University education: Several new recommendations from COPE

May 3, 2023 at 11:59 AM

The various issues related to Sri Lanka’s university and higher education systems were taken up for discussion at the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

According to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, the matters were discussed when the University Grants Commission was summoned before the COPE Committee on 28th April under the Chairmanship of MP Ranjith Bandara.

The Parliament said in a statement that the discussion took place on the basis of the following 10 points which were brought to the attention of the COPE.

  1. Issues related to compliance with circulars issued by the Ministry of Finance.
  2. Injustice to some students with a high Z score by conducting aptitude tests for certain subjects alternate to the Z score system.
  3. Absence of a proper system to confirm the attendance of university lecturers for the purpose of payment.
  4. Improper use of doctor and professor titles due to the lack of proper regulation.
  5. Regulations pertaining to degrees awarded by private universities and higher education institutes.
  6. The need to improve the quality of the national university system and adapt courses to suit the job market.
  7. Need to bring University Provident Fund (UPF) under control as it is misused.
  8. Dealing with pre-understanding of human resource management within the university system.
  9. The need to implement a program to attract more foreign students.
  10. Making a positive intervention to resume the work of university lecturers at a moment when they are absent from the evaluation of A-Level papers.

The Committee paid special attention to increasing the quality of the country’s university system and producing graduates suitable for the job market. It was revealed that 26% of the students who received university admission in the year 2021 are those who have studied for advanced level in the Arts stream and that the number of students who get university admission for science subjects is relatively low. But the committee pointed out that there are more people who get university degrees in science and technical subjects in developed countries around the world and emphasized that steps should be taken to change this situation.

Prof Sampath Amaratunga, Chairman of the University Grants Commission, stated the number of schools offering Advance Levels in Sri Lanka is 2952 and science subjects are available in only 1011 schools therefore science subjects are not taught in 1941 schools. It was also discussed that in 65.75% of schools facilitating Advance Levels not offering Science subjects is a problem. The Secretary to the Ministry of Education said that the search for solutions for this has been started through the STEM education system and steps will be taken to solve this problem. The Chair advised the Secretary to the Ministry to immediately intervene and prepare a work plan to send more students to the science and technology fields in higher education.

Appreciating the program of the commission including recruiting students for universities without delay due to the introduction of modern IT methods, COPE said that the universities of Sri Lanka should be improved to the international level. Instructions were also given to prepare a program to bring more international students to universities in Sri Lanka.

It was also disclosed that a software engineering degree course has been started by the Open University at a cost of Rs 90,000 per year. Whilst stating that usually in a private university such a degree costs Rs. 2-3 million, the chairman of the Commission pointed out that this degree can be completed for less than 300,000 rupees. Therefore, the Committee members advised the Commission to take steps to inform the people about this through the district coordination committees.

Instead of removing the powers of the University Grants Commission, the Committee pointed out the need to further strengthen the Commission to match the current needs. Attention was also drawn to the proposal regarding the establishment of a separate institution through a new Act for Quality Assurance in Higher Education Institutions. The Committee pointed out that it is more appropriate for the authority to be vested in the University Grants Commission itself. The Committee made recommendations for them to be informed within one month in detail why the commission should have powers for this. Furthermore, the COPE Chair said that COPE is ready to intervene in that regard.

It was also disclosed that Rs. 2 billion should be obtained from lecturers who went abroad for study purposes and have not returned back. The Committee members pointed out that they should take action to recover this amount from the relevant guarantors. It was revealed that only 84 of the 617 lecturers who went abroad have made the relevant payments so far. Accordingly, the Committee recommended that COPE be informed about the measures taken in this regard within a month.

The Committee, which focused on conducting aptitude tests related to certain subjects during university entrance creates a possibility of unfairness to students who have obtained a high Z value. It was emphasized that there is no need for a further aptitude test as a practical test has already been conducted for those subjects for the calculation of the Z score in the advanced level examination. Accordingly, COPE making recommendations to the Secretary to the Ministry of Education stated to take a decision in this regard immediately.

As the Auditor General had continuously pointed out, the Committee also recommended to the Commission to quickly prepare a system to confirm the attendance of university lecturers to ensure payment.

The Committee paid special attention to the improper use of the doctorate and professor titles by certain individuals from various institutions. The Chairman of the commission pointed out that there is no legal provision for the commission to take action for this. The Committee emphasized that the Commission should intervene in this matter, as the positions of Dr. and Professor are being undermined. Thus, it was informed to present the legal changes required to be made for this within a month.

It was also decided to summon the University Grants Commission again in two months to review the progress of implementing all these recommendations.

Members of Parliament Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Rohitha Abeygunawardana, Eran Wickramaratne, Jagath Kumara Sumithraarachchi, (Major) Sudarshana Denipitiya, and Madhura Withanage were present at the Committee meeting. (NewsWire)