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Why protesting undergrads have clout

15 January 2020 01:26 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A regime is aware of the clout that university students have in terms of bringing reforms to the university system

The Government’s call to protesting undergraduates to chose the peaceful path of negotiating might not go well with university students. Though the path to negotiating is the preferred way in a civilised society, university students have got used to making demands and doing so from a position of strength.   

However aggressive the regime is, lawmakers are cautious when dealing with undergraduates because ‘handling campus students and their issues’ are sensitive subjects. There is even a school of thought that the police can’t enter the premises of a state campus, but this is debatable.  

A recent protest held near the University Grants Commission (UGC) went on smoothly because the protesters were allowed to agitate on the streets. The minister of Higher Education Bandula Gunawardene even invited the protesters for a discussion at his office, adjacent to the place where the protest took place.   

A regime is aware of the clout that university students have in terms of bringing reforms to the university system and making the government sit up and take note of student issues. When former military man Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president there was talk that even if members of other institutes might have their concerns about protesting against this regime, the university students would not hesitate to take to the streets and nudge government officials with their demands.   

The earliest student agitations are recorded from Germany and they took place as far back as 1848. These protesting trends caught up around the world and were seen in countries like China, Italy and America. Some of these protests related to matters beyond the boundaries of the university. In 1911 undergraduates in China supported a countrywide revolution. In America, undergraduates of both the Kent and Jackson universities protested against American Army and Police personnel being deployed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.   

Most of them get teaching appointments, but seldom do the authorities find among these young graduates those who love teaching and have patience

Past records in the world reveal that university students have taken over state institutes and even toppled governments. There are classic examples for the latter. We have read of how agitations by undergraduates in Burma unseated a dictator leader. In South Korea student protests in 1987 forced elections to be held; thus restoring democracy in the country.   

The present Sri Lankan regime has a statistic to its advantage. The present President Gotabaya Rajapaksa saw the undergraduates, representing the youth in the country, preferring him over the somewhat young lawmaker Sajith Premadasa at the recent presidential elections. Hence the government’s call to undergraduates to take to the negotiating path instead of adopting violent agitation tactics as in the past, doesn’t come as a surprise.   

These are days where we get to hear of much news about graduates and undergraduates. The present regime has promised to make permanent as many as 3060 graduates employed in state universities. For the record there are as many as 50,000 unemployed graduates at present. This figure being made public by the government augers well for the future of those who have completed university education. One of the biggest issues regarding graduates is that they are either unemployed or are employed in professions which don’t give them job satisfaction.

Most of them get teaching appointments, but seldom do the authorities find among these young graduates those who love teaching and have the patience to take the next generation of students through the learning process.   

Handling undergraduates and running universities are no mean tasks. Governments have to raise funds to pump into state universities. These days we have heard so much about undergraduates complaining about their scholarship funds (Mahapola) not being released to them. But the government maintains that the greenlight has been given to the Bursary for university students to release such funds on the 15th of each month. An undergraduate is expected to receive Rs 10,000 a month and the regime has made allocations to release Rs 20 billion for this purpose which is more than the Rs 10.5 billion the previous regime allocated for this purpose.   

Though the dream of the majority of students studying in government schools is to enter campus, a good number of them who qualify for a state funded degree opt to stay away from enrolling themselves. This is due to the inhuman ragging that takes place at state universities. For the record as many as 2000 university hopefuls have shelved their plans to pursue a university education due to this menace of ragging. The good news for them is that the state has announced that a fresh placement would be made for such students who wish to change their minds and live their university dream.   

Recently we read much about clashes at university between two groups. This was regarding a ragging issue and several undergraduates were arrested and remanded. Ragging at university seems to be deep-rooted. It is interesting to see how this new regime deals with such issues within the campus and ensures that the university degree completion process continues unhindered.   

The present President Gotabaya Rajapaksa saw the undergraduates, representing the youth in the country, preferring him over the somewhat young lawmaker Sajith Premadasa

University students over the years have kept past regimes on their toes. But there have been occasions when things have gone out of control. From the 1960s protesting trends of university students have not always received the sympathy and support of the public. There have been occasions in history, in the world, where the suppressing of agitating undergraduates in countries like Argentina and Uruguay has led to students adopting guerrilla warfare. In Sri Lanka too, like during the 1971 and 1989 JVP revolutions, scores of university students were killed by the government’s military arm and paramilitary forces when the agitations of protesters knew no limits. In countries like Kenya and Burma universities were completely shut down to curb the violence carried out by university students.   

In third world countries like Sri Lanka both undergraduates and even some of their lecturers have been involved in struggles carried out to ensure freedom.   

It is good to know that the present government is showing signs of practising tolerance when it comes to dealing with undergraduates. Getting into the shoes of the undergraduates is essential for those walking the corridors of power because the threat coming towards the regime from undergraduates can work itself up to become a tsunami.     

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