University Quotas by Ethnicity Can Remedy Ongoing Teacher Tussle and Dearth of Doctors
Posted on April 4th, 2023

Dilrook Kannangara

As if economic crises are not enough, the nation has to deal with never-ending strikes by teachers at various levels of teaching and exam marking and a worsening lack of doctors and other professionals. Both these are tied to long term economic instability. The nation needs a steady flow of professionals for its own economic needs (not just the economic needs of Toronto, London and elsewhere). All these can be fairly, justly and equitably resolved for good if university admission quotas are introduced based on ethnicity. It will ensure equity to university students and justice to taxpayers. National ethnic composition will be represented in universities. It will ensure Sri Lankan taxpayers get the doctors and other professionals they paid for.

The Dark Root Cause of Never-Ending Teacher Strikes

Teachers in Sinhala and Muslim schools have been instigated to strike work over various reasons. However, teachers in Tamil schools have not been striking! The leader of the teachers’ trade union is also a Tamil which should not be any surprise. There is an economic reason behind this.

As the economy slows or goes negative, the demand for education increases enormously. Education is the only avenue for the poor (relative) to change their circumstances and be richer. Sri Lanka’s GDP growth rate was negative in the past 3 years and this year is no exception. Previously the GDP growth rate was barely above zero. Many professionals are leaving the island nation as a result and many more want to leave. After the war ended, the refugee stream of migrating to greener pastures closed and it affected mainly Tamils. This stream took more than 500,000 Tamils from 1980s to 2010 in a number of developed countries. Closure of this avenue put even more pressure on tertiary education in Sri Lanka as it is the only guaranteed way out for most people. By disrupting the education of Sinhala and Muslim students, Tamils gain a higher number of entrants into taxpayer funded universities.

This is the real reason behind ongoing teacher strikes. All others are excuses.

It can be easily resolved by introducing ethnicity-based university quotas. Other plaster solutions will not fix it. In addition, it is the only fair and equitable way to distribute taxpayer funds. As 74% of taxpayers are Sinhala, 74% of university students must be Sinhala. Similarly, as 15% of taxpayers are Tamils, 15% of university students must be Tamil. Muslims are 10% of the taxpayer population and Muslims must be allocated 10% of the university quota. Others are 1% and they should be allocated 1%. These percentages change with censuses. Within these quotas, candidates should be selected based on all-island merit basis. Linking student details to census details is not a difficult task.

Brains Drain is Not Equal Across Ethnic Groups

Brain drain is a massive cost to the nation as taxpayers have already paid billions to produce graduates in government universities. Even in some developed countries graduates must repay the cost of their university education. It is collected through a process linked to income taxes. How can Sri Lanka afford not to (being a less developed country)!

Brain drain is not equal across ethnic groups. A perusal of medical, engineering, accounting, etc. directories of these professionals gives an indication of the level of brain drain among the three communities. Over 70% of Tamil professionals leave the island for good. Over 50% of Sinhala professionals leave the island for good. Over 25% of Muslim professionals leave the island for good.

Tamils are over-represented in taxpayer funded universities far more than their ethic share of 15%. As over 70% of them leave the island, this is a recipe for disaster. If Tamils are restricted to their just, fair and equitable share of 15% in universities, the economic impact and wastage of taxpayer funds can be saved. Similarly, although 10% of the cost of university education is paid by Muslim taxpayers, the Muslim percentage in universities is less than 10%. That is a fraud on their community. What is even more striking is only 25% of Muslim graduates leave Sri Lanka for good and most stay back. If justice and equity is established for Muslims and their representation is raised to 10%, Sri Lanka will save billions in taxpayer funds and will have more professionals too.

At 50%, Sinhala brain drain is also high but much lower than Tamils. If justice, equity and fair play is applied to Sinhalas with 74% university quotas, Sri Lanka will have more doctors and less wastage of taxpayer funds.

Equity at No Cost

These measures cost nothing additional to the government or the people. But they ensure fair-play, equity, justice and proportionality. Money is tight for everyone. Paying tax is hard for everyone. Tax money must be used equitably in education.

The ethnicity-based quota system must be introduced by each faculty across the university system. For instance, the total vacancies of all medical faculties must be considered when allocating ethnicity-based quotas.

As an additional benefit this system will eliminate cheating at university entrance exams held at schools. If cheating occurs it will be contained within their own community. Others will be unaffected. This will force them to reconsider cheating.  

Extortion and Inequity Have No Place in a Civilized Society

One criticism will be that an equitable system of university quotas will create terrorism. It is absurd. It did not create any terrorism in Malaysia and Brazil. Besides, equity must not be allowed to be held hostage by terrorists.

The ethnicity-based quota system will not drastically reduce any ethnic community’s representation at universities to have a major social impact. However, it will save billions for the nation and taxpayers will have the doctors they paid for in their hospitals.

If the proposed mechanism is not put in place, Sri Lankan taxpayers will continue to lose billions, if not trillions to brain drain and not get any real benefit for parting with their taxation payments. They will question the purpose of paying taxes. The nation will not have enough professionals for economic recovery, healthcare, construction, industry, business, etc. and will always remain a backward nation. Sri Lanka will be the poor ferry operator who transports people from the banks of poverty to greener pastures but who will always remain poor and bogged down at the same sorry place. This must change. People must not be taxed just to waste it all on charitable inequity.

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