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Home arrow Higher Education Policy arrow POST-GRADUATE EDUCATION HAS BEEN NEGLECTED IN THE UNIVERSITIES OF SRI LANKA

POST-GRADUATE EDUCATION HAS BEEN NEGLECTED IN THE UNIVERSITIES OF SRI LANKA

A text of a speech delivered by Prof. Wiswa Warnapala, Minister of Higher Education on the occasion of M.Phil/PhD Programme in Library and Information Science of the University of Colombo on 25th June, 2007 at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.
Any kind of use of the contents should be duly acknowledged

It is indeed a pleasure to be present on the occasion of the inauguration of M.Phil./PhD programme in Library and Information Science, and this is very much of a new programme devised in the context of contemporary technological developments in the area of Information Science. Library and information Science has now emerged as a separate academic discipline, and it has graduated from a professional-oriented discipline to an academic discipline. Librarianship, from the very beginning, was a profession, and its professionalism began to develop in association with the development of Libraries and Librarianship during the 19th century. It was in Britain that a network of Libraries came into existence, and the Public Libraries Act of 1850 resulted in the establishment of a network of Public Libraries in Britain. The British Library Association was formed in 1880, and it was with the emergence of this organization that professionalism in Librarianship came to be recognized. Since then the Librarianship, despite its growing academic content, remained a processional qualification; in other words, academic degrees, like the ones which this Institute proposes to promote at the University of Colombo, were not given recognition. It was this professional- orientation in the career of a Librarian and the absence of much academic content in the work associated with a Librarian prevented its development as an academic discipline till the arrival of modern technology, with which Library Science has been revolutionized. The development of the academic Library, which includes Libraries of Universities and other institutions associated with the Universities, had an impact on Library studies. They were very much different from public and other Libraries because the academic Library has a vital component pertaining to research and reference. All of us are aware of the fact that Public Library lends books for home reading and its function, therefore, was very limited whereas the academic Library has a wider function in providing facilities for both reference and research. It is this character of the modern Library which has widened the scope of Library Science, and it is on the basis of this experience that degree programmes in Library Science came to be introduced. The National Institute of Library and Information Science is today inaugurating a post-graduate programme, which proposes to award M.Phil, and PhD degrees in the relevant field. What does it mean? This Institute, through its post-graduate programme, is planning to produce research scholars in the field of Library Science.

Since Library Science is now an academic discipline, it would be useful to refer to academics. Academics always stick to their own subjects and they become experts in their own field. In this connection, I would like to refer to an interesting episode involving Leonard Woolf. He produced book titled Principia Politica in 1953, and all reviewers mentioned that the ideas of the author did not fit into the situation then prevalent in the world. It was E.H.Carr who wrote a devastating review; E.H.Carr stated that Leonard Woolf was not an academic. He was only a public intellectual. Academics are people who divide knowledge into compartments and for them all genuine knowledge is specialized knowledge. I said this because we are trying to elevate the status of a professional Librarian to that of an academic.

It is this context that I would like to draw your attention to the nature of Post-graduate Education in Sri Lanka. It needs to be mentioned that the Sri Lankan universities, from the very inception, developed as undergraduate institutions. The University administrators and Government policy-makers concentrated on the development of Universities as undergraduate institutions, and this, though a vital requirements in the initial stage of the development of Universities, led to the neglect of post-graduatestudies. Yet another reason was the over-emphasis on foreign post-graduate degrees, and this was primarily due to the influence of the colonial period and also due to the availability of scholarships from different organizations. Such development have had a salutary effect on the formation of a sizable group of academics with foreign post-graduate degrees and they, apart from the social respectability they enjoyed as academic, provided inspirational guidance to the undergraduates who were bent on learning. With the expansion of the Universities, question arose as to how the Universities could provide facilities for post-graduate education for those in the academic staff. Today I am told that there is a severe dearth of teachers with good post-graduate qualifications; we all know that prestige of a University depends, to a large extent, on its qualified staff and its contribution to knowledge through research and publications. In my view, all Universities should pay special attention to the staff needs of the Higher Education institutions and to ensure a suitable number of teaching and research faculty for the successful implementation of the post-graduate programmes. It needs to be well organized; unfortunately, in our Universities post-graduate programmes, excepting those in the established Post-graduate Institutions, are not properly organized and they are not properly supervised by the respective Head of Departments or the Dean of the Faculty. It is here that both national and international exhanges of faculty is necessary to create a centre of excellence. As a result of the process of globalization, international cooperation and international division of work cannot be avoided in higher education. This encourages both quality and innovation, and it is on the basis of this that Universities could prove their international competitiveness. Special efforts should be made to ensure high quality of research and teaching in higher education. Library Science has now become a nationally important field of study, and the postgraduate courses, which we inaugurate today, in addition to the enhancement of professionalism in the Librarianship, would develop as an attractive academic discipline. Therefore, in my view, it needs to be based on the following criteria;

