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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pay Increase for Academics:Reply

The Island, 26/05/2011, By Shantha Jayakumara.

One of the vicious attacks against University Academics appeared in the Island news paper under the caption of " pay increase for academics " on 19.05.2011 needs to be scrutinized to avoid average persons being caught into malicious and false arguments.

I have seen in newspapers that some writers write under pseudonyms or just put as a ‘reader’ in order to hide his/her name being disclosed. Some such writers are columnists, and others are critics of cruel, powerful people. They usually follow this method to avoid the evil eye of cruel politicians who most often respond with violent reactions. Here, my argument is that whether this writer puts the academics including him into that category (as he identified himself as a concerned academic)? The pen, analytical mind, facts, and bravery are the weapons that university lecturers have but none of them could damage anybody physically. Thus, there is no point to hide his name in decent debates with informed persons like academics. Overwhelmingly, university academics are happy to start constructive dialogues with any concerned persons. Though it is a shame to reply to a timid writer, as an academic it is my responsibility to make sure that a true picture is disseminated to readers. Also readers should be able to differentiate between meticulous writing from shoddy writing.

Above writer, living in a glass house, throws stones to the Science Teachers’ Association. He insinuates that the academics’ analytical skills are poor, whatever remuneration is given to academics are more than enough, and comparisons of academics’ salary with academics in other countries are not logical. According to him university academics get every thing. Then the question arises why the writer in question is no longer working in the university. Is he retired, is his job terminated or what? That is why I reiterated that the name matters.

He also has mentioned that university teachers just dictate their old notes. Is it the reason for this writer to leave the university? No it could not be. Even if others followed this method, he did not have to follow the same method as there is no regulation in the university requesting academics to teach using old notes. I believe that he should have taught new things and remained in the university happily enjoying all the good things he has mentioned!

Then another question comes into my mind. Can we teach new things without discussing about their evolutionary process? Are we not to discuss or even tell the names of Newton, Galileo and Pythagoras or pathbreaking findings of our other predecessors? I request him to be more realistic, flexible or not to propagate any borrowed ideas from others. There is a saying that borrowed garments never fit well.

Most interestingly, then he writes on Research and Development allowance (R & D). It appears that he does not know that it is just a proposal and it is not implemented yet. Secondly, that he does not know the meaning of the R & D allowance. This allowance is not an income for university academics. This allowance is planned to be given to conduct research. For research that is normally carried out in the sciences, academics have to buy chemicals and other materials that are necessary. If it is a social science research academics have to go for field work therefore they have to spend for travelling, research assistance, stationeries and so on. Academics are not afraid of research as the writer argues but they stress a realistic salary increase, not a R & D allowance under the guise of a salary increase.

Science Teachers Association has successfully carried out an international comparison on government expenditure on education. But the writer criticizes it baselessly. Let me show the reader his dishonest analysis. He has given proportion of GDP expenditure on education for all other countries along with a long description. But he has not given the proportion of GDP allocated to public education in Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka’s proportion of the GDP allocated for education is 2.1 (2010). When we compare this statistics with all the countries that he brought into discussion, it is obvious that Sri Lanka invest the lowest for public education. Therefore, I question his honesty of the analysis. The following figure compares the Sri Lanka’s education expenditure with education expenditures of some Asian countries.

Public Education Expenditure as a Proportion of National Income and Government Budget

Source: The World Bank (2009) The Towers of Learning: Performance, Peril and Promise of Higher Education in Sri Lanka

Comparing the salary of university academics with other academics in the region he has given lots of statistics. There are two positive relationships he has tried to establish. One is the size of the country and the salary and the second is the size of the economy and the salary. To him, as India’s physical size and the size of the economy are large, academics of that country get a higher salary! At the same time India has a population 60 times bigger than that of Sri Lanka and its diversity and priorities are far more complex than Sri Lanka. More importantly, Central Bank of Sri Lanka reports an economic growth rate in Sri Lanka of 8.1 and it is 8.2 in India. Also, Per capita income in Sri Lanka is almost double that of India. Then, why should we not compare Sri Lanka with India?

I do not argue that Sri Lankan academics should get more than what Indian academics get or equal amount. Even the FUTA does not insist on a higher salary than what Indian academics get. However, one must not forget that university academic’s access for employment is high locally and demand for them from other countries are equally high. That is why most of the lecturers find jobs in foreign countries as opposed to your argument. Moreover, the Sri Lankan universities remain under staffed. What is more important to the country at this juncture is to identify the priority areas. Given the country’s ambition to become the knowledge hub in Asia, can one undermine the university academics and thereby expedite there leaving for greener pastures?

Shantha Jayakumara,

Senior Lecturer,

Faculty of Arts,

University of Peradeniya