Sri Lankan universities: On the verge of a colossal showdown between students and administrators
One hundred and seventy six university students have been suspended and more than 25 have been remanded in the past 60 days.
Meanwhile, student unions and cultural activities have been halted due to unreasonable restrictions and in some universities the administrators have created a network to spy on students and lecturers.
While the Government is planning to usher in private universities, it has prevented the commencement of external degree programmes, depriving the State-run universities of much-needed resources. These shocking revelations show the extent of suppression and animosity directed at university students.
Centre for Human Rights (CHR) – Sri Lanka in its second report revealed the contraction of political freedom in Sri Lankan universities. Not only students, but also a large number of lecturers who hold independent opinions are being continuously harassed.
In the last six weeks there has been an increase in student activism in the universities. Protests and demonstrations were held in all the universities and these culminated when students were attacked near the Ministry of Higher Education last week.
The university students have no other option but to take to the streets to counter the growing suppression levelled at them.
The students of University of Sri Jayewardenepura are facing restrictions hitherto unseen in a university. Some actions taken by university administrators are demeaning and unsuitable for a higher education institute.
The most recent incident occurred last week when seven students including five bhikkus and two female students were suspended for distributing leaflets outside the university.
The continuous intervention by two UPFA politicians have spiralled the University of Wayamba into chaos. University of Uwa Wellassa is nothing more than an open prison. It is the only university in Sri Lanka which does not have student or lecturers unions. The administrators have prohibited the assembly of more than five students and in the last two months no student union activity has taken place.
Article 14 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, therefore the administrators of the university is violating the supreme law of the land.
A group calling themselves Sanskruthika Kalamanakaruwo (cultural managers/watchdogs) are spying on students and lecturers. University of Uwa Wellassa is one of the few Government institutions that do not conduct internal disciplinary hearings.
Administrators have forbidden male students to enter the university premises after 6 p.m. and there is an attempt to remove male students from the University of Kelaniya. The Sri Lankan Constitution assures equality and this attempt to deprive hostel facilities inside the universities to male students is a violation of their fundamental rights.
Seven medical students and two allied health sciences students of the University of Peradeniya have been suspended. Five students at the University of Rajarata have been suspended after they protested the administration’s decision to prevent the screening of a stage drama; 19 students of the Faculty of Agriculture have been also suspended.
Remanding university students
Another novel aspect of the Government is the indiscriminate arrest of university students using suppressive laws introduced in the late 1980s.
Four students of the University of Peradeniya have been remanded for booing Minister of Higher Education S.B. Dissanayake; 21 students were remanded till 29 October after the incident near the Ministry of Higher Education and out of that 10 students are from the University of Peradeniya.
Two students attached to the Faculty of Agriculture at Rajarata University are in remand custody while another eight to nine students from Rajarata were arrested near the Ministry of Higher Education on 14 October.
Cases were filed against 66 students of University of Sri Jayewardenepura in the last few months. Currently three cases have been filed against 10 students of the university.
A student does not enter a university just to memorise notes and sit for exams. They enter university to enhance their understanding of life itself. Therefore, art was a part of university culture from day one and even in the darkest days there was always drama, discussions and exhibitions at universities. But there have been no such events at the Universities of Kelaniya, Colombo, Sri Jayewardenepura, Wayamba, Rajarata and Ruhuna due to restrictions imposed by administrators.
When universities were established, two institutions, the Senate and the University Council, were created to prevent unwarranted external meddling. But unfortunately there is visible political interfering in the universities. CHR fears that this unwarranted interventions and draconian laws will push students to take desperate measures.