(1)the quality of educational research and professional activities of comparable standards abroad;

(2)their strategic role as the economic, social and cultural development of Sri Lanka;

(3)labour market needs for which higher education degrees are required.

This, in my view, applies to all post-graduate courses in the universities. In our Universities sector, there are eight Post-Graduate Institutes. According to available statistics, the total number of post-graduate students enrolled at the Post-Graduate Institutes stood at 422 in 2006, and this, when looked at from the point of view of the staff needs, is inadequate to meet the demand. This shows that attractive incentives have not been provided to attract more enterprising graduates to undertake post-graduate research, and in an environment, where foreign scholarships are scarce, more graduates should make use of the existing post-graduate facilities in the country.

Higher Education could be transformed only on the basis of an expansion of post-graduate education. In this context, one can say that the universities need a post-graduate policy, which must necessarily contain both academic studies and professional training. In designing post-graduate programmes, the Universities need to take into account the requirements of the system; I refer to such things as the requirements of various disciplines and the aspirations of the learners. The policy-makers should remember the fact that if post-graduate studies are exact copy of a foreign model, they will hardly fulfill the criteria to which I referred. The aim of post-graduate studies is to produce researchers in the relevant field, and if this lofty aim is to be realized, the post-graduate programmes have to be located within research centres or institutes engage in research. Today, in the modern world, we have programmes called ‘academic' which lead to the attainment of Master's or Doctoral degrees, and are aimed at higher teaching or research within or outside the university. These programmes primarily focus in areas of natural science, social, science and humanities. There are professional specialty programmes, like this one which we are inaugurating today, which offer a degree for a specialist or an expert. There are various models of post-graduate programmes, resulting from various influences coming mainly from Britain and United States. In the ‘academic' post-graduate programmes, we see formal stages in which University teachers and researchers are provided with opportunities to prepare themselves for an academic career. Such programmes, in my view, are of fundamental importance to the expansion, development and re-production of learning centres in a country. We know that post-graduate programmes, based on the need to train university teachers and researchers are costly, and therefore, this type of post-graduate study programme should be located in places with proper infrastructure. If a post-graduate programme is to succeed, it requires what is called inter-university cooperation and this is very vital for countries with scarce academic resources. In the light of these considerations, one can conveniently say that Sri Lanka, at this given point of time, needs a well-thought out post-graduate strategy which can enhance the quality of higher education. It is through a properly designed policy that can ensure quality in the Higher Education system of Sri Lanka. The NGO-based research, with which the University dons are involved, is yet another reason which has contributed to the decline in post -graduate research in our Universities.

The World Bank too has recognized the slow expansion of post-graduate education in many parts of the world, and this is especially true of Sri Lanka. In the developing countries, the enrollment rate in post-graduate studies was 2.4 percent while the rate in the United States was 12.6 percent. In the OECD countries, on an average, one PhD is produced per year per 5000 students. In Thailand, postgraduate studies represent 3 percent of the overall enrollment and it was 8 percent in Korea. This shows that post-graduate education is integrally linked to the process of development. In the Asian countries, the absence of a proper system of post-graduate education could be traced to a tradition of sending students abroad. Concluding my remarks, it needs to be mentioned that our universities system, which is more than eighty years old, is an established system which can easily produce number of post-graduate programmes to address the staff needs as well as the needs of the country in different areas of development activity. I would like to request the Universities, instead of over-concentrating on under-graduate studies, to take steps to expand post-graduate programmes with a view to assisting the country to accelerate the process of economic and social transformation of Sri Lanka. The country needs, at this juncture, more University trained researchers and professionals, graduates with advanced technical and managerial skills, who can enrich the intellectual enterprise in the country.