Foreign universities: Bane or boon?

Thursday, 27 January 2011 00:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

HIGHER Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake has been proposing the setting up private foreign universities in Sri Lanka. Some other ministers in the Government too have voiced their opinion on this matter, supporting the idea and suggested admitting foreign students on cultural exchange programmes and so on.

This is not a bad idea altogether, because setting up foreign universities in Sri Lanka will open the door to our students to acquire knowledge as well as share experiences with students and teachers of these universities.

Once these universities are set up here, students from neighbouring countries are sure to join them without going all the way to the UK or other foreign countries for their higher education. If properly implemented, the setting up of these universities is sure to enhance the knowledge of our students through interaction.

From the day this proposal was made, the Inter University Students’ Union (IUSU) has been voicing dissent against the setting up of these universities. Their argument has been that Sri Lanka already has 15 State-funded universities and since they cater to the needs of the students sufficiently well, there is no need to have private foreign universities here.

They have also put forward the argument that if these universities operate in Sri Lanka, it is only the children of the rich who will enter these universities and that it is a move to perpetuate the class distinction that has been successfully dismantled by the progressive policies of Socialist governments.

These arguments have no basis when one sees the disarray our State-funded universities are in. They are closed most of the time due to serious indiscipline prevalent there. It would not be necessary to repeat the problems prevalent in these universities as the public is well aware of them.

The IUSU is a highly-politicised body and anyone who does not toe its line will find it absolutely impossible to remain in the university. Violence in the universities is not something new and readers will surely remember the number of student deaths that have occurred in these universities purely because those students chose to disagree with the thinking and behaviour of this union.

A three-year study course in these universities takes six years to complete because many of the universities are shut for most part of the year due to student indiscipline. Students who intend to do serious study are also prevented from attending lectures by these destructive elements. Our universities have been politicised to such an extent that the students who are seriously desirous of completing their academic studies have absolutely no chance of doing so.

Another disadvantage is that, whereas in other countries students pass out of universities while they are comparatively young, in Sri Lanka a graduate who passes out from university is over 27 years of age. In foreign countries, students graduate at around 22 years. Our educational system too has to be blamed for this, because a student who passes the Advanced Level exam has to wait for over two years to gain admission to a university. If one observes job advertisements published by blue chip companies, one would see that these companies are seeking young people who are around 22 years to be trained for management positions.

Why foreign universities are necessary in this country is because out of the little over 100,000 students who pass the Advanced Level exam, only around 22,000 get admission to any university and the balance has to either seek employment or chose to follow some professional course of study to become a chartered accountant, management accountant, marketer or human resource person.

Even here, most of the diploma courses offered by the various institutions are useless, except that on completion you will have a diploma certificate in your hand which would take you nowhere. But these institutions also have degree programmes which, after the first or second year according to the student’s choice, give him a chance of completing the balance study period in a foreign university and earn a foreign degree.

So what is the difference? Students who do not gain admission to our universities are sent by affluent parents to foreign universities. Similarly, affluent parents who can afford the money send their children to a foreign university on passing the Advanced Level without even waiting to see if they qualify for university admission here. To make this possible, most of the international schools prepare students for the London Advanced Level examination. Students following degree programmes in recognised institutions in Sri Lanka too end up in a foreign university.

So why not allow foreign universities to open branches here? What we must do is set the proper parameters for these universities to operate and monitor them to see that they operate within these parameters instead of opposing the move to open foreign universities in Sri Lanka.