A University for Uva Wellassa, the 14th university in Sri Lanka’s public university system, was opened on August 7. To the average citizen who pays for these ventures through every purchase he/she makes (except milk powder and LPG, as of yesterday) this is a not so joyous birth of a 14th child to a public university family with 13 other mouths to feed. (One interesting development is the appointment of a non-academic to the Vice-Chancellor position, more on that later).
Our universities are short on everything. Short on resources and short on talent, both academic and managerial. We should be devoting precious public resources to improve quality of existing universities. The University Of Colombo was the only Sri Lankan institution to be included in the year 2000 survey of Asian universities by Asia Week, and that university came a dead last out of a field of 70 contenders. Other newly established universities are universities in name only. Faculties of management and faculties of social science and humanities are the worst off. Only 30% of the faculty members in social science and humanities hold PhDs. Another 47% hold masters level qualifications but close to half of these Masters were obtained in the same institution that they got a BA from. (source: commonwealth Universities Year Books, 2002). This insularity of university faculty might be on the increase. In a university, quality of faculty is everything and exposure to new ideas is essential for quality. Our universities are glorified tutories in this regard.
The government has allocated a Rs; 1 billion for the new university. This additional money come at the expense of other priorities. These are monies that could have used to give incentives to the private sector to train more people for real jobs–apprentice training programs have proven to be effective for placing young trainees in the private sector. These are monies that could have been given to school leavers as vouchers to attend private institutions of their choice. Instead, a dysfunctional government goes around adding more universities to a dysfunctional public university system.
In a comprehensive report on education in Sri Lanka, a World Bank team led by Dr. Harsha Aturupane has used census data and other national data sets to make a convincing argument about priorities in educational spending. (World Bank PDF)
Please look at the data before you pooh pooh the World Bank. The analysis confirms a generally accepted principle. A country in our stage of development should spend its precious tax rupees on upgrading primary and secondary education. In tertiary education, any further investments should come from the private sector, with the government being the facilitator.
Oh well, a new baby is a new baby, and every province in Sri lanka but Uva now has its problem child or two. Wayabma province was the last to get one. Why not UVA.
If there is anything new and interesting about the new university, it is in the selection of the new Vice Chancellor. Mr. Chandra Embuldeniya is the new Vice Chancellor. Mr. Embuldeniya does not have a PhD and he is not from the Sri Lankan academic community, but he has a record of accomplishments as a business executive in quality assurance and information management (His bio can be found at http://www.nccsl.lk/pressreleases/so_231103.pdf.). When I served briefly as the Director General of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission from 2003-2004, Mr .Embuldeniya was a member of the board. I always looked up to him for sound advice. Although it is painful to witness the advent of another public university the country can ill afford, we should view the appointment of Mr. Embuldeniya as a positive development for the system, and wish the new Vice Chancellor all the best.
Universities have been traditionally run by academics for academics but the institutions have been changing in response to new demands.
In the American model, the board of management is entirely made of members from outside the academic community, but the leadership is drawn from the academia. Given the presence of an active market for educational services in the , even the academic administrators often have to be good managers of the services they provide.
Judging by the dismal state of affairs in our universities the current operating structure obviously does not work. The