A topic was prepared for discussion as below, but I contend the issue is really with the poor quality of State Education, and here I concentrate on the State Universities that are under the purview of the UGC
Non- State Actors in Higher Education – Issues and Challenges
SHOULD THIS BE THE REAL TOPIC?
The topic implies that the problems lie in the Non State sector of Higher Education and I contend that it is the State Sector that in realty has the issues and Challengers and the Non-State Sector is better prepared to face all Challengers thrown at them!
Let us go back to why we are even talking about this topic
Let us concentrate on 2017 and beyond. The State System with the exception of a few Medical Faculties, Moratuwa University and a few Faculties dotted here and there, like The Faculty of Management at Jayawardenapura is BROKE.
In the past however, the illustrious Alumni of the State University System that was a fraction of the size it is today, with the move to Peradeniya Campus and there were NO non-state actors, except Professional Institutions awarding qualifications, made this Country proud with their accomplishments both in Sri Lanka and Overseas.
The State Universities are today NOT even in contention with Global Universities!
The Topic should then be how we should transform the State Universities to be more responsive to the needs of the future Student, which the Private Sector is forced out of necessity to be more proactive to the market demands to survive.
The only way many who follow State University degrees appear to overcome their inadequacies is by successfully passing International Accredited Qualifications such as CIMA and CIM to add to their State Degree in order to be marketable to the prospective employer. Many do this whilst at University!
The day of reckoning has now arrived to take the “bull by the horn” and shake it up, to clean out the dead matter and infuse life into what remains without further delay.
How do we do it? Instead of playing the numbers game which is politically expedient by increasing the number of entrants at all Universities, we MUST improve the QUALITY. However before doing so we MUST plug into the National HR requirement for the Country as a whole for the next 25 years as best as can be forecast.
Once we get an idea of the workplace of the future and where Sri Lanka fits in there, we can then estimate what our future needs are, what our core competencies are and then attempt to mold our products in the Universities, (subjects) to meet these challenges. We cannot wallow in traditional and outmoded ideas anymore.
This requires a revolution in thinking.
The State Universities are simply NOT producing what the workplace requires. Frankly this is left to be filled by this much maligned PRIVATE NON STATE ACTORS! Therein lies the difference. The users, “the students who pay, some too much, vote with their feet and will not go there, unless they perceive their benefits.
By NON-State I also include Private Public Partnerships such as NIBM and NSBM with the latest avatar being the Green University Town of Pitipana. The latter is supposed to cater to the marketplace of the future by courses that assure graduates security of employment.
WHAT THEN IS THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY?
It is best to remember that ALL O level and A level students of the future are plugged into Social Media that increases their awareness of what is out there, the pros and cons and so are better able to make decisions about their lives than those in the past. They therefore are painfully aware, and perhaps more so than most people in this audience, that the “Present Education System” DOES NOT cater to their needs, to give them a future of security and prosperity in their motherland.
In reality, they the youth, are better able to draw upon peer reviews to choose the better value for money Institutions, especially in the currently unregulated private sector, perhaps surprising those who we may appoint in the future to do just the same! A REGULATORY BODY
There is a clamour in the Department of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education to regulate these private Universities, which they in effect are, as they grant degrees and post graduate qualifications. Many have time spent at the final year at foreign universities, but even this is becoming a thing of the past with all studies being undertaken locally. In the eyes of the prospective employer these are a darn sight better than the local equivalents, of lower rankings, and more importantly give them a young graduate at 21 or 22 years rather than a state University product of between 26 or 27 years of age. They are able to more easily work with an outward looking graduate rather than an entitlement loving local one!
RETURNING TO THE THEME OF REGULATION
Let there be standard regulation of ALL Universities on the same criteria, both Private and State, then a more accurate basis of comparison can emerge, but I fear this will be prevented tooth and nail, for fear of being outed! The State Sector I mean.
Of course the Private Sector will welcome this regulation so that the fluff will be highlighted from the serious established and reputed ones. This will merely assist and NOT assure parents who fork out millions to choose that which will give the best bang for their buck for their offspring.
It is well to remember that those clamoring for regulating Private Universities or “Factories of Higher Learning”, as some who wish to denigrate them call it, have forgotten the fact that the supposed standards being upheld by the UGC for the State Sector also leaves much to be desired. This is proved by the fact that many graduates from these faculties cannot find employment in an environment of an increasing level of vacancies in the private sector that remain unfilled. Employers knowing the quality, vote with their feet by not taking them on even for apprenticeships.
The fact that they are then forced to seek employment in the Public Sector, where they have the suitable basic entry level requirements, DOES NOT mean that they make productive and useful public servants.
In conclusion similar criteria must be adopted to regulate both with equal severity for fair comparison, as that is the need of the hour. Only then will their standards improve based on more autonomy to the University VC to manage their Campuses.
I am afraid the FALLOUT MAY NOT BE POLITICALLY ACCEPTABLE!
UNIVERSITY EDUCATION REVISITED
What is University Education in Sri Lanka primarily for? It is NOT to provide research centers or centers of excellence for Pure Science or Esoteric Studies! It is to provide the knowledgeable graduate, taken from the most intelligent in society, using the Z score rankings, to be able to contribute to the SUSTAINABLE GROWTH of this Country, and with it to grow their personal lives, to provide them with a quality of life, commensurate with their ability.
