Rational politicisation acceptable to all
Udul Premaratne - Convenor, Inter University Students Federation
“University students play an important role to bring quality
to the society. Yet it can not divert from the waves the
country is going through from time to time. Strikes and
violence - how it is affecting this fragile system is the
focus of ‘Face 2 Face’ this time”.
Waruna Sameera - President, Student Council, Faculty of
Applied Sciences, Sri Jayawardenapura University
Premaratne - Convenor, Inter University Students Federation
Campus are closed not because of student activities:
We have won many achievements through struggle:
Waruna Sameera - President, Student Council, Faculty of Applied
Sciences, Sri Jayawardenapura University
Graduates must act with a sense of discipline:
Making use of students for the survival of a few not acceptable:
Strikes and violent clashes among students seem to be on the
increase. What is your comment?
Yes, we agree that there is an increase. But one must see the main
causes as well. Students won’t get down to the streets unless they have
their genuine demands. Why should they take such a risk? Going on a
strike is much more difficult than staying back and continuing with
their daily activities. Yet students join these campaigns because there
are problems still with the education system and the higher education
sectors. We conduct strikes only in the last resort. What we do before
this-writing to the relevant authorities, discussion, sessions etc - are
not talked about.
This increase of incidents happens according to an agenda of certain
groups. Especially during the arrival of new comers. On careful
analysis, this happens almost yearly. The economic problems of the
country and social differences are misused by these people to attract a
new comer who may know nothing about the politics in this part of the
country like the very recent student strike at the J’pura University.
But I must say none of the students of our faculty were connected with
the incident. It is a policy of our council that we will not join any of
these campaigns, strikes or poster campaigns etc. We are independent. We
are against ragging and any kind of misconduct that would hinder the
education of a university student.It would be better if the other
faculties will have the room for our concepts as well - to have their
independent councils similar to ours.
Don’t you think intense politicisation of the University system is
a massive obstacle in its proper functioning?
No, We don’t see politicization as an obstacle since it means working
for a political ideology one would believe in. Main national political
parties are represented in almost all the universities. They have their
student unions operating inside the campus. There are no clashes among
these political groups within the Universities.
Having a political ideology is a basic right of a person and the
University students are no exception. We never opposed that. But there
is no room for anyone to highlight their personal opinions and gain
their egos using students as a tool, as we have seen for the past few
University students becoming highly politicised can cause frequent
interruptions in the university education. As a result producing quality
graduates becomes slower. Don’t you think it has a negative impact on
the country’s higher education system?
Yes we agree that it slows the education process of a University and
an undergraduate can not pass out on time. But one should note that
Universities close down not because of student activities alone. For
example the Kelaniya University was closed for four months and twenty
days since April 05, for no particular reason. These are just a few
examples and there are many other such instances in other universities
in the country.Authorities have banned classes of students; have
purchased items that do not suit the student requirements etc. The
letters we write to the authorities and the discussions we have had with
them do not produce results and then we have no other option than
It not only lowers the number of quality graduates but it will reduce
the number of people entering the local universities after A/Ls. It
definitely has a negative impact and it is becoming evident. Because of
violence in particular universities, employers tend to disregard
graduates from those universities - which shows the level it has been
degraded. We know this fact. What we must to do is change this attitude
and it is a tough job. In addition what the jobs demand is inevitable
with trend the world is moving.
We need to change our syllabuses and try to add more qualifications
rather than dropping whatever the possibilities we have. There are
institutes in the country where one can receive education at affordable
rates. One would only need to be willing to do so. Some students express
their frustration by destroying public property. That is not acceptable
and it’s unjust. It serves no purpose.
What is the root cause for this situation?
Problems crop up in Universities due to various reasons.
Administrative malpractices, political interferences lead to such
problems. We are forced to take certain decisions because of the wrong
judgments. Students want to continue their studies. They do not want to
fight or strike but what else can be done if the situation pushes them
to the wall! It can be unavoidable.
