by R.M.B Senanayake
The Government has been compelled to take notice of the agitation by the University staff.
Their demands not only relate to their remuneration but include outlawing private universities. One demand is that the educational budget should be 6 percent of GDP.
These learned men should have examined the budget before making such a ludicrous demand. Only 20% of the budget is available for the government to spend at its discretion. The balance 80% is more or less fixed since they go to fund the salaries and pensions of government employees and to pay interest on the National Debt which is escalating beyond any control each year.
There are also other demands on the budget like health and subsidies for fertilizer etc. So this demand is not only impossible to implement, but is also not desirable considering the other demands on the budget which are equally important for public welfare.
As far as I know there is no other country in the world which gives completely free university education to all students. University education allows graduates who qualify to earn much higher incomes than the large majority of the people. Should the majority who are poorer subsidize those who would be well off in 3-4 years time because of university education?
I think it is unfair.
In other countries university students are required to pay fees but are assisted with student loans which are interest free. These loans are recovered from them after they are employed. Such a scheme should be introduced particularly for the medical and engineering graduates.
The students should be given loans which would go as fees to the universities. This will enable the universities to pay higher salaries for the lecturers and university staff. This will enable the university authorities to improve the quality of the university education. This to my mind is perhaps the only way to improve the quality of university education. It is of course not necessary to charge the high level of fees levied by private higher educational institutes.
As for private universities they should be encouraged by granting them tax free status and legal recognition. We may be able to attract well known foreign universities to establish campuses locally as the universities in Britain did in China (University of Nottingham educates Chinese in English medium).
It is only through competition that public sector universities can improve the quality of university education. If the Government does not take bold decisions to levy fees and pay more to university lecturers our universities are doomed. University education has an important role to play in economic development.