Free education with dignity

Monday, 4 October 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • A point of view

Some months ago, the President was asking the VCs why they were churning out graduates who were not employable. Here’s my takeout on this problem and the way out of it. 

(Refer to the given current university faculty admissions and student intake statistics). As long as each and every degree or higher diploma is on offer for free, students are going to look for the easy options of university degrees. Why would a government spend millions to sponsor a degree with majors in aesthetic studies, history, political science, Islamic civilisation, Pali, etc. By all means have free education. But spend your money on producing a skill set which is useful to the community – medicine, engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, economics, robotics, IT, aqua culture, marine biology (focus on the oceans is because Sri Lanka’s oceanic resources are nine times or more than our arable land. See given map), agriculture, vocational skills like masonry, plumbing, electrical, electronics.

Liberal arts education is for those with a passion for literature, history, theology, etc. and people should pay for such a degree program. By all means provide for a full scholarship for the really talented in these programs. Everyone else can pay for it.

Imagine the folly of a student entering an aesthetic studies program for free with no real talent. He/she is going to come out not only as unemployable but no skills that they can monetise on their own. Compare this with a free vocational program of your choice and you are employable globally or can start up on your own immediately.

A profession like teaching should only be taken to by those who have a real passion for teaching and not the bottom of the class of arts graduates or A/L dropouts. Admissions should be by competitive exam with scholarships for the top percentiles.

Any higher educational/vocational institution, public or private should be under a licensing body with benchmark standards established with global competency.

Today we have electricians, plumbers and mechanics plying their trade with no licensing authority whatsoever. Just like a practicing doctor with a Sri Lanka Medical Council registration, a number all technicians must carry a registration number from their respective authority.

Sri Lankans have basked in the glory of a high literacy rate for far too long. It means nothing when you have to compete in the global arena for lucrative job opportunities or Foreign Direct Investments. 

With our oceanic resources managed fisheries and aqua farms should have the potential to bring in tens of billion dollars in FDIs. 

Free education is probably the best benefits for Sri Lankans and this must be safeguarded. However, it must be focused on what is needed by the community and what is deemed non-essential must certainly be paid for. 

As an example, let’s take some elective subjects; Medicine, English, Islamic civilisation, Pali.

We need to estimate from the class of 2021 how many doctors do we need? Similarly English, Islamic civilisation, Pali, plumbers, etc.

For argument’s sake, let’s take we need 1,000 doctors and two lecturers in Islamic civilisation and maybe 20 lecturers in Pali and 2,000 plumbers.

A 1000, 10, 20 and 2000 as above should be given free scholarships and anyone else who wants to follow these disciplines can pay for them.

The irony of this is so stark when you look at the map above and see that we have zero students or academic research in fisheries and aqua culture.Trust entrepreneurs and administrators will see some value.



(The writer is TMC Board of Management President, Independent Consultant, who has served as CEO, Marketing Director of large Sri Lankan and multinational corporations.)


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