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Why do we need private universities in Srilanka? Part I

" We are living in a world of knowledge based economies; Countries like India and China are competing developed world not through their natural resources rather through their higher quality of Human Resources. It is true that Srilanka can not compete gigantic economies such as Indian and China yet we could be one more Singapore in Asia. "

by Dr Rifai Naleemi

(October 29, London, Sri Lanka Guardian)
It is very much interesting to read the debates for and against the establishment of private universities in Srilanka. Both opponents and proponents of private universities have indeed laid down solid foundations for their arguments. Some of these arguments are fascinating to read. Here it is not my objectives to reiterate or repeat those contentions rather I would like to add something new to these arguments and to re-evaluate some deficiencies in our traditional education systems. I would like to view these arguments from two main different perspectives: Namely from the perspectives of human resources enrichment and pedagogies of teaching and learning. Moreover, I will review these debates in an international perspective with the context of globalization and technological revolutions. It is not my intention to devaluate our traditional Education system or to make unnecessary criticism for the sake of mere arguments rather it is my sincere intention to make some constructive criticism and indeed, some contribution for this debate. No doubt contributions of our academics and professors to this debate are profound and outstanding. These contributions are indeed, thought provoking new ideas. Yet, this issue has to be debated thoroughly and meticulously in national TV stations and new papers. More importantly, academic staffs should debate this issue within academic circles at universities. In the second part of this article I will compare and contrast our traditional methods of teaching with modern pedagogies of teaching in western universities and I will argue that introduction of private universities will help our university education particularly to enhance our teaching methods.

Srilankan Universities and Human Resource Enrichment:

Growing demand for higher education in Srilanka has compelled the Srilankan Higher Education ministry to establish private Universities in Srilanka very soon. It is reported that a number of private universities will be established throughout the country in affiliation and collaboration with international universities. Proponents and opponents of establishing the private universities have been debating this issue in recent days. It would be better in greater interest of higher education that academics, politicians and policy makers debate this issue thoroughly at various levels so that Higher education ministry could come up with solid resolutions. Moreover, it could move forward with clarity of thought into a right direction in order to guide our future generation in the greater interest of this beautiful Island. We need to see all arguments about this private and public university debate under preview of rapid changes in Education, Human Resources Development and Pedagogies of Teaching and Learning:

I could say please do not think locally but think globally. That is the reality of modern world that we live. Whether we live in a remote village or in Colombo city we are connected globally and therefore it is an urgent need of our time that we review and revolutionise our education system in phase with modern time need. We now live very much competitive world and this competitive world is so different from our previous generations. This competitive mood among countries is no longer about Natural Resources as in previous centuries rather it is in the field of higher quality of Human Resources. The new competition of nation is not for natural resources rather for skilled human resources: “The dominant competitive weapon of the 21st century will be the education and skills of the workforce.” (L. Thurow). That is why political leaders in western nations come to power with a slogan of Education: Education and high tech-technologies are modern weapons of prosperity and developments: Countries that have more high skills in modern technologies with high proportions of its population is more likely to claim the table of developed or developing nations:

We are living in a world of knowledge based economies; Countries like India and China are competing developed world not through their natural resources rather through their higher quality of Human Resources. It is true that Srilanka can not compete gigantic economies such as Indian and China yet we could be one more Singapore in Asia. More convincingly we can predict that Srilanka can complete Singapore/Malaysia in development if we maximise our naturally tenanted rich Human Resources. It is not our old agricultural economy or other natural resources that will give us prosperity and development but rather our rich Human resource could be the main contributing factor for our rapid development. Do we have solid strategies and planning for Human Resources Development in Srilanka? This question should be the bottom line of our debate on establishment of private universities in Srilanka? Or can we do this through our public universities alone in Srilanka? Otherwise, can we expect some innovative concepts through the establishment of Private Universities?

