header image
Home arrow Higher Education Policy arrow Producing a New Generation of Young Who Could See the World over the Horizon

Producing a New Generation of Young Who Could See the World over the Horizon
Hon. S. B. Dissanayake
Minister of Higher Education

The Vision of my Ministry will be to contribute to the intensified human resource development of Sri Lanka through a reformed higher education system in order that the objects of Five Hubs of Mahinda Chintha are achieved. 

I have never heard anybody in this country saying that the UGC is admitting students to universities on an improper basis. I wish to state first that it is our common responsibility to maintain that reputation. Whatever political influences or pressures that we see in other places, we have maintained this transparency in our university system. It is to the credit of all university employees that we have managed to maintain that credibility and high standard and you should be proud of that feat.

The allocation for higher education in 2009 was around 2.9 percent of our national income. Even this was possible after so much of effort, as we had to fight a ruthless terrorist war unleashed in this country during the last thirty years or so. On some instances, the daily expenditure for this war exceeded several billions. We lost enormous property and public assets in addition to human lives as a result of the war. Under such circumstances, even the allocated money for the universities could not be obtained or utilized.

Now we have been able to stop this carnage and destruction of the country. Our economy is now in good shape. Incomes are being generated. The North and the East are now part of the economy. Our agricultural production is increased. Tourists are coming in large numbers. Our stock exchange is vibrant. Our foreign reserves are strong. Therefore, we are in a position to look into the future from a stable position both nationally and internationally.

There is a changing power balance in the world. While the big nations are immersed in a chronic economic crisis, Asian countries are rising in unprecedented terms. Before the 17th century, Asia contributed around 80 percent to the world production. However, by the turn of the 20th century, it fell down to below 20 percent. Now again Asia is rising. China, India and Vietnam are rising. Both subjective and objective conditions are ripe for Sri Lanka also to rise up. The necessary conditions are strong. Therefore, I like to declare that we are at the brink of a golden era.

His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has introduced the concept of Five Hubs for the country’s future development. These are in the spheres of navigation, aviation, commerce, energy and knowledge. Knowledge development means the development of human resources. The Ministry of Higher Education, therefore, has been given a very important role in developing the country.

The human resources that we have in this country are enormous. They are the young and the most exciting and emotional segment of the human race. They are our children, but most obdurate. As I have gone through that age myself, I know it fully well. We don’t need to worry too much however. We need to go towards our targets with them. We need to resolve our problems through dialogue as much as possible. Employee unions, non-academic staff, university governing councils and the UGC should involve themselves in these dialogues.

Without the support of the non-academic staff, we cannot go this journey. Their satisfaction is important. The satisfaction of the academics is important. At the time we graduated, initial salary of an academic was higher than the initial salary of a Central Bank staff officer. It is the other way round today. While a junior lecturer gets only rupees 26,000, I understand, a junior central bank officer gets around 60,000. As a result, our lecturers and professors are leaving the country. We intend to resolve the frustrations of academics soon.

Conditions in our universities are not satisfactory. At the Trincomalee Campus, I have heard that there is only one toilet for around 300 students. There are problems of hostels. There are problems of thugs that the students fear about. But most importantly, the employment opportunities for graduates are dwindling. The demand for graduates in certain fields is decreasing. This can be a question of quality of education or graduates. Therefore, we have to review curricular and courses. All these problems cannot be solved instantly.

As academics are experienced people in society, it might be easy to resolve problems with them. But students are inexperienced and emotional. Therefore, it is not that easy to resolve problems with them. We need to listen to all sectors before we conclude solutions to various problems. We can take best out of their suggestions in resolving problems. But we cannot listen to only one section. 

We have taken the challenge of developing this country. We want to convert the ‘lower middle class’ into an ‘upper middle class,’ so to say. The main target is to increase the per capita income from the present US $ 2,000 level to 4,000 levels. Unlike in the past, there is an amazing interest on the part of the President and the Government on Higher Education.

What the President wants is to produce “a new generation young who could see the world over the horizon.” This is the task of the universities. 

Human achievements are the result of human resource development. We need to inculcate a determination among the university students that they could make a pivotal contribution to the development of this country by becoming valuable partners in the human resource market.

There are some students who get disturbed by merely hearing the words ‘private universities.’ That is not correct. Already there are around 60 private institutions that confer degrees. What I am worried about is what benefits that our universities get out of these institutions? What are the benefits that the next 20,000 Advanced Level pass students get out of these institutions? It is almost nothing. Even universities like Cambridge offer 10 percent of scholarships to their poor students and another 10 percent for students from developing countries. In our country, these private institutions do not even offer a single scholarship to our needy students.

There are about 240, 000 students who sit for the Advanced Level examination every year. Although around 130,000 of them get through the examination, only 20,000 can be accommodated in our universities given the prevailing conditions. The difference of marks between those who get admitted and the next 20,000 is almost negligible. That is why we are looking for alternatives of accommodating them through private universities and scholarships for those who cannot afford. There are difficulties in expanding present universities. We have around 65,000 students in our universities, but only 4,500 teachers. We should ideally have around 6,000 teachers. There is a dearth of teachers.

Today, tomorrow and day after, we need to expand our public universities. The facilities should be expanded. The level of teaching and curricular should be taken to the highest professional levels. We should do that by assessing the human resource markets in the Asian context. Asia is the expanding region. In the next five years, when Asia becomes the richest financial market in the world, we need to produce our graduates to suit the requirements of human resources in that market.

We also need to attract Asian students to our universities to produce them as knowledge workers. Sri Lanka is in the best position to do so. That is what we mean by a ‘knowledge hub.’ If we do so, then we can also double the number of our students in our universities. We can double the facilities in our universities. We can increase the grants of Mahapola scholarships. When students graduate from our universities, then they can have employment readily available.

This is our vision and objective.