The sad, bad state of our Universities and University students has been an ongoing problem for the last 40 years. Time has not solved anything. Actually things are worse than they were for nowadays, University students and their ‘DEMANDS’ are reaching epic proportions.
One would imagine that these students would have a deep sense of gratitude towards a Government that gives them a free education up to University level. But no! They enter Universities with a sense of entitlement which they certainly do not deserve to have. They demand ‘Rights’ with no sense of ‘Duty’ and I have to say that this attitude is entirely the fault of a Government that panders to these young ingrates and does not make them aware of the tremendous cost of all this free education.
As a taxpayer I am outraged. As an educationist I am aghast. As a citizen, I am furious with a Government that allows this to happen in a country that is trying to give its ungrateful youth what even wealthy countries in the West do not give their citizens.
Let us take the USA. Higher education at a good University is astronomically costly. Most students (unless their parents have saved or are wealthy) take loans. After they graduate, the Govt. DOES NOT offer them jobs. They must find their own jobs and start repaying the University that educated them. Unless they win a scholarship IT IS NOT A FREE RIDE as it is in Sri Lanka. That system works well.
So what can WE do? Obviously Free Education cannot be revised. Of course it should be, but politicians fear for their votes. Yet there are many corrective paths that can be taken if those in charge of Education will listen.
We must be aware that at least 40% of University students are there because of that iniquitous quota system that sends the best of a bad lot to be educated to Universities (even to the Medical College where a goodly number need to redo exams at least once or twice.) These unprepared students enter with all sorts of psychological problems, one of which is a feeling of inferiority. The quota system (for those who do not know what it is) began years ago which gave placements to students from every province on a quota system whether those students were suitable or not. A high ranking student of Colombo would lose a place to a low ranking child from an out station because of this system. At one time students were leaving Colombo to sit their exams from outstations feeling their chances of getting into University were better than if they were in Colombo! That little ploy soon came to a speedy end but can anyone be blamed for trying? The quota system was supposed to have been introduced as a temporary measure until all schools were brought up to one standard! An unattainable and impossible goal was it not? But here we are – still continuing with a most unfair educational method of placement. It is discrimination in reverse for the better students.
A writer recently remarked that ragging is part of the culture of a University. ‘Ragging’ he wrote, “brings those who think high and mighty of themselves to one platform” This is not strictly true. What sadistic ragging used to do was to pull everyone down not lift anyone up. Students do not enter University feeling superior. But they are PERCEIVED to be thus by those who do not come from better schools or more affluent homes. Ergo, they are ragged.
Now to come to a list of possible ‘cures’?
1. Let us revert to the system of interviewing applicants to the University. That old system of Vivas was an excellent idea. Verbal conversation with aspirants to a higher education will give those conducting the interview a fairly good idea of the quality and potential of students hoping for admission.
There used to be such a body in the past. My mother, Deshabandu Clara Motwani, was part of it. It comprised well known personalities, not necessarily in education but were Mercantile Director and CEOs who were capable of judging youth. They were totally incorruptible. No one would dream of approaching anyone on that committee with a request to grant a favour.
In her book “The Sweet And Simple Kind” Professor Emeritus of Macquarie University, Dr. Yasmine Gooneratne mentions that my mother interviewed her when she entered the Peredeniya University for her undergraduate studies. The questions asked were not necessarily academic. A girl from Matara who was interviewed on the same day was asked what reading she had done outside her English Literature syllabus. She answered truthfully, “If the committee thinks I had time to do much outside reading after coping with the syllabi, it is going to be disappointed”. The committee laughed and she was offered a place. My mother told me afterwards that the child showed a sense of humour and the ability to deal with a difficult question honestly. She was a unanimous choice. The committee asked most applicants about Sport, interests out side school, personal attitudes etc. That viva was an excellent idea. Revive it.
2. Today, students entering the (formerly) hallowed grounds of learning should sign a bond ensuring that if they ever go on strike or cause disruption to the normal routine, they will either lose their place in the University permanently or else be banned for a year or so. They have absolutely no right to strike with all the free instruction they are getting. If they have any problems they must be resolved by discussion. NEVER by public protest. We, the taxpayers should be the only ones allowed to protest!
3. University students should not interfere in what is not their business. What the Govt. decides to do about SAITM is no concern of theirs. It is only a certain amount of envy and insecurity that causes all this uproar. A perfectly good North Medical College was closed down due to the action of those who felt a private education would supersede their’s in quality. Naturally it might have done so since the type of child at NMC was not entering the NMC on a quota system. He certainly would have been better suited to a medical career than quite a few in the Govt. Medical College. The NMC could have awarded Scholarships to bright kids as is done in the USA. (Rarely in the study of Medicine). But to do away with an entire College was lunacy.
"Politics and politicians should not be allowed to have anything to do with admissions or punishments of the University
“Ragging brings those who think high and mighty of themselves to one platform” - A writer
They have absolutely no right to strike with all the free instruction they are getting"
4. Politics and politicians should not be allowed to have anything to do with admissions or punishments of the University. The Vice Chancellor, Carefully chosen with an excellent background should be given the power to run the University without any political interference. Most of our politicians are uneducated anyway so why should they be allowed to tamper with something they do not even understand? I once heard a University VIP speak at a public Meeting. She could hardly speak in English and what she said was quite immature and silly. Poor English can be overlooked but not subject matter.
5. A dress code would be a good idea. Those ‘Denim clad, pony tailed and unshaven boys,’ could give place to well groomed undergrads. I am not talking of expensive clothing here. Just neat and clean attire.
I am assuming that the Professors themselves will be caring people not given to running to politicians for appointments as now happens. I am sure they are well grounded in their subjects but I am told that University appointments ARE politically influenced. What a tragedy for the standard of our Universities.
We cannot but help harking back to the days of Sir Ivor Jennings, Dr. Nicholas Attygalle and others of like calibre. Surely we have such people still available?
I just have to tell an amusing story here. Apparently on one of his visits to Sri Lanka, Lee Kwan Yu was playing golf with Dudley Senanayake, the then Prime Minister. While still on the green the news was brought to Dudley that the University Students in Peradeniya were rioting. It quite upset the PM and he told Lee Kwan Yu about what was throwing him off his game. The Singaporean PM is alleged to have breezily replied , “What’s the problem? Just shoot one or two. The protest will end.“
Now I am not suggesting we do this. But we can certainly come down hard on all this lawlessness that closes Universities and send students home to hibernate for months. I am told that it is only 8% of University undergrads who are trouble shooters. The others are forced to go along with them. If this is true then most of the present undergrads will be very happy if strong arm tactics are used.
There is no doubt that every taxpayer in this country will be totally approving. I for one will pay my taxes gladly. Something I do under protest each year (at the moment.)