It is NOT to provide labor for emigration to developed Countries, as has been the case for a number of years, at the expense of their contribution to the mother land, to say nothing of the cost. In this sphere, it must be mentioned that the policies of the promotion and filling of vacancies in the Academic Staff, has lead to some highly qualified people remaining in foreign parts, after Postgraduate work due to the dearth of opportunities in their motherland. They have excelled internationally.
In short this has been a failure and we MUST turn it into a success. The Challenge is ours.
HOW DO WE DO IT? HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS SO CALLED SEA CHANGE?
THE NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY
A proposal for a new National Education Policy has been recently prepared and submitted to the President by the National Institute of Education. I have not gone through that document. Let us hope that many of these fundamental issues have been addressed rather than merely putting sticking plaster on existing breakages.
The Government speaks of 13 years of Compulsory Free State Education to arm the student for the future employment marketplace. Their aim is to force students to spend two more years in school to improve their employment skills.
I completely disagree with this notion, instead a more meaningful alternative would be for the 13 years to include 2 pre-school years with sufficient facilities at that PRESCHOOL LEVEL, to produce empowered students by O level, who have the ability to choose, and know how to choose, their vocation as soon as they complete their O levels, They will then know if they wish to continue in School or leave and pursue their dreams, with evening classes etc. to obtain the necessary qualifications whilst working full time, as is done in most developed Countries.
All child psychologists will agree that the manners, behavior and 5S type character building, in this extremely sensitive and formative age, is far more important to a child’s overall future development than anything that is forced on a student after O levels.
Another point to note is that students who drop out prior to O levels or at O levels appear to know more about what they want, despite their lower apparent skills. That is why this group as a whole has a lower unemployment rate than the more skilled!
What the latter need are the Vocational Training Institutes to provide them with their accredited qualifications, while they are working, as they can increase their incomes with certification in their particular skills as is done the world over, except in Sri Lanka! It is easier to help those who wish to be helped, rather than force people to stay longer as a rule, where arguably their lack of maturity means they may not know what they want anyway, and so are unable to choose subjects of their particular aptitude.
To illustrate this point further, and to show you how out of touch our Education Policies are, lets look at the 75,000 students who are currently in their A level classes studying these popular three subjects as in some cases they are the only ones available in their particular school with the required teaching staff.
They are Political Science, Sinhala and Buddhist Civilization. Why? Oh Why? We all know that even at PhD level this is sometimes NOT be sufficient to guarantee economic livelihood! So in spite of a tiny fraction who excel in these subjects,
it is a complete waste of time for the rest, dispatching them, our youth to a lifetime of disappointment and NO ONE has even TODATE addressed this single issue in order to create a debate to arrive at some solutions.
Upon graduating from State Universities it is more out of duty that vacancies are gazetted! And taken into Public Service! They generally form the second class fodder in the Public Service, (there are always exceptions to the rule but in general)
Warming the seats as of right , but contributing little to the cutting out or red tape and ensuring the smooth working of the state to complement the Private Sector to grow, instead of using their positions to put further barriers when it comes to complying with Government regulations for this and that for the Private Sector.
They do not see the Private Sector as an engine of growth but merely an engine of capitalism that should be arrested.
There is therefore only one way to get out of this vicious cycle, by encouraging excellence, something that is NOT stressed in our society. Competition with Private Higher Education will eventually improve the quality of the State Sector but that will take time at our current rates of change. They will be forced to compete for the same student.
It is clear that 25% of students selected to University today, in the State Sector NOW refuse admission and go elsewhere? They are the first batch of these social media generation who are beginning to realize what a waste of time it is!
Intelligent students have already decided that they have BETTER options than graduating at age 27! What will happen when the refusal rate hits 75%? The best of those selected in future will go private as they will believe that for their level of intelligence they have better options to say nothing of the fact that some of these private Universities will OFFER SCHOLARSHIPS TO THE BEST which will then take the element of payment out of our BEST.
RESULTS CRITERIA AND REALITY
It is increasingly becoming clear to the Student mainly as a result of the rapid advancement in social media, that leadership qualities arising from Sports, Debating Societies, being musically minded and being able to play an instrument, and other extra curricular activities, are as much or more important than A level results per se in the eyes of the employers.
When this becomes the UNIVERSAL TRUTH, Academic and Results based University Entrance, will become a thing of the past and the Z score will soon have to be laid to rest, and already I firmly believe it is NOT even relevant in 2017.
It seems that people do not have the political will to face this reality, and so the system is NOT in keeping with the marketplace, resulting in the mismatch between expectations and reality.
This can only be changed by consensus understanding that unless a paradigm shift takes place in THINKING, we in Sri Lanka will not achieve the people’s expectations.
It is the people’s expectations eventually that matter, when they are in a position to make choices in 2017, with the skills needed in 2017, and if they choose not to offer their labor, it is themselves who have made the choice on their own, because they have determined they do NOT have the skills that are needed for them to prosper, and it is better for them as an alternative to live on what they currently have, and they do NOT add an iota to the Country’s growth. We should NOT denigrate them as they have made a lifestyle choice, which if they had the opportunity afforded by a visionary policy, their lives MAY be more fulfilled!
ANY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM MY READERS WILL BE MOST APPRECIATED
ANY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM MY READERS WILL BE MOST APPRECIATED