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Tertiary education outside the state university sector

The two tertiary level programmes conducted by the College of Chemical Sciences (CCS), (which is the educational arm of the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon) over the past four decades have proved to be typical examples of the type of tertiary education that can be provided at low cost, without delay, efficiently, effectively and without the constraining effects of state bureaucracy and political interference.

The Graduateship Programme in Chemistry of the CCS today produces annually well over 40 percent of Sri Lanka's Special Degree level Chemists within a four year period at an average cost of about Rs 3 lakhs which surely must be the cheapest of any such programme in any part of the world. With an average cost of well over Rs 1 million to produce a similar graduate in the Sri Lankan University system, it should be noted that the 822 Graduate Chemists produced by the CCS through 29 batches (1983-2011) represent a human resource development (HRD) which would have otherwise cost the national exchequer, well over one billion rupees.

In addition to many Scholarships, Merit Bursaries and Need Bursaries, Best Performer prizes are offered for every course which together with numerous other awards, benefits and concessions provide a salutary atmosphere and a good driving force for excellence in academic performance. About 15 percent of the CCS student community of about 600 are concurrently following courses in state universities (including Medical Faculties and Universities in the Provinces), which they usually complete much later than ours.

Human resources development

Income generated from fees have been very carefully managed and savings used not for individual benefits but towards enhancing the quality and standard of the programmes and strengthening the necessary infrastructure. Though the programme commenced operations in 1979 without any office, staff or a building, the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon moved into their own premises in 2005 and now have a regular full time staff of nearly 50. Library (air-conditioned) and other facilities have been enhanced. Due to the difficulty and delay in obtaining an additional piece of land nearby, CCS, after much delay, is about to embark on a five storey building extension on the only available limited space around Adamantane House.

Students can therefore expect more facilities and better services by 2013 when the extension is due to be completed. While savings are being recycled in an extremely productive and useful manner, not a single officer/official of the Institute/College has as yet gone overseas using Institute funds. If only CCS had access to additional land at a convenient place, we could have expanded further and made an even greater contribution to Human Resources Development. CCS could then have supplemented the insufficient and much more expensive production of Graduate Chemists from conventional universities at a much lower cost in larger numbers and faster.

Educational programmes

The service/need oriented, professionally based and non-mercenary objectives and activities of the professional body of Chemists in Sri Lanka can be well gauged by the fact that the very first formal educational programme was at the technician level and remains, even today after four decades, as the only such programme producing fully fledged Chemistry technicians at the MLT level in Sri Lanka. That programme which commenced in 1973 at Aquinas College was the first priority of the Institute after incorporation in 1972 in order to meet a much felt need at the middle level; the Institute did not levy any fee even to issue the certificate of completion during the first decade of the technician programme.

The College has also been able to strengthen the professional activities of the Institute as a spin off result from the unforeseen financial and academic success of its educational programmes. Training seminars, quiz competitions, debating competitions, titration competitions, exhibitions etc. have been conducted with increasing regularity and professional competence. The interests of schoolchildren have remained uppermost and multi-faceted activities have been conducted to further their skills, abilities and knowledge. The Institute was also able to play a crucial and important co-ordinating role during the International Year of Chemistry (2011) as the National Secretariat with the holding of two exhibitions and in many other ways with special focus on schoolchildren and in other ways.

However, the incomes generated from the educational activities have not been used for other Institute purposes for which alternate sources of funds have usually been tapped. The several international conferences held over the past have however been very successful and possible largely due to the solid infrastructure and human resources now available at all levels available within the Institute/College through the conduct of its educational programmes. The Institute and the College from the very inception fortunately got its fundamental priorities right so that the CCS has been careful to ensure that funds generated from educational activities were utilized essentially for furthering the educational programmes with no profit making initiatives. The CCS is therefore able to confidently go ahead with the proposed building programme without serious financial problems. Educational programmes of the Institute thus become the direct beneficiaries of these pragmatic policies.

State sector

The very effective manner in which productively administered educational programmes can perform a very useful and constructive supporting role in HRD has been amply established through the academic, financial, professional and social success of the educational programmes of the CCS. It is a great pity that we note there is a general resistance to the provision of similar alternate facilities outside the state sector despite inadequate academic staff numbers in universities and reluctance to increase salaries of senior academics to an attractive level.

Recent events have unequivocally proved that the state university system is clearly unable to expand any further except at great loss of quality and efficiency. This has been well illustrated in the unplanned expansion of state universities without planning and inadequate funds to serve largely political ends. It is obvious that the quality and equivalence of a university degree cannot be guaranteed merely through a UGC circular that presently states that similar degrees awarded by any university are equivalent to each other.

Knowledge hub

Therefore the government would do much better with greater productivity and less expenditure if it recognizes and supports much more alternate opportunities that could be made available outside the bureaucratic and highly politicized state sector. Broad basing Tertiary Chemical Education need not necessarily be profit oriented as it is generally believed and expected to be.

Opening up educational opportunities outside the state university sector in Sri Lanka, particularly through the non bureaucratic and non politically oriented professional bodies, can in fact have a symbiotic and synergetic effect as well. The College of Chemical Sciences of the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon has convincingly proved how this could be done in order to take Sri Lanka towards making it a knowledge hub in a very practical and efficient manner.

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