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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 knowledge-intensive economy.

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.

Solutions

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 infrastructure.

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 system.

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.

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