By: Isuru Parakrama
Colombo (LNW): President Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government of Sri Lanka will not give in to the demands of protesters, following two demonstrations recently staged demanding the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna and the General Manager of of a state Corporation.
Addressing the launching of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy (C-GaPP) at the Sri Lanka Technological Campus (SLTC) Research University at the Trace City in Colombo yesterday (15), the President noted that just because certain groups strike demanding the removal of certain officials, the government will not remove anyone arbitrarily as there is a procedure that has to be followed and the government will follow the rules and act accordingly.
President’s full speech:
It gives me great pleasure to be associated with you all because I believe universities need to change. This is one of the new models that we have here today. The SLTC is one of the newer entries into the universities of Sri Lanka. But it has had a record of being involved in the telecom sector. Now you are branching out, and the university became a research university this year. And now you’re opening, a School of Humanities, Arts and social Sciences, which is good. A balance education is needed in the technology sectors, and today you have the centre for Governance and Public Policy. I want to tell you that we need Research University in Sri Lanka and as far as the government is concerned, we will help research even in non-government universities. So if you come up with a plan, we will see that we can give you some funding. We are broke, but we are not that broke that we can give you some money. I don’t want to say much more of the university, because all of you are aware of it.
But I thought this was a good occasion also to say, I listened to Dr. Howard Nicholas, who says this crisis is an opportunity. It is not only for export economy, it’s also for higher education, research and technology. Because that’s the one that’s going to drive our export economy, a new economy, that we build a new economy that will be based on our capacity for renewable energy for green hydrogen, for logistics, for new tourism, for all the technology digitalization and the technologies that are involved, and for manufacturing. That manufacturing if we are to succeed has to be based on automation and semi automation. There’s no other way that we can beat the numbers of paid labour in South Asia whether it be in India or in Bangladesh or in Myanmar. So this is one area of the economy. But for the economy to take over and we are now at the moment at the stage of economic stabilization, I hope the I M F will by March be able to ensure that the debt restructuring can begin. But it also requires a political stability and a social innovation, and that innovation requires new thinking. New thinking requires new universities, so we have to think back how much have we spent in the universities since 1978?
As the Vice Chancellor said those days, he was a student protesting against the white paper and it’s reformed on universities. I think now he’s regretting it, but the reforms we have to bring another reforms of 1978. We have to think of all the changes in higher education today. I talk of my own university, Colombo University. When I was in Colombo University in the late sixties, the Medical College or the Medical Faculty of the Colombo University was well respected in the whole of Asia. Now there are more medical faculties in Asia that gets ranking higher than the medical faculty of the Colombo University. When I studied in the law, faculty, like, Dr. Hiran Jayawardhena here and the law faculty had high ranking in Asia. In fact, my professor T. Nadarajah was the World’s expert on Roman Dutch law. After R. W. Lee died of South Africa, we had a few lecturers who are well known, one of them, of course was Professor G.L. Pieris. Nevertheless we had A.F. Amarasinghe, A.R.B Amerasinghe, L.J.M. Cooray. But today do we have the same ranking we had at that time? What’s happened to our university? The Peradeniya University, University of Ceylon was very known for its science, for its archaeology for its social sciences.
The history of Ceylon by the University of Ceylon is an outstanding work. It’s not only in the field of education, but the University of Ceylon and it’s DRAMSOC and Professor Ediriweera Sarathchandra, actually changed, brought about a revolution in Sinhala literature. The first play Maname was from the DRAMSOC the second play Sinhabhahu was from DRAMSOC. I was able to see both those in 56 and the sixties. Where are we today? The drama is not in the DRAMSOC anymore. Drama is out on the streets, so we have to rethink. We have spent so much of money on a higher education institutes. What have we achieved? The country has to think. It’s your money that we have spent. Have we got our money’s worth for the universities? So we have to think of changes if the country provides the money, the people of this country have a right to know what is happening in the universities. Why can’t we send our Children into the university? What is happening inside? The affairs of the Universities are a matter for the whole country.
And that’s what we have to decide and the responsibility to a large extent also lies with the University. At the moment there are two strikes. I must say today while we start this new centre. We are also witnessing a strike in the Ruhuna University to remove the Vice Chancellor, actually I have two strikes. One of them wants me to remove the General Manager of cooperation and other one says to remove the Vice Chancellor of University. Now where do we end up? The trade unions are saying to remove the General Manager of one of our corporations and the FUTA says remove the Vice Chancellor of the university. Has FUTA come to that level where like the guys who want the General Manager removed? That’s the only question I have to ask.
Removal of the General Manager is a matter for the government. Just, because there is a strike we will not remove him. There’s a procedure that has to be followed if they think there are any shortcomings by him of serious nature. As far as vice chancellors are concerned also, there has to be a procedure. There is a procedure as Professor Perera knows, and that can be investigated. Without procedures, just because people go on strike whether it’s in a corporation or in a university, this government will not change. We will follow the rules and we’ll act accordingly because, if I go into this now, next time they want to remove the deans and next time the heads of department. And then we will be told that you can’t appoint a professor without our consent. I think we have to seriously look at what is going to happen in the universities. The country has a right to know what is happening. We are paying money to educate our people. So we want the universities function properly. And I am sad that this is taking place in Ruhuna.
But I am over joyed that we are starting a new centre today. So we are at an age of transformation we have to look at the good and the bad both together. But higher education has to change and it has to change after wide ranging discussions in the country. And we will be initiating those wide ranging discussions once the IMF and the debt restructuring is over. And, in regard to the centre you have opened now on Governance and Public Policy, That’s one area that’s lacking in Sri Lanka, and we are now taking steps to start the University of Government and Public Policy. That will be at the postgraduate level, so graduate degrees undergraduate degrees are required. And I hope this University, Sri Jayawardena University also has Similar departments and are welcomed, they plus other members, will then be able to get the benefit of the University for government and public policy. The Institute of Public Policy, which Howard started, Kadirgama Institute of International Relations, will be amongst them. The JR Jayawardhena Centre will be transformed into the J R Jayawardhena Centre for Parliamentary Politics. It will be a ranged for the education and information of parliamentarians and members of the provincial councils.
So there are a number of those institutes and two new institutes where we will start one of the Institutes of, economics and trade and other will be the Institute of Women and Gender. So they’ll all come in for the making of public policy and the research into public policy in Sri Lanka. Parallel to that will also start the climate Change University which, I hope will be a regional or international university with a number of foreign, stakeholders. So we ourselves are expanding the sector of non-government universities and non UGC universities in addition to state universities or state sponsored universities, which are outside the UGC, we hope to see that there will be also universities which are not government. Some would be not for profit that there would be for profit, but that’s how universities operate and we have to think of new laws to regulate these institutions.
So I don’t want to take any more of your time but just to thank you for this new initiative and wish you all success