by John Ratnathurai
I read today’s news on public anger over the delay in appointing Jaffna’s Vice Chancellor (Feb. 05) and the earlier interview with the Minister for Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake (The Island of Jan. 05). He complained of bad management and neglect at Jaffna university under the present VC (Acting VC since mid-December) despite the allocation of ample funds. The UGC recently transferred a great deal of funds that have been allocated to Jaffna for building purposes to the Rajarata University, because they had not be utilised by the VC as the budget year came to a close.
The IRQUE Project (Improving the Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education) of the last seven or so years, was greatly appreciated by the people of Jaffna. Suddenly computers appeared from nowhere; so did the gym equipment, books for the library, training programmes and scholarships. For us it was boom time. Following the end of IRQUE, HETC (Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century) is the new World Bank project breathing life into dead universities.
But there is a problem. To be eligible for HETC funds, a university has to complete an internal Institutional Review. Two years ago HETC officials visited Jaffna and told the VC to submit the review. Most universities had completed their reviews a year before and started receiving funds. But, the Jaffna University got a warning letter last week that until the review was submitted, the funds could not be used. Even this news leaked from Colombo rather than through the Council or Senate, which are kept in the dark. Jaffna now stands to lose hundreds of millions of rupees because of the Jaffna Acting VC.
No wonder the public and the teachers’ unions are visibly angry with the VC as your correspondent correctly reported. Despite our being brought up on ideals of feminine virtue, the Jaffna GA Imelda Sukumar recently lamented the large number of abortions and illegitimate births while a woman’s rights activist stated that there had been 38 abortions at a girls’ school in this part of the country.
The Higher Education Minister, in his interview, was making a case for private universities. He has used the Jaffna University crisis as an example to project all state universities as intrinsically bad, while he himself is responsible for keeping the former VC going as Acting VC. The Minister must also take some responsibility for appointing the present VC three years ago.
And there lies the problem with our state universities – the appointment of persons because of their political affiliations rather than on merit. Perhaps that is why the private universities do better; not because state universities are intrinsically bad. For example the University of California at Berkeley, a state institution, is considered to have the best postgraduate programmes.
It is within the Minister’s powers to rectify the situation at the Jaffna University. If after the Minister has done his part, there still exist problems with our universities, then we can look to private universities to solve our problems. Not before.