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Dissecting the reasons for low international ranking of Sri Lankan State universities – A student’s

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 17 February 2017 00:00

08By Natasha Fernando

Sri Lankan universities, according to the Ministry of Higher Education, is ranked as illustrated in the table. It is an extremely pathetic situation particularly since Sri Lanka is now a middle income country.

Let’s face it, our universities suck! Private universities with lower quality and tuition culture purport to be ranked higher than State universities because they are affiliated with a top 500 international university. State universities are publicly funded and they should have better commitment to standards. 

Why are State universities ranked so low? How can international ranking of State universities be increased? What are the barriers for achieving this goal? I honestly do not know the answers. But I can attempt to answer this as a student from a student’s perspective. Let’s tackle the barriers first:

1. Ragging

10The Inter University Students Federation aka ‘Anthare’ is the major barrier to a fruitful student life. The ‘Anthare’ is a Marxist-Leninist association of students controlled and guided by the left-wing of Sri Lanka. The only way for these backward-thinking political groups to gain electoral votes is to mobilise a bunch of students coming from economically-deprived backgrounds and use them to promulgate disruptive political activities that don’t do much good to society. 

During my first year in university I remember how I was ragged. Ragging happens right in front of the university administration building. This alone shows how arrogant these sadists are. The university administration waits for a favourable political climate to launch anti-ragging campaigns but not all the academics are on a united front. Recent news about the Peradeniya University Veterinary Faculty shows the stance that some academics have about this issue. A professor had ragged a student to make him realise how ragging feels like, which is all the more regrettable.

There are many academics who have come to influential positions from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of them are very supportive of the ISUF, because, in their opinion the ISUF is the only united front against privatisation of State universities. They claim that they have thrived due to free education and it should not be abolished. Some of them have been ISUF activists in their heyday.

The real danger of ragging lies in how ragging is a mobilisation method to create unrest and brainwash otherwise unassuming students to revolt against every government. There is not a single government in Sri Lanka that ‘Anthare’ has not opposed.

Before the JVP insurrections of 1987-1989 State universities had academics who were research partners of Ivy Leagues and top universities in the world. Many of them migrated due to these insurrections, resulting in a huge brain drain. This trend of brain drain is a continuing phenomenon to which the modern causes are manifold and ragging is just one of them.

There are a handful of these ISUF activists who have infiltrated the Open Universities of Sri Lanka and some of them are ironically law students. Currently there are also plans according to hearsay to infiltrate the Sri Lanka Law College. The Bar Association must be alert about such students entering the legal profession which is already overcrowded.

2. Politics

Sri Lankan universities are known for openly advocating and canvassing for various political parties. For example, Kelaniya University through a survey predicted 53% of the votes for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and 44% for Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential elections. 

Academics openly express their political views, which is not that big a deal after all, since everyone is entitled to their own political opinions. However, some find it difficult to keep politics separate from university academics. 

Certain departments hire probationary lecturers based on political opinions through which many or if not better competent ones are left out. This is absolutely ridiculous. It is the merits of the person in question that must be weighed not whether they ‘support devolution’ or ‘oppose devolution’. 

Many academics fight each other and this reflects on the grades of students. Inter-departmental fights result in talented students being victimised because academics cannot keep politics and personal ‘beef’ separate from doing their job. 

3. Petty jealousies

In State universities there are many students who come from a decent socio-economic background, went to a national or private school, speak some English, dress decently, also study at a private university to increase chances of employment. There are also many who do not possess the same comforts, which leads to petty jealousies. Some talented students have heart-breaking stories to tell about how they were treated in university by lecturers. Examples:

  • Lecturers threatening students to withhold academic references when a student seeks to engage in post graduate studies in a foreign university [this happened to me in a private university quite sadly]
  • Being bombarded with so many questions about how much they are paying for a course and wanting to know how much money your parents have
  • Rejecting thesis proposals due to various unascertainable excuses
  • Claiming a student’s piece of writing is not their own but plagiarised from elsewhere without proof or without evidence of using plagiarism detection software
  • Threatening to fail students for sexual favours

Some lecturers are extremely reluctant to acknowledge that certain students are talented in their own right. Some academics simply cut off talented students if they pose a threat to their own jobs which is probably the most ridiculous insecurity within the State university education system.

I’ve come across a probationary lecturer who migrated to Australia because the university staff mistreated her. She was a published researcher in a Sri Lankan think tank. If the university academics can get rid of these insecurities and petty jealousies, such talent could have been retained in the country. This girl gave up her passion to pursue her university research degree where she toiled for four years due to mistreatment and travelled abroad to become an accountant [field entirely different from what she previously studied].

Students with a decent upbringing are now reluctant to attend State universities due to mismanagement, lack of professionalism and lecturers who simply rant about unnecessary things unrelated to the subject during lectures, some even arrogant enough to swear in front of students. This is extremely pathetic. This is the sad state of affairs at Sri Lankan State universities.

Sri Lanka is much in need of educational reforms which must be undertaken by an independent committee. More students should be encouraged to come out and narrate their experiences to the general public.

The writer is a Law student at University of London International Programs.

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