Wasting the money allocated to education
Posted on October 9th, 2012

Prof. Rajiva WijesinhaCourtesy The Island

A couple of days back I predicted that the FUTA strike would soon be resolved by yet another increase in the salaries of university staff, with no correctives with regard to the grave problems now facing our education system. Recent reports in the papers suggest that this will indeed be the case.

That would be tragic, for it would provide yet another instance of state resources being squandered. Salaries should be paid in terms of work done, and sadly there is no system at present to ensure that university lecturers actually work satisfactorily for the salaries they earn. Of course it could be argued that this is true of other public servants too, but other public servants are not paid so well.

I should note that some, and indeed perhaps many, university lecturers do work hard. Amongst them, I was sure, having met him, was the FUTA Head Dr Dewasiri, who seemed to me an idealist. Certainly, in the last period for which statistics are available, he has taught for 378 hours per semester.

This is in marked contrast to several of his colleagues in the Arts Faculty in Colombo. In one Department 15 out of 17 had been assigned 90 hours or fewer per semester, ie 6 hours a week, in one semester. Some of them did more in the second semester, but never more than ten hours per week. Two, though, I should note, did ten or more in the first semester.

In the Peradeniya Arts Faculty I was sorry to note that English academics seemed the most leisured, with no one getting to over 100 hours per semester except for one person who did 150, having come in in the second semester. A more senior person, having been on sabbatical in the first semester, managed 18 hours in the second, which is just over 1 hour a week.

In the USJP Science Faculty, only 4 people out of 81 taught for more than 100 hours in even one semester. 4 persons did not have lectures assigned, while several had 15 or, in one case, just 10. In Moratuwa, by contrast, which I have long considered our best university, in the Faculty of Architecture, most had over 200 hours per term.

I could go on for hours, and perhaps I should, because it seems that I am the only person to have realised that the number of hours taught by all lecturers should be tabulated, and used as a Management tool. A year ago, at the Committee on Public Enterprises, we told the UGC to provide a schedule, which it seems had not been thought of by them previously. It took them several months to send it, which suggests that the universities had not thought of this either.

Sadly, when it reached COPE, in April, we were not told about this. Since the sub-committee responsibilities had been changed, I had not been to a meeting with the universities till today, and that was only by accident, because a Consultative Committee had been cancelled, without my being informed.

I was astonished to find that the UGC had done nothing with the schedule. They had wanted advice, it seemed, from COPE. Since they had not asked however, and since none of my colleagues seemed to have seen the schedule, it might have lain forgotten, had the Consultative Committee today not been cancelled.

I have suggested that the UGC actually call a meeting, with anyone concerned, who understands basic principles of management and accountability, to work out how to proceed, and ensure that the public get value for money, ie that university lecturers actually teach for at least a stipulated minimum number of hours per week. Whether we can ensure that this is teaching, rather than reading out notes for students to copy down, which I know some of my colleagues used to do, is another question. But at least we can make a start in ensuring awareness of what we should aim at, and the shoddy substitute for this that a significant number of those asking for higher salaries actually provide.

As a postscript, I was astounded to hear last week, with regard to another area in which I used to work, that the Director General of the Disaster Management Centre has had his salary reduced to under Rs 50,000 a month, whereas when he was recruited he was paid 150,000. Given the fantastic work he has done, and the responsibilities entrusted to him, I find it astonishing that government could countenance this, even while it contemplates paying people who teach for one hour a week over twice as much.



6 Responses to “Wasting the money allocated to education”

  1. David Appuhami Says:

    Dear Prof Wijesinha,
    We expatriate Sri Lankans are in agreement with your point. It is evident that GOSL is becoming weaker and weaker in policy matters. Basil Rajapakse does not know anything about running of Universities. His negotiation skills are nothing more than just giving into the demand and looking for easy exit.

  2. nandimitra Says:

    The complete destruction of the health care system and education as advised by the IMF/WORLD Bank very dutifully carried out by successive governments with added spice of the politicians who have politicised the whole of the public sector must take the blame. Rajiv Wijesinghe unfortunately is part of the system that has destroyed education in the country. He has no right to criticise FUTA. We the products of a free education lament the destruction of education by a class of politician who does not deserve to be at the helm of running this country.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha should be commended for bringing this to the open.

    It actually gets worse from here. Not only the dons who hold students to ransom get their cut, they also get paid for the time they struck work. This is absurd. Now doctors have threaten to follow them if dons get an unfair hike.

    There is more to corruption in universities. Graduates leaving the country without giving back the worth of their university education is a bigger form of corruption.

    University academics’ salaries should be increased to retain them but they should be paid for the work they do.

    Now whenever they want a hike they will strike work. People should be given more choice by way of private universities.

  4. Sirih Says:

    Prof. Rajiva’s analysis should be use by the govt. since govt. need academics to help what ever the problems re. countries education.

    Prof. R has given excellent analysis here and this should be used as a base… Also FUTA need to stop their strike if they care about the country and the students.

  5. Marco Says:

    It’s always interesting to see “Useful Idiots” chipping away at the seams in the fringes not willing to show their heads over the parapet wall !

  6. Leela Says:

    I have always suspected that, that 6% demand by Dons is a cover to deceive the public and continue their strike to get yet another pay increase and thereby start a race for salary increases among public servants and destabilize the country.

    Surely Dons should have known that the government can never ever agree to politically motivated demands like 6% of GDP for education. Hundred days have passed, road parades have ended, but sympathy for strike has not risen as expected. On the contrary, strikers topsy-turvy priorities have made the strike passed the climax stage and skidded towards the downhill.

    So it’s not a wonder we hear that Dons have come to an agreement with the government to end their strike. Did they get their addendum through in full or at least near 6% that they yelled is a must to end the strike? No. If so, continuation of the strike by that add-on is not just a waste but a premeditated crime.

    In my opinion, it’s just another sham like the claim that they say, most Dons would have gone abroad if their salaries were not increased. Sure salaries must be increased but in proportion to that of other professions. If Dons are in a special category, they must prove it. Whether they are making good enough contributions as their counterparts elsewhere, and they are qualified enough for that claim or their fields has a demand to secure jobs abroad as they claim have to be debated earnestly. Somehow, with all those tricks and threats, it must be said that Dons got an unreasonable increase to their salaries in the end.

    I say unreasonable, because Dons had not volunteered/agreed to improve productivity and/or performance of their profession by way of added work or extracurricular activities or any-other way. In my opinion, most of them would continue to stay put where they were and carry-on preaching their old notes to produce more and more unemployable graduates (paper pushers) who would be a burden to the country.

    Without waving wild cards, Dons should come up with a detailed plan and strategy for new research in every field to help improve the production and productivity of the country. That way, they would have earned a respect in addition to their salary increases.

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