Students’ voice heard after 15 years | Sunday Observer

Students’ voice heard after 15 years

 IUSF representatives meet officials
IUSF representatives meet officials

Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) took to the streets on Thursday over six demands, including the increase of the Mahapola scholarship grant, and as expected, the protesters blocked roads and caused traffic congestion as they marched towards the Presidential Secretariat.

But the incident took an unexpected turn of events when the students were invited for a discussion with officials at the Presidential Secretariat after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave instructions to security officials in its premises to allow them into the building without hindrance.

This was a stark contrast to the outcome of previous protests. For about 15 years, the IUSF was not given an opportunity to meet officials directly to voice their grievances. On previous occasions, the students were dispersed using water canon and tear gas.

Representatives of the IUSF met officials, including Additional Secretary to the President, Rohana Abeyratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education Anura Dissanayake and Chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Sampath, as President Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President were occupied elsewhere on a pre-planned official business.

Following discussions, it was decided to make the payment of the arrears of Mahapola scholarships and bursary money in November and December by today.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) added in a statement that, “attention was also paid to the possibility of solving immediately other demands related to the Mahapola scholarship scheme”.

The demands included granting scholarship money to students who have not met the requirement of 80 percent attendance, bringing Mahapola and bursary allowances to equal levels, issues related to the Sabaragamuwa University, increasing the income ceiling of parents to Rs. 700,000 when considering granting scholarships and increasing salaries of the university employees.

The officials at the meeting have agreed to issue a written statement assuring that the promises that they made will materialise and agreed to meet once a month or once in two weeks to discuss issues faced by the students. Student representatives said they will come to an agreement following a discussion with their student unions, the PMD said.

President Rajapaksa tweeted, “Contrary to the usual tear-gas & baton charge that greeted Uni student protestors previously, I invited the union reps to Pres office to meet with Addtl Secy & Higher Ed officials to discuss grievances. Regular follow-up meetings were scheduled, to ensure a speedy resolution to issues.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured a comprehensive analysis of the salary anomalies of state-university employees to provide a solution.

He said this when he met representatives of several university trade unions along with several ministers, including Higher Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Sampath Amaratunga at Temple Trees on Friday.

It was also decided to appoint a committee to look into these issues.