The two and half month long trade union action by the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) is bringing the curtains down on an ailing education system, which was once the pride of Asia.
The strike according to a 21 year old engineering student had robbed him of two academic months and left his life in recess. He fears that the university administration would cut down his academic hours to meet the university schedules, where student pay for the faults of dons and the government.
The sheer negligence of many a consecutive governments and the lack of accountability and responsibility in every hook and nook of education administration had left the country’s next generation at the mercy of ignorant and incompetent.
FUTA, which is following trade union action in demand of a salary hike, allocation of 6% of the GDP for education and freeing schools and universities from the unnecessary political influence.
Despite the government’s claims of spending nearly 5% of GDP on Education the United Nations record the government expenditure on education amounting to only 2.06% while FUTA hold it to be a miserable 1.9% of the GDP. The share received by the university system of Sri Lanka is only 0.27%, which explains the miserable state the university infrastructure is at today.
The ‘leading universities’ of Sri Lanka are in need of a major facelift to cater to the present day demands of an average university student , starting from better hostels, cafeteria, library and recreation facilities. Many universities are just a collection of building built nearly three decades back catering to an academic environment of the last century. The university libraries lack basic internet connection leave alone wi-fi connections, that many private educational institutes in Sri Lanka boasts of today.
Recreation and aesthetic development facilities at most of the universities are limited to a gym and an auditorium while the administration and academia frowns upon self-improvement and deprive the students of skills that would one day make them sought after in the job market. A reason why there are nearly 50,000 unemployed graduates in the country.
Poor salary scales, unchallenging working atmosphere, lack of facilities and the almost autocratic university administration continues discourage the crème de la creme of students from joining the University staff, which formerly used to be the most sought after by the high ranking students. Today the lowest of the runt of each batch remains to be the teachers, a sorry news for the future generations.
The neglect, lack of funds and sheer disinterest on the part of academia had left the university life and its studies a tasteless pursuit for many students. With study criteria as old as the university itself and reference books nearly 10 years old, the student main concern is their job worthiness once let loose in a demanding job market.
The blame of the crisis as with any crisis in the country lies largely with the successive governments, whose lack of good governance and the failure to introduce a solid national plan for education had left almost all the national education Institutes in utter chaos. The need for a check and balances system to regulate the regulators, who run havoc with the free hand given is made evitable almost at every passing second. The transparency in school and university admissions and administration is been repeatedly jeopardised with political influence and sheer incompetence in the part of the authorities as in the case of recent ‘Z -Score ‘issue.
The lack of responsibility in the part of the Higher Education Minister and his eagerness to lay the blame at the door of university dons , with the complain that they are poor teachers demanding unfair price hikes is a paradox itself since it is him who should be responsible for ‘poor teachers’ in state universities.
“If there are poor teachers, it is the fault of the government since it is them who are responsible university education,” a progressive third year law student pointed out adding that government’s lack of interest in meeting proper quality had led to the down grading of the universities.
“Although the lecturers too are not keen to update themselves and deliver the best to students, it the responsibility of the government and university administration to monitor and maintain the quality of academics in a campus,” she said adding that present university system is designed to supress progressive thinking students and lecturers.
Although a well-known secret, broad-minded imitativeness is anathema to many a university dons who cherish the close curtain approach suppression. Many tend to nurse their ignorance and inability in dark while discouraging student from any active involvement in questioning and research, while the brilliant and progressive leave the university ground for greener pastures.
Once more finger points at the government, which had left the university system rot in silence due to lack of funds, infrastructure and competent academic and non-academic staff. Yet the need of the hour however is not finger pointing but action with more funds, a national policy on university education and a check and balances system to cull away inefficiency and corruption.