to lag behind Maldives (97%) and North Korea (99%) in literacy rate (given in brackets). If the literacy rate can be raised to 99%, it directly benefits 5% of the population, more than double the number of university students in taxpayer funded universities and more than triple the number of graduates in the society from taxpayer funded universities! This is where bulk of the money should go. It dramatically raises the productivity of 5% of the population directly and the flow-on effect is even greater.

 Secondary education should also be raised to a better standard with better English skills to at least 30% of the population. These actions vastly benefit the nation and more people.

 Trade schools and privately run apprenticeships should also be helped.

 Fix the Holes in the University Bucket before Pouring More

The university money bucket is leaking badly. A very large percentage of graduates of taxpayer funded universities leave the country annually. It cost Rs. 3.5 million to produce a doctor, Rs. 4 million for a dentist and all other graduates cost in excess of half a million rupees in 2008 terms. Most expensive graduates have the highest brain drain rate. If 50 free-university-produced doctors leave the country annually, it is a Rs. 175 million loss every year. Added to the cost of other graduates who leave the island, the total loss to the nation easily tops half a billion rupees annually. If this money can be recovered, and re-injected to the universities, it will increase the university allocation by 3% to 5%.

 There should be no restriction for graduates to leave the country. They should be encouraged to leave if they so wish. However, they must be required to pay back what they consume proportionately to the years of service they provided to the nation with a maximum of 5 to 10 years. If they leave thereafter, there is no need to pay anything. A graduate leaving the country soon after graduation must pay the full cost of his/her university education. Such a system can produce more graduates without burdening taxpayers. From the point of view of the expatriate graduate, paying it back is no big deal as they recover it within less than a year. Even the richest governments in the developed world don’t pay for the education of graduates. It is a system that works well.

 The argument that migrated professionals send money back to the country makes little sense in relation to universities. Simply, they don’t send money to the universities and their loved ones who get the money don’t give a share to the universities either!  

 Strikes cost universities dearly. If the annual university allocation is Rs. 20 billion, a day’s strike costs Rs. 77 million. If the university allocation is doubled without any guarantee of stopping strikes, it will cost Rs. 154 million a day of strike! Those who strike work and boycott classes have not made any guarantee they will not strike or reduce strikes. Until they make such a guarantee and adhere to it, there is no justification to pour more in to this holed bucket. If they go back on their word, the allocation should be reduced to save losses.

 Unintended Structural Discrimination Must Stop

Taxpayer funded universities do not reflect the ethnic composition of the nation. There is unintentional structural discrimination in most popular study streams like medicine, engineering, commerce and computer science. Although every citizen pays his/her share of tax, they don’t stand equal chance of getting free university education. Upcountry Tamils (4% of the population) and Muslims (10%) of the population are heavily underrepresented in these popular faculties. Sri Lankan Tamils (10% of the population) are overrepresented in taxpayer funded universities. This anomaly must be corrected by introducing island wide ethnicity based standardisation based on census records. That will ensure every ethnic group gets their proper share in universities.

 Even the parliament’s composition reflects the national ethnic composition which is remarkably fair. It must be replicated in universities.      

 It is no secret students sitting GCE Advanced Level exams and examiners belonging to a certain ethnic group use certain unscrupulous practices to gain favours for their community. Ethnicity based island wide standardisation will immediately stop large scale cheating that happens today.

 Another objection is the disparity it may cause to various ethnic groups. It is the price of equity and fairness. Disparities in cut-off marks between ethnic groups (if any) would result from cheating as there is no other reason for such a disparity. No ethnic community is more intelligent than another. However, the cut-off marks will eventually converge as students realize that cheating does not ensure success and when the community takes action within itself as it ultimately loses by cheating.  

 It has a double benefit for the nation. Underrepresented ethnic groups (Upcountry Tamils and Muslims) have the lowest brain drain rate and overrepresented Sri Lankan Tamils have the highest brain drain rate. Equitable representation will reduce the overall brain drain rate benefiting the nation. It will teach the Sri Lankan Tamil community to take on responsibility not just rights. Universities should not produce freeloaders.

