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Education reaches boiling point

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Higher Education Ministry or the university administration authorities have consistently failed to respond to burning issues Higher Education Ministry or the university administration authorities have consistently failed to respond to burning issues

Frenetic demands for fairer fees and Colombo VC’s resignation

Despite the change in government the crisis in the country’s higher education sector continues. Some officials who were in charge under the previous government have resigned from their posts. However, changes at the top has not resulted in a change in the system, critics claim. 

The Open University students launched a token strike in Nugegoda on Wednesday (March 11) since the authorities have failed to reduce the course fee that has been raised unfairly within the past two years.

The Open University students have now been continuing a satyagraha campaign for more than 90 days and no responsible person has vowed to take any steps to provide solutions to the problems that the students have been encountering over the past two years.

According to OUSL Students’ Union Convener Amila Sandaruwan, the satyagraha campaign will be continued until they meet their demands. He added that several other issues have also arisen following the unacceptable course fee increment.

He explained, “Normal course fee per semester is increased by 15% annually. But the increment of the course fee by 120% in 2014 is questionable. We have been asking for relief in a reasonable manner since the course fee is unaffordable for an average a student.”

He added, “Following the students’ protest against the university administration, there is ban on student unions and suspension of student activists. The students are also deprived of facilities.” He also added that there are some baseless allegations made against some students.

Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Convener Najith Indika affirmed that the issue is amplified because the Higher Education Ministry or the university administration authorities have failed to respond to the issue.  He also commented on the unfair course fee increase, “The course fee of Rs. 18,000 has been increased up to Rs. 62, 000.” He added that the Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has discussed the issues, but remarked, “It was only a media display. But no step has been taken so far.”

Najith Indika added, “Free education is no more. The whole education system seems be in the process of being privatized.” He also raised concerns about the oppression which is a problem faced by most of the students in the Open University.
The Secretary of the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA), Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said that the situation faced by the Open University students is really an unfortunate one.

She opined that the student demands have not been met due to the breakdown in communication between the University administration and the students. “The students have been asking to reduce the fee for several courses, since the course fee has been increased in an unfair manner. Basically the system of course fee is not transparent.” 

She further said, “Many students are suspended for having accused the administration of the university. But proper inquiries should be made before suspending them. The system that is existing in the Open University is not the way that it should be.”   
Meanwhile,  a section of university lecturers are up in arms regarding the issue of the Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University, Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama. The Federation of University Teacher’s Associations (FUTA) has been vocal in calling for his resignation claiming there are many serious allegations of irregularity against him.

According to Dr. Prabath Jayasinghe who is the President of the Federation of University Teacher’s Associations (FUTA), a letter had been presented regarding the issue on the 18 of last month. 

“We don’t find him credible, and there are many allegations in regard to him. As he was appointed by the former President we must wait till the current president (Maithripala Sirisena) comes back from England for him to resign.’’

Speaking to The Nation, FUTA spokesperson Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, said that concerning the protest which took place in the Colombo University college house, the protesting academics were invited by the University Grants commission’s new president Professor Mohan De Silva for a meeting. Dr. Devasiri further said that (Colombo University Federation Teachers Association) CUFTA received a positive response regarding the matter. He opined that Dr. Kumar Hirimburegama has no credibility to hold office. He said that a new appointment should be provided for by the President. According to Dr. Dewasiri University Grants commission (UGC) has promised to handle the issue within a week after the return of President Maithripala Sirisena.

However, when contacted, Dr. Kumar Hirimburegama opined that the mentioned organizations are trying to call for his removal through force and illegal methods. He said that unions should carry on their protest in a legal manner without threats, insults and unethical methods.

Newly appointed President of the University Grants Commission Professor Mohan De Silva commenting on the protest held by Colombo University Federation Teachers Association (CUFTA) said that unrest within the university had built up for a while. He said that CUFTA had presented the necessary documentation supporting their request of the current Vice chancellor’s resignation.  He further noted that upon meeting Dr. Hirumburegama they had discussed his current position and both of them had come to the decision that action can only be taken by President Maithripala Siresena.

The Open University and the Colombo University both are national higher education institutions in Sri Lanka. It seems that the Colombo University has possibly found a solution to its problems. Even though the Open University may not enjoy the same status as its counterpart the problems of the students should be given equal consideration.

Minister of Higher Education, Rajiva Wijesinghe said that he was no longer at his post as the State Minister of Higher Education and declined to comment on the current issues prevailing in the Higher Education system in the country.

Despite continuous attempts the Cabinet Minister of Higher Education, Kabir Hashim remained unreachable for comment.

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