As a prelude to this debate I would like to relate some of dramatic changes that take place around us in this modern world to comprehend the greatness of shifts and changes in modern Education today. This will help us to realise what paradigm of shifts and changes we too Srilankans urgently need in Education policies of this country. We really need to assess if Srilankan Education system as it is today would produce a generation of students who meet the demands and requirements our global village. That is what we need to think about our education policies. Our modern world has already turned out to be borderless world through information revolution that brings countries so closer than ever. Human beings may live in North and South Poles but they are now connected every second of munities. That is the reality of world today. This was unpredictable before a hundred year ago. The speed of change and shift in technical world is so amazing and so quick. Every then and now new technological innovation is introduced in our modern world.

Dramatic and rapid change take place in Human Resource Development, Career development, and pedagogies of Learning and Teaching: Consider for instance, shifts that take place in employment and career prospectus of our present and future generation: According to Richard Riley, former Secretary of Education, USA “ The top ten jobs that will be in demand 2010 did not exist 2004 … we are urgently preparing students for the jobs that do not yet exist….using technologies that have not yet been invented” A large amount of technological information and innovations are introduced frequently, this means “ for students starting a four year technical or college degree….half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study” Lester Thurow an Expert in Human Resource and world economy asserts that following seven key industries will be dominant in employment in next decades: “microelectronics, biotechnology, the new materials-science industries, telecommunications, civil aviations, robotics and machine and tools, and of course computer hardware” Who could work in these high tech- industries? People with high skills and higher educational qualifications are more likely employed in these industries with lucrative salaries:

What would be some of the top money earning jobs in the next decades? According to Reich jobs in symbolic-analytic services will be higher earning jobs of modern time. Some of such professions are System analysts, financial analysts, financial advisers, management consultants, film producers, architectural consultants, marketing experts, planning strategists, advertising executives, production designers, armaments consultants, cinematographers, publishers, writers, journalists, musicians, TV and film producers, software developers, directors, executives, and some other professionals. It is true the real demand for these industries are increasing more and more in developed countries not really in third world countries. It is true we can not compare developed countries with third world countries in these areas of employments; yet it is not impossible for any country to develop and enhance human skills at this age of globalization and technological advancement. Countries that provide higher skilled work forces bound to develop so quickly as in case of china and India: According to some research on website Indian and Chinese have higher proportion of student population with higher IQ’s: “The 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ’s …. is Greater than the total population of the United States”. Moreover, India, China and USA had respectively 3.1m 3.3m and 1.3m college graduates in 2006. This means that India and China will produce more high skilled professionals and workforces than USA and Europe. No wonder that these two countries will overtake other nations in development and progress in coming decades.

India does not export gold, diamonds and gems today rather it exports higher skilled professionals to developed countries. It generates much more incomes from this higher skilled workforce than any other exports: The same may apply to China too. To quote Thurow again “natural resources have dropped out of the competitive equation. Having them is not the way to become rich. Not having them is not a barrier to becoming rich. Japan doesn’t have them and is rich. Argentina has them and is not rich” similarly Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and some other countries do not have substantial amount of natural resources yet due to higher quality of human resources these countries economically booming and rapidly developing compared to many other counties with huge Natural Resources: Moreover, many international companies headhunting for skilled work forces and they do not care where do these higher skilled work forces come from. In this borderless world any countries that have good higher skilled work force could find employment opportunities in international job markets. For instance, many international companies have their call handling and administrative centre in India because India has skilled work force who could work in these centres for cheaper price than in England.

Srilanka is an Island blessed with both rich Human Resource and natural Recourses. Although we do not have natural resources of Oil and Gas to give us Oil dollars yet we have rich human resources and we have failed to maximise the potentialities of Srilankan growing population. It is in the background of this introductory remarks and observations that we need to evaluate and assess the arguments for the and against establishing private institutions, academies and universities in Srilanka: I hope by reading this bit of my writing even the opponents of this argument may agree with me that Srilanka urgently needs some private academic institutions, universities and colleges to update its education system and to reform pedagogies of teaching and learning in universities so that it may produce gradates and post graduates to meet international high skilled professional markets: Moreover, Srilanka may attract thousands of international students from many countries more importantly from South Asian countries. One basic question that on need to ask in this regard is whether Srilanka wants to produce a community of graduates that meet local needs of Srilanka or it wants produce a community of graduates who could work anywhere in the world of our global village? Is it possible that some of us dream to live in water tight compartments away from international communities at this age of information technologies and globalization?

