By Shalini Wickramasuriya
FUTA sold out after a long haul and we are yet to hear of the progress with regard to demands and proposals that were discussed at negotiations. The decision to go back to work, despite being apparently dissatisfied with the Government’s response to the demands, was primarily based on responsibility towards the students. What is most telling is that one component of the demand, back pay of three months salary would be paid; other demands may be dealt with by the Government and could be apparent in the budget due shortly.
If due consideration to students and responsibility to the students is at the core of the rationale to return to work, what of the lost academic time of the students? Would catch-up classes be scheduled? Would term time be extended and ensuing holidays foregone? A semester lost is a very long time during ones brief stint at university and more pertinently in view of specific modules and options. When would exams be scheduled? Many final year students had expected to take exams in July or August and then effectively enter the workforce. The lecturers will after all be paid for the three months during which they did not work.
" We would also assume that 6% of the GDP spent would have a fair distribution to those of the public who would in fact avail of university education "
In view of adhering to demands such as the 20% increase in salaries and if the 6% allocation of GDP to education were to be justifiable in this specific context, would we see evidence of an increase in performance of university lecturers? What measures are in place such as performance indicators to gauge professional standards and ensure that many of the courses are upgraded in keeping with the rising standards throughout the world? Additionally we need to adhere to the formula that our students are ‘reading for a degree’ and are able to subscribe to a sincere learning culture. Would we see a learning culture based on creativity, enhanced problem solving skill, analytical skills or despite adhering to the stipulated demands would be seeing the same bog standard outcomes which question if young graduates are equipped with the skills to ensure that they are employable? What facilities are in place to ensure that students additionally acquire life skills and soft skills which in fact would make them more marketable in the ever competitive work-force? Would they be exposed to other value added skills such as IT and verbal skills which include English are mandatory.
If we are to emulate some of the growing economies such as Malaysia where mid-year Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is more than 5 per cent, and the unemployment rate is less than 3 per cent. Despite such promise the latest initiative is the Graduate Employability Blueprint to be implemented under the 2013 budget and due to be launched in December 2013. The Ministry of Higher Education will launch programmes in collusion with the private sector which will enhance the skills set through training, internships and programmes such as the Student Entrepreneurship and Employability Programme and the Students’ Development Programme.
" This juncture calls for sincere reflection; how effective are our higher education institutes? With the exception of a few faculties some are in dire need of an upgrade in terms of the professional commitment, the caliber of teaching staff, teaching skills and links with industry "
If our young graduates are to be able to access the resources relating to their respective fields they do need to have effective access to an international language as economies of scale just do not permit translation of Lister, so we do need to consider the importance of the life skill of English.
In terms of additional funding being allocated to education we need to look to lessons in best practice in order to assess of how accountable we may be. In UK the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), along with the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), are the funding councils whose remit it is to develop policy and allocate public funds to the universities. The funding councils also have a statutory responsibility to assess the quality of learning and teaching in the UK universities they fund. Four measures are used: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) provided data for entry standards, student-staff ratios, spending on academic services, facilities spending, good honours degrees, graduate prospects, completion and overseas student enrolments. HESA is the official agency for the collection, analysis and dissemination of quantitative information about the universities. So we need to consider if such increases to salary and spending would in fact ensure a higher quality of university education? We need accountability.
We would also assume that 6% of the GDP spent would have a fair distribution to those of the public who would in fact avail of university education. So which component of the 6% demanded would be allocated to university related expenditure which would go towards improving the quality of research, the better reference and library faciltiies and well supported e-learning, soft skills and life skills development. A fair rationale would be that a majority of the spending be allocated to universal education for the betterment of life chances for many and not just the university subscribers.
This juncture calls for sincere reflection; how effective are our higher education institutes? With the exception of a few faculties some are in dire need of an upgrade in terms of the professional commitment, the caliber of teaching staff, teaching skills and links with industry.
Accountability which would include performance indicators is a matter of the Ministry of Higher Education. It is our hope that our university lecturers are not privy to the same fallacy that befalls their charges, a cushy government job with no performance indicators or accountability. It is also fair to consider that consumers vote with their feet, and if they feel that the standards at some local institutes are inadequate will choose to subscribe to overseas universities or external degrees on offer in Sri Lanka creating a whole subculture who are ahead of their peers.
(The writer is an educational consultant specializing in project and programme planning, education curriculum design, teacher-training and bespoke learning programmes. Master Trainer for the Teacher Trainer Diploma programme CIE Board in Sri Lanka)