UNIVERSITY students and police are at odds again — to the point of increasing the number of people behind bars. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has its hands full trying to deal with the situation and Peradeniya and Rajarata Universities are hampered of their functions with the former having a faculty closed down.
Eruptions between the university students and higher education authorities are commonplace in Sri Lanka. Happening for decades on end, hardly a week goes by before an incident is reported in the media, to the point that many people shrug and move on without giving the matter a second thought. However, what makes these instances disturbing beyond the very fact that people have developed intense apathy to them is the fact that for a developing nation the standard of their human resource is of paramount importance.
Many are the hours of lip service spent on the magnitude of development and how Sri Lanka has missed innumerable chances during a three decade long conflict. These are all points that everyone is familiar with and can quote at the drop of a hat. Sadly, much more is dropping in the sphere of higher education — starting with standards, and expanding into every sector of this country. At a basic level the country needs to focus on converting into a knowledge economy to be competent at an international level but chances for that become slim when the higher education sector starts behaving in an irresponsible manner.
University students are known for their exuberance. They are passionate about change and often this dedication can be misused. Channelling it in the right direction requires a massive attitude change not only from the students but from the people they see as their ‘enemies’ of sorts — from the State and policy makers who in the eyes of students are stacking the odds higher against them. Many university students have idealist notions and understandably stand up for their colleagues, this “us against them attitude” can create strong rifts not only between officials and youth but also between society and students, especially when the masses are severely inconvenienced by their behaviour.
It is unfair to consider that the students are merely a disturbance. Beyond the surface picture many of them have real issues that need to be addressed and it is long years of dismissal that has spiralled into violence. Nonetheless what has become obvious is that both parties need to get their act together. Students need to accept what the world already knows — that they are merely students and their focus should be limited to what concerns them and they must be responsible for their actions. A dual change of attitude includes being clear about the few things that they want action on, and concentrating on engaging with policy makers to achieve these goals.
As for the officials, they are in an unenviable position. As the student-police clash outside the UGC proved on Thursday evening the tension between these parties need to be resolved, but how, remains to be a question. Perhaps focusing on the bigger picture is more important and with a nation’s development at stake, the time has come to take a fresh approach to old problems and believe that no one is entitled to solutions without working on the issue first.