Redesigning university education: A necessity
Continued from November 26
Is our university education providing the skills the country needs
for its economy? To answer this question, we need first to know which
skills are needed. For example, it is proven that the pattern of the
occupations of citizens in Sri Lanka in 2005 and 2009 is similar to what
is found in other countries in the region, and has remained remarkably
stable. Most of the employment is in agriculture, forestry, fishery, and
manufacturing amounting to 50 percent.
Discipline should be the hallmark in local universities
However, if the distribution of university students by fields of
study for the past 5 years is analysed, one can see it is not compatible
with this picture. According to the statistics, the highest number
students applied for Arts and oriental studies. It is a total mismatch.
On the other hand, the quality of higher education in Sri Lanka is
uneven, with some good quality course programs in some universities,
while many courses are of mediocre or unknown quality. This is another
disturbing factor. Our under-graduate students need the highest possible
quality, if they are to participate in the modern, globalized and
There is a growing consensus that the abilities more widely required
by our economy are related to skilled specialised fields in agriculture,
health, engineering, technical skills, management and IT. Potentially,
these categories could be an important factor in making the economy more
effective and productive, in tune with the modern global markets.
However, scientific, managerial and technological competence is just one
among other elements that make up the ‘innovation systems’ that are
considered essential for this kind of transformation.
Sri Lanka as a developing country and a smaller economy can share the
benefits of knowledge societies if we are able to link to the
international economy, get the knowledge and information we need, and
develop our own competence for innovation.
We need to develop our “platform for transfers” and participation,
which requires a large stock of qualified skilled manpower, a
significant research and development establishment and an infrastructure
for information exchange and communications. Are our universities ready
for the change? I personally do not think so.
It has become obvious that the broad aims of producing high-level
manpower for national development are not being achieved as a result of
the multi-faceted problems bedevilling the university system. It
therefore becomes necessary to suggest ways of making the system more
effective and efficient in relation to contemporary Sri Lankan society
For meaningful development to take place in the university system,
the government must be ready to address the issue of funding the system
adequately. Adequate finance will help solve the problem of
The government should as a matter of national importance review
upward the pay-package for academics, give consent to the university
autonomy being clamoring for by the academics.
It is also recommended that there is the need to make plans and
projections on the nation’s manpower needs in a bid to integrate this
into university programs. The relevant ministries are in the position to
alert universities on the future manpower requirements of the country
University education in Sri Lanka today needs a total overhauling and
restructuring. This reform is required to improve the performance of the
Better training for university students should be vigorously pursued.
The curriculum needs to be reformed in content and in methodology to
give room for the spirit of inquiry, discovery and experimentation.
Humanities placement policy has not been correctly implemented
resulting in overproduction of humanities graduates while some areas of
critical importance have been neglected.
It has therefore become necessary to redesign the university
education to become purely practical oriented for skill acquisition.