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Sunday, 24 August 2008

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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

Udul 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?

Udul Premaratne:

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.

Waruna Sameera:

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?

Udul Premaratne:

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.

Waruna Sameera:

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 years.
 


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?

Udul Premaratne:

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 strike.

Waruna Sameera:

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?

Udul Premaratne:

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.

Waruna Sameera:

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?

Udul Premaratne:

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.

Waruna Sameera:

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 politics?

Udul Premaratne:

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 issues.

Waruna Sameera:

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 graduates.


What is your comment on compelling students, especially freshers, to go on strike? Definitely they cannot say no!

Udul Premaratne:

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.

Waruna Sameera:

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?

Udul Premaratne:

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.’

Waruna Sameera:

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.

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