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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1592

The Decline Of University Education In Sri Lanka

By Edward Theophilus Wanigasekera, Head of Technical Vocational Education, The University of Goroka, Papua New Guinea

The university education is widely regarded as the way of knowledge development and gateway to rapid economic, social and cultural progress in a country. If any country has a high quality university education, it would provide clear evidence that the country has been embarking to a rapid development and growing intellectual abilities of citizens.

Many Sri Lankan migrants in various countries are always proud of their university education in Sri Lanka, though it has less than a century of history; the university education in the country has been able to maintain a quality that could help to achieve the desires of their products.

However, current university educators as well as university administrators express their serious concerns on the declining university education in the country not because of lack of resources to maintain the quality of education through research and teaching reflected in past days, but the outcomes of students behavioural culture in current era have degraded the status, quality and values of university education and the manipulated environment in universities by the petty politics of student organizations have opened the way for destruction of university education rather than improvement to meet the desired standards of modern era. According to recent experience, many parents in Sri Lanka dislike sending their kids to universities and a large sum of country’s financial resources drains to overseas for higher education as parents and prospective students in Sri Lanka are quite impossible to cope with the declining trend of university education or disappointed with the anti-intellectual behaviour of university students.

Since inception of universities in Sri Lanka different types of political ideologies, with contrasting elements had been entered to the education environment. Many ideologies involved with Marxism and its later developments or adulterations, which activated in young minds with a view to achieving false utopia. The domination of political ideologies among university students is a quite common symbol in all over the world as they are hungry for the discovery of truth. Sometimes it is possible to view that political ideologies are working in university education environment as a reflection of academic spirit, which attempts to demonstrate respect for different ideologies, views and the freedom of speech. The conflict of ideologies and debate among different ideologies regard as a process of knowledge development and a way of analytical skills development to understand and select the right from the darkness of ignorance. This type of academic spirit remained in Sri Lankan universities until early 1970s and the anarchic environment created through the general election in 1970 relegated the university education environment to ugly politics and erosion of moral values of university students leading to anti-intellectual behaviour.

According to university educators’ views, the declining in university education in Sri Lanka has been greatly contributed by lawlessness, erosion of moral values of students and self centred politics of JVP. Before 1970 election, many political parties were activated in the universities and such political parties never had an intention for destruction of university education, sometimes they may have legitimate intention in regard to students’ issues. Janata Vimukkthi Peramuna entered into universities wearing a mask of traditional left parties and began to put their hand to students’ life as well as to university administration. At the beginning many university educators help them to come up and destroy university life perusing a mafia of illusion underpinned by counterfeit voice crying in the wilderness that JVP could bring prosperity to Sri Lanka.

Forty years history of JVP reflects that since beginning it had many difficulties to enter the universities as there was an ideological conflict between traditional left and JVP, further it had a social barriers to engage with educated Sri Lankans because Mr Rohana Wijeweera was surrounded by poorly educated peasants with a hope of becoming quickly rich through taking over others assets by force.

The attitudes and philosophical preaching of Mr Wijeweera were based on hate to rich and intellectuals than ideological spirit of arguments. Many Marxist leaders such as Wijeweera, Polpot and some others in the world suspected about intellectuals and attempted to destroy intellectual abilities of people with an intention that the intellectual abilities of general public will become a serious barrier to mislead people. The best example in connection with JVP was that some intellectuals asked him a question, when he was talking about imperialist tea plantation in Sri Lanka, he replied that tea plantation has destroyed traditional subsistence farming so it will be destroyed replacing Cassava when JVP come to power. Mr Wijeweera attempted to interpret Cassava as an industrial plant, which could be generated more jobs for rural Sinhala population than tea plantation, which provides employment opportunities for South Indians. This was a classic example that Mr Wijeweera or JVP had not clear understanding about what kind of policies should be implemented, if they have come to power.

