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Higher education - paradigm shift

Higher Education Minister S B Dissanayake has told Parliament that the Government intends to open up the University system to the private sector. This is a paradigm shift for universities as those were considered the exclusive domain of the public sector. That, however, did not deter enterprising entrepreneurs opening up higher education establishments through the BoI.

Student unions have been consistently opposing private universities and any attempt to open them was vehemently opposed by them on the grounds that it would kill the free education system enjoyed by the people. The Minister's pronouncement, no doubt, has stirred a hornet's nest.

The issue of private universities cannot be tackled on ideological basis. Further, what would have been valid in the 1970s may not be valid today or in future. Hence, it is necessary to look at the concrete situation prevalent in the country today with respect to higher educational prospects of our youth.

It is no secret that less than 20 or 15 percent of those who qualify for University admission find admission to Universities in the country. The student intake is decided by the available places in the University system and not on the needs or qualifications of the youth. Nor does it take into consideration even the economic needs of the country.

It is true that Sri Lanka does not possess adequate human resources needed for a rapid economic take off. It is short of skilled labour as well as scientific and technologically competent personnel. Nor does it have significant R & D resources including researchers.

At the same time at least 80 percent of youth have been denied access to tertiary education. This is waste of manpower in its prime. Actually it is a criminal wastage of human resources. The Government cannot afford the cost of higher education for all these youth. Hence, it would be a blessing to the Government and the country if the private sector could be induced to take up part of the burden of higher education.

It is well-known that the private sector goes by the single motive of profit. The Government must, therefore, set up mechanisms to control the unsatiating desire for super profits from education. It should also ensure quality of education imparted, set criteria for recruitment of qualified staff, monitor facilities available and their functioning if a uniform and quality education is to be ensured for the students that enroll in private tertiary education establishments.

That is why it is necessary to prevent the BoI from approving universities that would be mere business concerns. The University Grants Commission should be empowered by law to monitor and regulate private sector higher educational establishments.

There is also another issue, the drain of foreign exchange for sending students abroad for higher education. If reputed universities establish campuses in the country it would reduce this drain of foreign exchange to a great extent. Students and parents too would welcome such a move as it is less costly.

As the Minister has hinted these private universities should be made to offer scholarships to deserving students from low income families as part of their corporate responsibility. The Government could, in exchange, provide them with appropriate concessions such as tax reductions.

Our need today is to develop human resources at the fastest possible rate. We need higher investments in education. If the private sector could make investments in the sphere of higher education it would help the Government upgrade the facilities at State universities and develop them as centres of excellence. Competition from the private sector could also be an incentive for the State universities to excel for the students would naturally go for excellence. Of course, there is one qualification. A peaceful and learning atmosphere should be ensured in the campuses.

Private sector participation in higher education should be welcome. It is, however, necessary to bring in legislation to regulate them.
 

Need for new methods

Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the economic development. Encouraging youth to take to agriculture, introducing new produce purchasing system and developing public-private partnership will be the key areas in the agriculture development agenda, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane said.

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The Morning Inspection

Shall we say ‘Thank You’ to the public sector?

Some of this is true, however. The public sector has a lot of dead-weight. There are inefficiencies. Corruption. Like the private sector, one might add. Still, there are redeeming features of the public sector that these ‘Restructurists’ will either footnote or be silent about in abject deference to the masters of restructuring in the World Bank and IMF.

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On My Watch

ICG: Mouthpiece of the vendors of terror

The anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE came earlier this week, and true to form the International Crisis Group (ICG) came out with its report on Sri Lanka and Channel 4 had another “exposure” of what is alleged to be war crimes and violations of International Humanitarian Law in the military operations to defeat the LTTE.

Full Story

 

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