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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No breach of contract

The Island

University lecturers who do not report back to duties after going abroad for postgraduate studies are acting in breach of their contract, according to media reports on June 02 that quoted a high official of the University Grants Commission.

The contract that the university academics sign prior to being allowed to go abroad for higher studies to obtain postgraduate qualifications, which incidentally is a university requirement, has two clear clauses: They agree to resume duties in their posts and serve a minimum specified number of years, or, in the event they do not return, to pay the equivalent of the costs incurred by the authorities in sending the candidate abroad and arranging for his or her training. The academics will be in breach of contract only if they violate both conditions, i.e. do not return and also do not refund the costs. For those who do not wish to return for whatever reason, the contract provides the legally valid opening, of paying the amount the authorities spent on them.

The more important issue here, which has surfaced again today, is to find out why, in heaven’s name, the academics prefer to stay out. They are all not anti-Sri Lankan: many of them love their country of birth and would like to contribute whatever they can to its progress. It is just that the paltry salary, which is lower than what a far less qualified individual who is employed in a bank or in the private sector draws, with no housing, housing loans, medical benefits or transport allowance draws, that dissuades most of them and their family members from coming back to the mother country. The writer is personally aware of many who returned, served their universities for 7 to 10 years and then decided to leave for good in utter frustration.

The UGC says that 550 university lecturers have not returned to the country, according to figures it had one year back, and adds that the numbers could be higher today. What is obvious inference? There has been a drastic drop in whatever that attracted bright and intelligent Sri Lankans to pursue academic careers in Sri Lanka even within just one year.

University academics have been given a raw deal for far too long. Sri Lanka needs to treat its university lecturers as a valuable national asset and take immediate steps – through the offer of salaries that match their qualifications, coupled with medical, transport and housing benefits – to entice the qualified to come back and stay in the country.

Violating a clause in a bond is not a crime, if the individual who signed the bond pays the penalty stipulated for those who do not abide by it.

Gamini Premadasa