The election activities in 1970s gave ideal opportunities to penetrate not only traditional left parties but also to moderate political parties such as SLFP, UNP and MEP and it was an ideal ground to realize the weakness of political parties which had no exposure to developed countries. University students, university academics and general public lacked experience and understanding of the achievement of economic prosperity through the application of specific political philosophy for economic development, notwithstanding the fact that people were dissatisfied with existing political administration, which ill-defined to transfer the heritage of political administration from existing administration to relative of them in next generation. It was the most fertile ground to brain wash university students and many governments elected since 1970 were unable to give a message to young generation that hatred views of JVP are opium, which take them to a blind world and JVP is incapable of doing any good things for young generations economic and social benefits.

The other advantage for JVP to enter the universities to spread vicious germs was lack of media facilities and information technology to bring the world to Sri Lanka’s society. At that time there was not TV or internet or fax, email or wide access to telephone to give right messages to young generation about the world and to assess the misleading of JVP information comparing with what is actually going in the world. However, during the past 30 years history from 1977 to 2001, the world has been radically changed as a result of the rapid achievement in information technology, JVP has a serious problem to spread vicious and stupid views among young generation especially among university and high school students. This environment naturally created in the country without any influence of the government and JVP has faced to a giant failure in new millennium as a result of inability to change the policies consistent with changing world and without new ideology to interpret old school philosophy of proliterates. In this environment JVP is using new tactics to destroy university and high school education deliberately manipulating lawless society, immoral activities (ragging) and anti-intellectual actions against academic programs and research.

The recent speeches of Minister of Higher education and law making in the parliament against immoral activities and lawlessness in the universities demonstrate that the government is reasonably concerned on the secret JVP strategies against the intellectual spirit of the universities, nevertheless, implementation of such laws and policies to prevent the decline of universities education and to improve the confidence of students, parents, academics and all interested parties is a challenging task. Elimination of trouble leaders and giving harsh punishments for violence and immoral activities are currently urgent requirements in university management in Sri Lanka.

The improvement of academic culture in universities should be a prime focus of university management despite current declining environment of education in universities of Sri Lanka. The academic culture is greatly involved in research and teaching excellence. Therefore, the improvement of academic culture would be successful only allocating more funds for research and education programs. The university management in Sri Lanka must apprehend that they cannot depend on small sum of peanuts given by the government for research and teaching excellence but they need to raise a certain sum of revenue through the charge of school fees from all university students. Many university academic with foreign exposure admit that the government of Sri Lanka is too generous to university students providing free education and scholarships for students living and this generousness also contributed to decline of university education certain extent and students to engage in violence and anti-intellectual activities because students are given opportunities to participate in anti social activities free education and living conditions.

The universities in Sri Lanka do not need to charge high fees like overseas countries but they should set charges to betoken that parents and students are shared the costs of their education with the government, hence they responsible for their own activities. As a result of a reasonable contribution from university education from students, it will be self motivated students to generate excellence of research and teaching in universities. Current experience in Sri Lanka unfold that many university students have misconception that the government should provide free education, living expenses at universities and employments also should be provided by the government to students after their graduation.

When we look at the management structure of university administration in many countries, it is a significant envisions that universities are willing to maintain international academic spirit through attracting academics from various countries to university staff. Universities in Sri Lanka are still far away from this practice, it may due to costs involved in the practice or inability to provide university education in a global language, most probably in English medium. The charge of fees from students would be beneficial to attract overseas academic promoting English medium education. There are some fanatic Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, who outcry for Sinhala only policy, however, providing university education in English medium will bring tremendous advantages to the country in relation innovation and development.

An obvious trend in Sri Lanka is that young generation has encouraging learning languages like, Italian, French, English, German, Korean, Japanese and Chinese, as learning such languages would provide young generation an extra strength to sell their knowledge and skills to global market. Many university graduates in Sri Lanka cannot provide their expertise and skills to public and private development tasks in the country because they are lacking in global language abilities to deal with others, who may be not in a position to work in Sinhala language. To strengthen the productivity, knowledge and skills of university graduates, it is intrinsic to promote the provision of education and conducting research in English.

The decline of university education in Sri Lanka is a serious issue that no one can treat this as a simple issue. There are many opposition political parties in state assembly in the country but no political party has considered the seriousness of the issue. Unlike other issues, the decline of university education invites bipartisan approach as it adversely impacts on everybody irrespective of nationality, race or class. JVP and left parties should extend their irrevocable cooperation to resolve this problem.

- Asian Tribune -

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