 When taxpayer funded universities reflect the national ethnic composition, the whole world can see the bluff of discrimination allegations.

 Pay More to University Dons and Their Research

University dons must be compensated more. It should not be world class but should match the best in the South Asian region. They may be provided with a vehicle, housing and children’s education subsidy. Their research work must be funded completely. Otherwise they leave the country or become NGO pawns intent on subversion and disruption. At the same time, they must be subjected to the same laws others abide by.

Their exposure to industry and world developments must be raised drastically. 

 Increase the Intake and Allocation of the Kandawala Defence University (KDU)

KDU has become a tertiary education success story. Its silent services to the nation have mostly gone unnoticed. Unlike other taxpayer funded universities, KDU products serve the nation with loyalty. Every rupee invested in KDU is worth in gold as it comes back to the nation. All KDU graduates serve the nation for a stipulated period of time or payback their cost. The discipline they show while studying and after graduation is the envy of all other taxpayer funded universities; to say the least. Their graduates don’t hesitate to serve in the most difficult areas with dignity and respect. KDU graduates earned the respect, praise and even worship of the LTTE supremo’s sick mother.

 KDU is an education goldmine that must be exploited further by increasing the intake and allocation. As the war has ended, there is no need for increased defence study graduates. Their numbers may be maintained at current levels. But there is a dire need for doctors, engineers, dentists, technicians and computer technicians. Youngsters of all ethnic backgrounds flock to KDU as the war has ended. Their intake must be doubled and so should the budget allocation.

 How to Raise the Money?

No proposal is complete without specifically laying out how the funds will be raised. Most initiatives above are self-financing that don’t burden taxpayers. What’s proposed by academics makes some sense. Exuberant government spend must be reduced and tax collection must be streamlined. However, replacing government waste by university or brain drain wastage makes no sense at all. That is why the leaking bucket of university education must be fixed first.

 This island nation of just 65,610 square kilometres is over-governed. At the national level there are the institutions of the President, the parliament, Cabinet of Ministers and deputy ministers, and, non-Cabinet Ministers. Underneath them power devolution units include Provincial Councils, Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. Bypassing devolution units are the decentralization units including GS and GN divisions and Samurdhi officials. All this in addition to a humongous public service. There is no need for so many governance structures. Cutting down on the needless structures can save billions.

 Finally, money should go to where most people benefit and the nation. It is not the loudest protester who should get the money but the most deserving.       

3 Responses to “Increase Education Allocation to 3% after Establishing Equity and Efficiency with Focus on Primary Education”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Just to add my 2 cents worth of contribution. The Government should establish a body to coordinate Universities, Private sector companies and Government. By doing that, valuable research which usually conducted by private sector using sophisticated laboratories with expensive instrumentation, can be directed to Universities, which will be available at Universities and pay them. This will encourage even the research students. This way it will benefit for both institutions and the government should monitor and make available resources need for coordination. Instead of being a burden on government most Science faculties etc. can raise funds on their own, at least a certain percentage. Even Business faculties can conduct training to private companies, corporations etc and raise funds.
    Probably Jayawardenepura Uni may be doing this already. The problem with our people is the regimental foolish British approach we adopt to everything in Sri Lanka, not thinking outside the square.

  2. Sirih Says:

    Asking 6% of GDP distort the whole issue.. They should look into percentage of govt. expenditure to get true figures and although high level Uni teachers are compensated, low level teachers are still well below the accepted norm when it come to salaries.
    Red herring is not just salaries but overall package cost should be in the equation. Why are they asking funding for their children to be educated in private schools in Colombo?

  3. nandimitra Says:

    The whole altitude towards education is a disgrace. In a world where education is a human right, a right we all enjoyed since free education was started by Kannangara , to reduce the subsidy on education whilst spending billions to educate the children of the elite abroad is a poor reflection on the rulers . Depriving a decent education for the children of this country has no excuses.

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