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A text of a speech delivered by Prof. Wiswa Warnapala, Minister of Higher Education at the University of Wayamba -Makandura Campus on 3rd October 2007.
Any kind of use of the contents should be duly acknowledged

It is with great pleasure that I agree to come to the University of Wayamba; the reason is that I was associated with the establishment of the University which took place during my tenure as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education in the period 1994-2000. The then existing system of Affiliated University Colleges were a failure as they could not meet the aspirations of the student community which, instead of a Diploma, wanted to obtain a degree. The need to offer more higher educational opportunities to the growing number of students, who qualify at the Advanced Level Examination, had to be provided with access to higher education, and it was with the expansion of access that an educated work force could be created in the country for the purpose of accelerating the process of economic development. Today knowledge has become the fundamental actor in economic development and therefore, it is only through higher education that a foundation could be laid for the emergence of a knowledge economy in the country.

Since the introduction of the Free Education Scheme in 1945, the demand for higher education came to be increased, and the system of University education, which remained highly exclusive and elitist in character, came to be challenged by a new group of young men and women who were educated in Sinhala; in other words, the expansion of the primary and secondary education in the post-1945 period made an impact on the sphere of higher education in the country. The challenge for all policy makers was to expand the access to higher education and the successive Governments established Universities and expanded the system in response to this demand which, initially, began in the sixties. Yet the system could not successfully meet the demand as the numbers began to increase in the seventies and eighties, and this educational boom, which primarily as a consequence of the improvements in the primary and secondary sectors, influenced the policy-makers to break-away from the mould within which the higher education system stagnated. In other words, the very need to provide more access required a fundamental change in the Oxbridge model which the late Sir Ivor Jennings installed in Sri Lanka, and it was a highly restricted system of higher education where an exclusive elite-oriented residential University dominated the system and every other University, which came to be established thereafter, blindly followed the same model without taking into consideration the transformation taking place in the country in terms of social and economic aspirations of the people in the rural areas. They, who remain suppressed during the colonial times, emerged as the alternative elite in the country, and their awakening, around the demand to enthrone Sinhala as the official language, also had an effect on the educational policy. In other words, more and more opportunities had to be created to cater to the aspirations of the emerging elite, whose children, educated in Sinhala and Tamil, demanded access to the higher education sector which, because of the nature and content of the new social situation in the country, needed to be diversified in order to expand the access. The political crisis of the seventies and eighties, associated with the youth and their aspirations, also demanded a change in the policy relating to higher education.

It was in this given background that the Government, in the period 1994-2000, decided to establish Universities in the provinces; the provincialization of Universities, which, in terms of policy, was an attempt to emulate the Red Brick scheme of Britain, through which industrialization of Britain was accelerated. In other words, it was our realization that the Oxbridge model has already become outmoded and the country, therefore, needed a new model that could successfully cater to the needs of the country. The view was that the traditional conventional University, with its traditional disciplines, is not the type of University which the country requires at this juncture; the country needs a set of new universities which can specialize on courses of studies that are immediately relevant to economic development, and they above all, need to be courses with which the employability of the graduate could be guaranteed. Therefore, the new Universities, which came to be established on the basis of this formula, were expected to be innovative in character; in other words, they were asked to take initiatives in organizing courses of studies relevant to the immediate needs of the country.

It was on this principle that we established the Universities of Rajarata, Sabaragamuwa, South Eastern, Wayamba and Uva Wellassa; today all provinces in the country have been provided with centres of intellectual activity. It is up-to the student community, and the academic community to convert these institutions of higher learning into effective centres of learning, and such developments, with the passage of time, are certain to create a unique intellectual culture in the provinces. Universities can make a tremendous impact on locality; the intellectual and learning culture is certain to take the gown to the town.

It could not be denied that the infra-structure of the new Universities is not yet up-to the mark, and it would take sometime to develop. A University cannot be developed into a reputed academic institution within a short period of time as it primarily involves the production of intellectuals. The physical facilities, like the one which we ceremonially opened today, could not be built within a week or two. It is the policy of the Government to give priority to the development of the infra-structure in the new Universities. In the year 2007, the Government has already allocated 3673.3 million rupees for capital development projects in the Universities, and this is in addition to the recurrent expenditure. The projects, which have been approved by the national Planning Department, amounts to Rs. 4393 million, and in the year 2007, the Cabinet of Ministers has given approval to projects, the cost of which is Rs. 1135 million. In 2007, the allocation to universities under the UGC is highest ever, i.e. Rs.309 billion, which is distributed as Rs. 2.8 billion for continuing projects and Rs. 1.1 billion for new projects. Under the new projects, priority is given to new universities like the one at Wayamba, to improve their facilities. I made use of the occasion to refer to these details - which are not known to the student community - in order to impress upon them that we, in terms of policy, are committed to improve infra-structure in the new Universities. The Government needs the cooperation of both the academic community and the student community to accelerate the process of development in these Universities which we propose to convert into centres of learning. I want these institutions, despite their drawbacks and deficiencies which could be corrected with the passage of time, to evolve a culture of learning with which we can move in the direction of knowledge in Sri Lanka.