Lack of facilities for students to gain maximum knowledge matters the
most. But the problem worsens when certain people try to misuse this
fact and achieve their personal targets. Anyway two students are
selected to the Faculty Board as a policy and it is their duty to
pinpoint the lapses to the authorities. So the students have a chance
and only thing is we must use it effectively and efficiently. Aggression
is not a successful way to solve our problems. Our action should result
in a proper solution and not another problem. As University students we
must act with some discipline. That is what education is all about.
There are ways and means to get things done in a proper manner.
How do you compare our universities with the universities abroad?
Some years back our leading Universities were among the world’s best
100 universities. We are not holding on to that position any more. The
fact remains that the syllabuses have not been updated in twenty years.
For example the management students have to follow CIM or CIMA to
qualify for a job. Because of this negligence the quality of our degrees
has come down. The University Grants Commission and the Higher Education
Ministry should take. the blame.
We were among the best at one time. But we see it has been degraded.
It is solely because of the lack of physical facilities and syllabuses
not being up dated on time. Well the authorities may have their
shortcomings as well but as students are privileged to have very
knowledgeable lecturers with local and foreign exposure. Using this
factor as a strongpoint we can improve our knowledge. We must be smart
enough to utilize our existing resources. This doesn’t need money. It is
our duty to try to give off our maximum service to the country when we
pass out. Even the poorest of the poor contribute to facilitate our
education. We must not forget that.
How should the university community interact with national
Though we are University students,every citizen of the country
contributes to our education. Hence, it is the duty of a university
student to speak about national problems, be it economics, social or
cultural. For this group, a knowledgeable section of the society, it is
not just a right but a duty to discuss their views on the current
The people entering the Universities can be regarded as a section of
the educated sector of the country. They have a duty towards the
society. To make it a better place for the future generation. We must
build constructive criticism. Not by harming others and destroying
public utilities. This is applicable to all both undergraduates and
What is your comment on compelling students, especially freshers,
to go on strike? Definitely they cannot say no!
These strikes are not badly organised. We need at least about two
months for this. Especially I have discussed these matters with those
students who had participated in the strikes - especially if we take the
most recent one where we marched up to Kollupitiya. New students came
along with us but we never allowed them to walk in front, to prevent
them from being attacked, and we take special care of girls on their
safety. Senior students always walk in the front. We never put new
students at risk. If we forcibly take students we would be able to do it
only once and not continuously.
With our past experience, we see that these strikes take place during
the time when the newcomers arrive. This is a sort of a brainwash given
to the ‘freshers’. It is to create a set of followers of certain groups
with political back up. These newcomers have no other option because
they get listed if they do not attend these campaigns. It is sheer
expectation of a single set of people to achieve their political egos! A
very narrow minded thinking. Such politics can not be accepted. But
things are not so simple in this environment.
Do you think these strikes and other such campaigns will help to
meet your demands?
Yes, it was successful. If this was a failure then we are questioning
what is the best way? The President, Ministers and relevant officials
should tell us what is the best method in assuring that the student
necessities are met without delay. This is the last option we will
utilize. The University students have all the rights to talk about their
problems as well as of the society. After graduating they become part
and parcel of the society.Taking the Applied Science Faculty of the
Sabaragamuwa University away to the University premises at Buttala is
one of the successful cases of the recent past. We had to fight for 12
years to achieve this. Now everyone says it is the correct decision and
we wonder why the authorities waited for such a long time to effect this
change. Strikes and violent clashes create instability in the Sri Lankan
higher education sector. The root cause is justified by some and not by
all. Yet, it has been existing throughout history. But, people say ‘it’s
just too much.’
No, we don’t think so. One of the concepts is that when there is
political support behind university students, they can achieve their
goals much more successfully - we do not agree at all. This mainly comes
from people with a hidden political ego. They will abuse the situation
and will use the students as a tool for them to join a political party,
then probably become a provincial councillor or a MP and so on. What
will happen to the those who supported him? They have lost their
education, their youth!. It is a waste of time for those people.