Jaffna University gets first woman VC
Professor Vasanthi Arasaratnam assumed duties as the eighth Vice
Chancellor of the University of Jaffna. She also becomes the first woman
Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University.
Prof. Vasanthi Arasaratnam
VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam also served as the first woman Dean of the
Medical Faculty of Jaffna.
Excerpts of her interview:
Q. You are the first woman Vice Chancellor of the University
of Jaffna. What have you to say about your new designation?
A. I am happy to be the first woman Vice Chancellor of the
University of Jaffna and I consider it an honour for the women of Jaffna
who always show a keen interest in either educating themselves or
remaining a power in educating their children.Unlike in the past,the
literacy rate of women in the Jaffna peninsula is very high.For instance
the Mayoress of Jaffna Yogeswari Patkunaraja and the Government Agent of
Jaffna Imelda Sukumar are women.
I also held the position as the first woman Dean of the Medical
Faculty of Jaffna from 2000 to 2003.
Even at the University of Jaffna female students entering various
faculties are on the rise.Apart from the academic side,the women from
Jaffna are also holding very responsible designations in various
Government and private sector institutions.
So in this backdrop I am happy to assume my duties as the first woman
Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, the institution which was
open in 1974 by another prestigious woman the late Premier Sirimavo
Bandaranaike who had the rare privilege of being the first woman Prime
Minister in the world.
Q: When Jaffna experienced a turbulent period, you were one of
the academics who was determined to remain in Jaffna to ensure the
smooth functioning of the University. How do you describe the dark
period you had to face?
A: It was a difficult time.The peninsula was in the
doldrums.All essential institutions which had offered goods and services
to the northerners had been badly hampered.University of Jaffna was also
one of them.The Medical and Science Faculties hardly had
resources.However I take this opportunity to appreciate the
determination and commitment of the academic staff as well as the
students of the University in ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of
this hallowed institution.
During my tenure as Dean of the Jaffna Medical Faculty, power
failures,shortages in laboratory items and teaching hospital facilities
were depleted and these remained as major obstacles preventing the
smooth functioning of the University.
To obtain electricity we had to depend on generators and most of the
time due to the short supply of fuel, functions of certain areas of the
faculty had to be slowed down.We had to send our students out of Jaffna
for hospital studies.
In the meantime,I remember with great respect and gratitude the
services rendered by the late Forensic expert Professor. Chandrasiri
Niriella to the Medical Faculty of Jaffna during the peak of the
turbulent days in the North. He visited the Jaffna Medical Faculty and
helped the Faculty in a big way. He lectured to the students and also
functioned as examiner. Several other academics also came from the South
to Jaffna at that time and offered their services without any hesitation
to our students.
However, despite all the difficulties our students did their part
efficiently and several of them are currently doing extremely well as
medical practitioners in various parts of the country.
Q: You were the Dean of the Medical Faculty of Jaffna from
2000 to 2003, what is the present state of the Faculty?
A: Since the civil strife came to an end in 2009, there is a
considerable improvement in the functions of the faculty. We are able to
obtain the requirements what we need. The intake of students has also
improved. The Jaffna Medical Faculty has even Sinhala students as well
as students from various parts of the country.
At present the Faculty is on an upward move with academic staff from
outside Jaffna and abroad showing their interest in cooperating with the
faculty. Though the Medical Faculty remained stable with limited
resources during the turbulent period, now we have to catch up with
other Medical faculties in the country in improving our academic
Laboratory facilities, computer arrangements and the library
requirements have to be significantly improved.
Q: Following the disturbances in the North, several academics
who served in the Jaffna University left the peninsula seeking greener
pastures abroad. What's your view on this brain drain?
A: It was a pity to lose the services of prominent academics
in the University of Jaffna. When the University of Jaffna first started
as a campus in 1974, several academics serving in other universities in
the country came to Jaffna and did their part with greater enthusiasm.