It is true that the establishment of private university is relatively new phenomenon in many parts of world: Many countries do not have such universities. Western countries particularly do not have many private universities: There are only a few private universities in England, Germany, France and in some countries in the West. In reality they do not need such universities in these countries. The governments in these countries allocate a large percentage of budgets for higher education and provide excellent teaching resources: They have a large numbers of universities in these countries: Each township and city has at least more than one university. They provide a cohort of excellent teaching staffs. Teaching staff too apply excellent pedagogies of teaching and learning: For these reasons universities in the west attract millions of students each year from all over the world. Srilanka does not yet have such facilities in our universities. It is not appropriate to compare Srilankan Educational Institutes with western Institutes yet we could learn a lot from these western institutions to reform and update our Universities to meet international standards. Srilanka would not need private universities if it could allocate huge amount of money to update and expand public universities in Srilanka like many countries do. If it can not do that it would be better in a greater interest of the future generation to go for open market Education policies to attract more international academic institutions and universities: It is very sad that due to many reasons that Srilanka has wasted skills and talents of millions of Srilankan students community. Some of these reasons are beyond the control of successive Srilankan governments for instance three insurgencies we have had in the post area of Independence: Two JVP Insurgencies in 1070’s and 1980’s and LTTE insurgencies which hindered educational opportunities of many in Srilanka. Moreover, narrow minded Education policies of successive Srilankan Governments deprived educational opportunities of million of students as in case of university admission system. As it is argued by proponents of private Universities, only one six of all qualified students get admission to our universities and every year thousands of students are dropped out of higher education opportunities and are deprived of their basic fundamental rights in this modern world. This is indeed, utter waste of our rich Human Resources. Many poor students with huge potentialities wasted their life because they could not afford to go aboard to continue their higher education. Neglecting and wasting the potentialities of our Human Resource skills have already hindered the rapid development of this country for the last four decades; it is in the interest of each child born in Srilanka that Srilankan Government urgently reviews and reassesses its Education policies not only in higher education but also in secondary and primary education as well.

Srilanka could not allocate sufficient enough amount of money in its financial budgets for higher education in the last few decades mainly because of war and because of some other reasons. Consequently, only limited numbers of students were offered placements to continue higher education courses in Srilankan Universities: Moreover, numbers of academic staff recruitment also limited with financial constraints in 1960’s, 1970’s 1980’s and even in 1990’s. Furthermore, due to financial constant, Srilankan government in the past could not expand university education system. It could not establish new universities providing more facilities and teaching resources. Now circumstance has drastically changed. Either Srilanka has to invest enough money from its own budget to enhance higher education or it has to allow private universities to provide higher education in Srilanka rather than wasting skills and talents of our future generation. The second option is more viable and beneficial to Srilanka right now. Moreover, due to the failure of successive governments to provide education and training for millions of youths they are compelled to go for unskilled jobs in the Middle Eastern countries. It is really astonishing that Srilanka sends more than three millions of its work forces to Middle Eastern countries. Most of these people go to very cheap unskilled labour works such as house maids, cleaners, drivers, supermarket workers and for other cheap labour works. Only a handful of them go for high skilled migration schemes. Srilankan people do not need to go for these cheap labour markets had they been given good opportunities by successive governments to develop their skills and talents. Though this Middle Eastern migration brings some short term benefits for the families of migrants it has created far research consequence in long terms. At least if we want to stop unskilled migration to the Middles Countries we have to have some strategies to develop human resource potentialities of next generation. I think that from this perspective, one could argue that Srilankan government has taken right decision at right time so that future generation of Srilankans would not need to go for cheap labour markets in the Middles countries at all.

To be continued next week Tell a Friend

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