Tertiary education and national
There is this appalling but thought-provoking
statistic that only a mere five percent of our student
population is engaged in tertiary education. This was revealed
by a speaker at the EDEX Educational Expo fair which was
launched in Colombo a couple of days back and we hope much
thought will be given to this disclosure by particularly those
hot heads who are up in arms against well meaning measures by
the state and other sections to open more opportunities in
higher and tertiary education for our youth.
What is more unsettling is the news that Sri Lanka is the
lowest in the South Asian region from the viewpoint of students’
engagement in tertiary education.
Unfortunately, this unflattering disclosure did not figure in
the debates which were surfaced by the recent closure of local
universities, occasioned by the university Dons’ strike. The
state side has always been at pains to point out that more and
more higher and tertiary education avenues should be ushered for
our students, in consideration of the minuscule number of
students who are absorbed into our formal university system.
This is a valid point of view and we urge that a pragmatic
attitude be adopted on this question. The issue of creating an
increasing number of opportunities in the higher education
sphere, in particular, should be approached in an impartial and
objective manner and the tendency to see the problem through
outmoded ideological blinkers needs to be abandoned.
It would be commonsensical for the state to prepare the
ground and to establish the preconditions for the establishment
of tertiary level institutions and like seats of learning that
will satisfy this country’s needs in national development, while
subjecting themselves to the supervisory and quality control
measures of the state. If the latter conditions are scrupulously
met, it does not make sense to oppose, for example,
degree-awarding privately-owned higher education institutions.
Now that our state universities are getting back to their
formal functions, following the prolonged paralysis they were
subjected to by the Dons’ strike, we hope these and other issues
would be deliberated on dispassionately and in a rational spirit
by the state and other relevant sections.
In the process, we need to remember that comparatively in
South Asia, the number of local students pursuing tertiary
education is very small, and this is cold comfort for those who
speak lyrically about Sri Lanka’s achievements in the education
and vocational training sphere.
The reality which should be unflinchingly countenanced is
that tens of thousands of our youths are not enabled to pursue a
higher education every year, for no fault of theirs. This is an
injustice which is crying out desperately for rectification and
no amount of ideological rhetoric and political polemics would
help resolve this tangle, provided pragmatic measures are
adopted to disentangle it.
The centre of gravity of the world economy has shifted to
mainly East Asia and one reason for this is the high
productivity of their human resources. The latter fact is in
turn linked to heavy state investment in higher and tertiary
education and the increasing opportunities the young of that
region are provided for pursuing a broad-based education. One
could be certain that those polities do not squander their
precious time splitting hairs over abstract theoretical issues
in education and on the politics linked with the latter.
Our human resources need to be developed at a steady pace if
we are to speed ahead on the road of industrialization. If more
quality state universities cannot be set up in the foreseeable
future to cater to our higher education needs, tertiary level
institutions of standing need to be established on an increasing
scale, to provide learning opportunities for our youngsters who
cannot be enabled to go in for a higher education and to provide
them the openings to develop and enhance employable skills and
The pragmatic orientation referred to here, must not only be
confined to the political forces and other sections involved in
our debates on higher and lower level education, but spread to
the rest of the body-politic too. Rather than be conventional in
our thinking on these questions, we need to look for practicable
solutions to our national needs, while providing individual and