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Higher Education: broken beyond repair ?

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Is it really broken beyond repair? Buddhi analyses the problem and what solutions he sees to the issue at hand, as an outsider looking into the system.

Prior to 1977, the country believed that being self-sufficient with an iron curtain was the path to a prosperous country. However all that change with President J.R.Jayawardena’s open economy policies. This article reveals another smaller iron curtain that exists.

THE PROBLEM

In 1983, approximately 12,000 students were taken into university, in 2015(over a period of 32 years) this number increased to roughly 25,000. However when scrutinizing these numbers you will see that the number of advanced level passes in 1983 is roughly 45,000 whilst the current statistic stands at 100,000. Hence leaving aside the fact that over 32 years the nominal intake value has increased at a very low rate, the percentage of students getting into university compared to total advanced level passes has remained constant at a pathetic value of 25%.

Over the past 12 years the number of students seeking higher education outside the state university system, more specifically outside the country has increased significantly with a large part of this group going to Australia, The United Kingdom and Malaysia. A large proportion of these students settle down in the said countries and serve the respective workforce of that country. These students, the ones who leave they don’t care, they foster no hatred at not being eligible to go to a state sponsored university(A significant reason for this is due to the introduction of Cambridge & Edexel curricula to the secondary education sector) because they have a comfortable life with a top-notch salary. However we must care, because with each skilled migration of Sri-Lankan citizens to Australia, the UK or the United States, we as a country lose valuable expertise. Instead of integrating our workforce to make Sri-Lanka a more productive state, we are shipping off our workforce because their prospects seem meagre in their eyes if they stay in Sri-Lanka. The 2 root causes for this problem is a flaw within the entrance system to university and the lack of a triple helix system(Government-University-Industry).

The higher education systems in Australia, the United Kingdom and Malaysia provide significantly to their country’s earnings. Are Sri Lankan academics able to achieve world standards? YES. Do we have the infrastructure to support more than 25000 kids per intake? YES. Do the state universities have a lot more potential? YES. Then why? Why isn’t Sri-Lanka utilizing her amazing talents and resources to drive her state university system towards greatness? The reasons are simple. Firstly, many Sri Lankans have a naïve mindset that “Any education you pay for is education not worthy”. Secondly there is a severe mis-management of resources at universities. Thirdly, universities are simply not motivated because they have no autonomy of any sort, the University Grants Commission handles everything from admission to fund allocation, effectively making the universities puppets in the hands of an extremely inefficient puppeteer.

THE SOLUTIONS

Do all the above mentioned problems have a solution? Can our higher education system be made an asset to both produce intellectual individuals and be a driving force in shaping our economy? YES.

(I)ENSURING AN INCREASE IN THE ADMISSIONS PER YEAR

As mentioned above the infrastructure resources within our universities are not being utilized properly.

  • Timetables are made not for the rooms but based on the lecturers request. This results in a massive haphazard usage of classroom/other infrastructure resources at the time with the largest number of requests however during an off-peak time(a time where most lecturers prefer not to teach) there is an abundance of unused infrastructure. The only change that needs to be made is to create timetables based on the available infrastructure instead of following a system to appease the academics.
  • All universities operate in the standard working hours of 8.00 a.m to 5.00 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Is it necessary to follow this standard? Can’t this time be extended until 7.00p.m. at the least? Can’t universities operate on Saturdays? Yes they can be(making this change will add an extra 21 hours of operation per week), the only requirement is to cover the overtime pay of the lecturers and any other necessary administrative staff. NOTE: This does not mean that the number of lectures per student increases. It means the number of lectures that can be carried out increase, hence the number of students that can be admitted can be increased.
  • Inter faculty co-operation needs to occur to increase the efficiency of the overall university.(For instance if the Law faculty auditorium is free between 2.pm to 4.pm and there is no space within the Science faculty to accommodate the applied chemistry lecture it should be held at the free law auditorium). Implementing these 3 simple short term changes to the system can give a forecasted increase in admissions of at least 50%. That is a very significant increase, and the amazing part is, these changes can be made before the next intake to achieve an instant increase in admissions. The expected ideal outcome with the changes would be to have every lecture room, laboratory and auditorium to be working at any given instant everyday from Monday to Saturday 8.am to 7.pm.

The Solutions section will continue next week on part 2 of this article series on Sri Lanka’s Higher Education System. 

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