Democratic Management of Universities towards Wholesome Solution

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(February 21, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) This is in response to the article by Dr. Jayaratne Pinikahana, published in Sri Lanka Guardian, on 19 February.

As per the above article ‘The Ministry of Higher Education has decided to make the vice chancellors and the academic staff answerable for the unemployment problem among the graduates. Dr Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne, Secretary to the ministry has announced that the relevant amendments to the UGC act are being drafted to allow the vice-chancellors and the academic staff to make employment-oriented degrees/courses in future’.

When a law relating to devolution of power happens, it confirms a move towards democratic management. It is important to capture this opportunity and help the nation move away from autocratic management. Such devolution when passed on to those at ground level, would have the effect of reducing considerably, the unrest and rebellion experienced within University student communities.

From the point of University Managements, there needs to be preparedness and readiness to empower themselves through implementation of systems of self-management. The above devolution of powers to Universities seems to be on the basis of recognition that the proportion of unemployed graduates is above government’s expectations. We have learnt through the media that there is concern in the circle of academics like Professor Kalinga Tudor Silva, that there is a need to use effectively the feelings of national level ownership within the University student community, in resolving the ethnic conflict. We therefore need an integrated approach rather than ‘stand alone’ answers by dividing the University issue.

As I keep stressing to my students in resource management, our work generates outcomes at three levels:

(1) Money benefits /pleasures in various forms

(2) People (Status and Goodwill)

(3) Ownership

Measuring the three components could be done on the side of Costs or Benefits – Input or Output Past or Future. When the two sides are even – the Institution/Unit/Person is even – is at Peace. That breakeven point is the point at which the Institution/Unit/Person is self sufficient. Someone with high level of ownership would be able to release and convert benefits at the other two levels to maintain this equilibrium. But someone driven by money would have to sacrifice much in a short time to maintain this equilibrium.

In terms of the University system, it would be easier to use Cost basis, due to the general claim that Universities are more service than money oriented. Using Courses as Base Units – the cost of running that course needs to be measured as follows:

(1) Direct monies needed for staff, buildings, equipment and other facilities

(2) The status value of these through the ‘grades’ – for example academic and professional qualifications of staff, their experience; in terms of buildings their market values less the value included in (1) above.

(3) The Ownership value is calculated on the basis of voluntary contributions by staff , students and the Public.

The employment value of students needs to be calculated as per Government Statistics re number of new graduates employed at the beginning of the new period/year, multiplied by base salary to which is added the status component – calculated as per the percentage (2) is , to (1) above.

Where the cost component as per (1) and (2) above is higher than the student benefit component – the course is no longer economically viable. When the ownership component is taken away from this gap, The course has a high risk of being a breeding area for rebellions without substance and/or picnic areas of pleasure seekers. The Policies of every university would need to include provisions to remove these courses after the marginal gap has been exceeded.

When this system is shared with students, they would gradually gain the skills of self-employment – even in Public Service. Devolution without commitment to such a system would be mere shift of responsibilities – as Gandhi said from the British to Indian leaders. It would not reach the common citizen without ‘Service’, like Gandhi became with Harijans. The Harijans in the University system are the general workers – not academics nor their descendents – the students.

Unless this devolution through the UGC (Universities Grant Commission) Act is used effectively, the doors would open for foreign ‘takeovers’ – especially from India and China.

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