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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sri Lankan Universities dysfunctional, UGC & CVCD dormant

The Island 07/07/2011

Science Teachers’ Association – University of Peradeniya

The trade union action launched by university academics on the 9th of May now enters its eighth week. Although the demand for respectable salary scales for the academics is one of the foremost, it is more of a struggle to safeguard and uphold the academic standards of our national universities. Although it is universally accepted that investment in education is of utmost importance for the development of a country, education appears to be a trivial issue for the political and educational authorities in Sri Lanka. This is amply evident through the attitude of, and the views expressed by, the relevant authorities during the recent past.

 More than 250 articles related to this issue have appeared in the print and electronic media and the FUTA has conducted several publicity programmes to educate the general public on this vital issue. In fact, a book containing a compilation of some of these articles, written in both Sinhala and English is now published. Furthermore, all of the public seminars that were held, except for the inaugural Kandy Seminar, also had a procession included in the protest rally. In the history of the Universities, University Academics have never collectively made public protests as vigorous as the series of protests that were carried out. This alone depicts the depth of the problem at hand, but yet the authorities that purport to be the champions of the issues of University academics remain dormant.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Directors (CVCD) are the two official entities that operate at levels between the academics and the ministry of higher education (higher educational authorities). Therefore, it is naturally expected that they should actively contribute to find a suitable solution to this conflict.

However, it is regrettable to note the irrational and provocative approach adopted by the UGC and its chairman in particular. Rather than attempting to find a negotiated solution to the problem, the UGC chairman was desperately struggling to safeguard his personal interests. The members of the CVCD are very well aware that the academic programmes of their respective Universities are crippled and public money is wasted. But the Darusman report was a higher priority for them. As academic and administrative heads of universities, the Vice Chancellors, we believe, have an obligation to engage in a more active role to resolve this conflict by providing professional guidance to higher authorities.

 However, it is regrettable to note that neither the CVCD, nor any of its members individually had the courage to speak out their conscience. The members of the CVCD behave as if they have not heard of any problem in the universities, not seen the gravity of the current situation and they have not spoken about it at all. The CVCD may be more appropriately called CDBD (Committee of the Deaf, Blind and Dumb).

Over the years, politicians have forced upon the people of this country, the idea that they are the most successful group of people. Actually in a way they are, being the busy bodies and windbags they are, they do not require any education or any qualifications to be politicians. Many of them could be replaced many thousand times over. But yet, they make the most money, compared to any given profession. They also actively trample upon human rights, human qualities, liberalism, equanimity, lawfulness etc. Then they depict this ill-gotten money and lawlessness as power.

 This illiberal power now even controls the University Hierarchy. Unfortunately, the UGC chairman and the vice chancellors are also appointed by these unsavoury politicians. These folks, like their political masters, also do not appear to have the guts to do what is right; in a way, they too have become political slaves, or at least try to emulate their political masters, while unfortunately dragging the university system in Sri Lanka to the gutter.

 Now it is high-time for the university academics to seriously think of the calibre of people who are representing them, and mechanisms should be put in place to make sure that sycophants that think of only their own interests do not make it into the decision making bodies of the university system. If this is not done as soon as possible, the universities in Sri Lanka will suffer irrevocably.