This is part two of article series on Higher Education in Sri Lanka by Buddhi Ranasinghe. The previous article is found below;
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.
(II)Preventing The Loss Of Expertise To Foreign Nations
Most people leave the country in search of higher education or jobs because they’re unable to find them within the country. Fixing this problem needs to be 2-pronged:
Firstly, the admissions system needs to be reformed. Today getting into a state university requires the student to follow the national advanced level curriculum only. Those following overseas advanced level equivalents are not even considered. Even though this restriction keeps the smirk on most of the naïve backward parts of the populous, it is crucial that this changes, because what needs to be understood is, most of these kids are smart, they will blossom to become assets to whichever workforce they serve in. Right now the workforce most of these kids will serve in the future won’t be in Sri-Lanka. This is the proposed solution to the problem.
Let any student local and foreign with National or overseas advanced level equivalent examination results be eligible to be accepted at the existing state universities. Students who study under the national curriculum can be judged based on their z-scores with the accepted cut off z-scores. Everyone selected to study at the state universities will have to pay a tuition fee, HOWEVER(HOLD YOUR HORSES BEFORE SEVERELY CRITISIZING THIS ARTICLE :D), all students who have followed the national curriculum with the sufficient z-scores (i.e those who would, under the existing system be receiving a free higher education) should be awarded a fully state sponsored scholarship.
This system would ensure that all students following the national curriculum with the sufficient z-scores will still be able to enjoy a completely free higher education whilst also making sure that no expertise is lost due to students leaving the country and additionally turns the higher education system into a potential source of income.
The second solution is to ensure sufficient jobs are available in the job market for our graduates. This can be achieved by rigidly implementing the triple helix structure within the country and by promoting entrepreneurs to bloom within our graduates. This section will be discussed in detail in a future article.
(III)Ensuring Academics Become Assets Within The System.
Under the existing system university academics perform a role similar to school teachers. Hence our education system has succeeded in producing fewer innovators and a large number of students who passed exams with flying colours. The solution is simple. Currently academics can be promoted from the post of assistant lecturer to lecturer to senior lecturer with a post graduate masters coursework qualification along with a certain number of years of service. The very first task is to amend the academic scheme of recruitment, to ensure that academics being promoted to the post of senior lecturer have a doctorate degree in their respective fields (since this is the closest form of formal education which requires absolute innovation and research).
Existing circular number 721(1997) states that whilst a doctoral degree is certainly accepted for the promotion to senior lecturer it is not compulsory. What needs to be understood is that academics at a university aren’t there to teach a bunch of kids. They need to be the centers of innovation. To produce budding graduate innovators, the masters who guide them need to be innovators themselves. Yet how can innovation become a reality amongst the majority of academics when their scheme of recruitment considers it “technically irrelevant”.
A problem which might initially appear due to this proposed reform is the lack of doctoral awarding universities in Sri Lanka, hopefully these proposed changes should eradicate this problem in a couple of decades, to jump start the changes the state could sponsor such academics to study overseas.(which does not seem to be a problem, atleast for the next 5 years since the present government has pledged 6% GDP for education)
Additionally changing the academic curriculum for undergraduate degrees to include a research year foremostly in the fields of engineering, medicine & technology. This would ensure that students move out of the “university as a classroom” culture and take the future academics towards innovation.
(IV)Reforming The Administrative System By Rewriting The Role Of The University Grants Commission.
On a positive note, the current Prime Minister Mr.Wickramasinghe has expressed his concern to change the role of the UGC. However unfortunately no policy changes have taken effect as of yet.
Just to give a brief description on the existing system, students apply to the UGC. The UGC decides which university the student goes to. The universities have no reason to compete with each other as students will be sent to their universities despite their performance, hence the standards remain more or less unchanged over time.
Ideally the change I would like to see would give the universities a form of autonomy.
The new system would be one where students of multiple advanced level curriculum apply to the UGC with preferences to atleast 5 degree programs. The students of multiple advanced level curriculum apply to the UGC with preferences to atleast 5 degree programs. Each degree program will have an guaranteed entry cut-off mark. (eg.Students who have a z-score of 2.1011 or above will have guaranteed entry to study engineering at the University of Moratuwa). Students who have a mark above this will be given an offer to study immediately. The university will decide what the guaranteed entry cut-off mark is and which students to send the offers to. All students who have not received the guaranteed entry will be chosen by the respective universities if slots are available on merit basis. Foreign students who wish to join will apply directly to the respective universities. The universities will be able to admit foreign students directly from outside the UGC and will have complete control over this procedure.
The logic behind this system ensures that inter-university competition occurs. This competition will result in an increase in standard and quality of education. As an added benefit severely reduces the length of time it takes for the university admissions process as application processing is outsourced to the universities themselves.
This system changes the role of the UGC as the absolute administrative body for universities and provides it with a new role: To be a platform for communication between the students and the universities.