But later on many of them could not face the gravity of the situation
and they opted to leave peninsula as well as the country. However, some
of them continued to support the university from abroad by providing it
with computers, books, financial assistance etc.
At present we even have the products of the University of Jaffna in
the academic staff. We should ensure their smooth services by supporting
them in every aspect of their career. For instance some of the senior
medical practitioners at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital are the products
of the Jaffna Medical Faculty. Therefore we have to build up a new trend
in utilising the maximum of existing intellectuals and bringing out the
best out of them.
Q: What are your priorities as the new Vice Chancellor of the
A: First of all I would like to concentrate more towards
improving infrastructure facilities of the university. The
infrastructure of the Jaffna university has been neglected due to the
turbulent conditions in the past three decades. Now with the favourable
atmosphere we have to explore ways and means of stabilising
infrastructure facilities of the university.
Measures will also be taken to provide more facilities for the
academic staff. The University of Jaffna now has several faculties.
Therefore the shortcomings in those faculties should also be addressed.
During the turbulent times, the laboratories of various faculties had
suffered immensely with the loss of equipment and material. Plans are
being worked out to put up new buildings to meet future demands. We
expect more funding for this purpose.
Q: Plans have been initiated to create a new Engineering
Faculty for the University of Jaffna. What's your view about this?
A: Plans to create an Engineering Faculty for the University
of Jaffna were first initiated when the renowned late Engineering
Professor T. Thurairaja was the Vice Chancellor of the University of
Jaffna in the mid nineties. Later Prof. V. Navaratnaraja from Malaysia
was keen on making the Engineering faculty a reality. However, the plan
had to be shelved due to unfavourable conditions that prevailed in the
But now a five member committee has been set up to look into it. The
committee comprises Professors Ratnajeevan Hoole, Kumar Vadivel and K.
Kandaswamy. The committee is working on a comprehensive proposal on the
Jaffna Engineering Faculty.
Q: How do you expect the Tamil expatriate community to make
their contribution towards the University of Jaffna?
A: Well the expatriate community could do a tremendous job in
enhancing the academic activities of the Jaffna University. Earlier the
situation was different. Tamil expatriates found it difficult to
interact closely with Jaffna. I have plans to strengthen the alumni of
the Jaffna University. Therefore those who have passed out from the
University of Jaffna could correspond with the alumni and do whatever
they could for the University.
There is a considerable portion of Tamil expatriates who have
graduated from the University of Jaffna. Several of them are doing
extremely well in their chosen careers. So they could come out in a big
way in the development of the Jaffna University.
Q: Being an academic what is your view on the state of the
education in present day Jaffna?
A: I would say the deaths and destruction have in no way
hampered education in Jaffna. Despite the adverse conditions, education
at school level or at University level remained stable.There would have
been shortcomings in infrastructure facilities,but there was no drop in
the enthusiasm of education. With the limited resources available during
the turbulent days, students from Jaffna came out with good results in
their examinations at national level.
But the drawback now is the teaching of English. There was a time the
Jaffna peninsula had scholars in English.But the dark period in Jaffna
had cut off the interaction of the Jaffna people with the outside world,
creating a lull in English education.More concentration should be paid
towards reviving the standard of English education in Jaffna at
grass-roots level. I believe the expatriate community could assist in a
considerable manner with regard to the revival of English education.
Q: You served at the University of Jaffna from 1984. You would
have come across very difficult conditions in the peninsula. Since the
difficult days came to an end in 2009, what's your observation on
post-conflict development activities?
A: Well it looks encouraging. More healthy interaction in
various fields could be seen between the North and South. What I would
insist is there should not be delays in addressing the immediate
problems of the people affected by the conflict. The people who have
engaged in the peace building process should look beyond petty
The Jaffna Peninsula has suffered immensely due to the conflict in
the past three decades. Therefore future plans in rebuilding the North
and developing its resources should be carried out in a well coordinated