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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reverse the Brain Drain and Get


 University of Jaffna = University of NSW?

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
(March 30, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I refer to the ‘Reverse the Brain Drain’ interview given by Dr. Ratnajeevan Hoole to Sunday Observer reporter Ananth Palakidnar.

The Sunday Observer introduces Dr. Hoole as follows: ‘Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole was recently appointed as the Coordinator for the University of Jaffna’s Engineering Faculty by the University Grants Commission. Prof. Hoole who had to leave the country due to the threats he received from the LTTE is now back in Jaffna with the intention of establishing an Engineering Faculty for the University of Jaffna. Professor Hoole shares his views with the Sunday Observer in establishing an Engineering Faculty in Jaffna.’

I did learn about this Engineering Project during my stay in Jaffna. So, I put on my ‘University cap’ and started reading.

Dr. Hoole says ‘In the mid-1980s, the late Prof. A. Thurairajah came to Jaffna with his vision for an engineering faculty.’

I have heard Engineers including my husband and my brother who was an engineering student at Peradeniya University when Professor Thurairajah was Dean of Engineering, speak highly of Professor Thurairajah. Later I learnt through Dr. Malar Aiyadurai about the contribution by Professor Thurairajah, through ’TECH Outreach’ with the objective of enhancing the socio-economic development of the disadvantaged communities in Sri Lanka’s North & East. In this consciousness I do feel that Professor Thurairajah’s leadership in this is valuable.

I kept reading in the consciousness of this value. I paused at the paragraph where Dr. Hoole says in relation to Jaffna vs Kilinochchi for the Engineering Faculty - ‘I have done a feasibility study which comes out strongly in favour of Jaffna. Experts in Engineering studies such as Prof. Lakshman Ratnayake (former UGC Vice Chairman and Dean/Moratuwa) and Prof. K.K.Y.W. Perera (former Dean and VC at Moratuwa) have severely warned me against Kilinochchi saying that an Engineering Faculty needs a population and industry to make it succeed.


But there are political expectations on developing Kilinochchi. When we are struggling for financial assistance, putting up the proposed Engineering Faculty in Jaffna will serve in many ways with regard to the construction of hostels and duplication of staff in Mathematics and the Sciences, as well as on facilities like sports grounds, medical clinics, canteens, etc.

Some argue that the late Engineering genius Prof. Thurairajah wanted Kilinochchi.

His vision was for a time when civil engineering was in boom and modelling required large laboratories where we built and measured as in Peradeniya’s huge fluids lab. Today civil is down and modelling is through the computer. We do not see huge labs as in the past.’

I voted in my mind, for the choice by Professor Thurairajah. I voted for Professor Thurairajah’s choice because to me, Engineering is a profession and therefore the mind connection would be stronger from one Tamil to another. Here in Australia, majority Engineers of Peradeniya University, tend to meet separately – Sinhalese with Sinhalese and Tamils with Tamils. At a recent community meeting I expressed my conclusion that they performed better that way at the technical level. This was needed to earn money and become financially independent. As per my observations, LTTE also confirmed this through the outstanding technical skills by its support personnel. The Jaffna brain sure works faster in suwa-baasha (own-language). Hence we moved away from Law and Humanities and more and more into Engineering. Medicine was always there as a favorite – for money as well as status.

Dr Hoole continued ..‘The students from Jaffna will have an enriched curriculum with plenty of electives in the Arts and Humanities, Fine Arts, Law, Management, etc. At Peradeniya (where I taught) at least when we engineers put up a play, students from other faculties came to watch and engineers were at the leading edge of cultural productions and innovations’

I paused and said to myself ‘Hang on a minute! Are we talking about an Engineering faculty of University of Jaffna or are we talking about a University of Engineering – Jaffna – the way we have University of Technology Sydney here?’

I rewound and went back to the following:

Q: ‘Well, but now with your new appointment as the Coordinator for the proposed Engineering Faculty in Jaffna could you detail on the progress made with regard to the whole process?’


A: ‘It is mixed. On the funding front, the Minister of Higher Education S.B. Dissanayake is fully backing the formation of an Engineering Faculty in Jaffna. Following negotiations with the Government of India, the Prime Minister of India has expressed his Government’s willingness to come out with a world-class Engineering Faculty in Jaffna.


But the Indian Envoy Lal Kantha, is firm that they are not a funding agency and cannot give more than Indian Rs. 10 Crores (about SL Rs. 250 mn). It is important to note that when the Hapugala Engineering Faculty near Galle was constructed around 1999, the government spent Rs. 900 million on buildings alone.


The construction costs have doubled since then on a square-foot basis. My estimate is that we need about Rs. 2000 million for buildings if we build in the city of Jaffna and another Rs. 1000 mn for equipment. I am despondent but have some hope since the announcement by Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is negotiating for funds Let us hope for the best.’

I quickly drew on my UNSW (University of NSW) wisdom, not only due to my work as Management Accountant with that University and later Consultant but also due to my immediate family engineers – 4 UNSW graduates. I looked with respect, at the picture hanging on our wall - of Engineering Graduates 1973., University of Peradeniya. Then I calculated.

According to that, the figure given by the Indian Envoy (about SLR 250 million) was close to the mark towards Cost of Buildings - for a Faculty of Engineering with an intake of about 250 students per year. It is my understanding that that is about the number of Engineering Student intake per annum by Peradeniya University.

Appendix A is my estimate for a small project – again based on the University of NSW – discounted as per local conditions in Sri Lanka. As per this calculation also the above funding of Sri Lankan Rupees 250 million would be enough for a modest Engineering Faculty Building. At a cost of 2,000 million rupees, to my mind, we would be looking at an Engineering faculty the size of University of NSW Faculty of Engineering with about 9,000 students including a good percentage of full fee paying foreign students. One day, the Engineering Faculty of University of Jaffna or University of Engineering – Jaffna, may become this big. But right now, our beginnings are humble and we need to become part of that humble environment to successfully serve the community. Our standards of course would be second to none.

Dr. Hoole’s report that ‘Several engineering experts from the expatriate community have expressed their willingness to come and serve at the Jaffna Engineering Faculty once it’s established’ might be on the basis of the picture in Dr. Hoole’s mind. But in terms of the community as it is today – the expatriate engineers in Australia have NOT expressed much interest. Nor have resident engineers in Sri Lanka shown much enthusiasm for this. They seem to need firm structure to believe. We need to stop talking and start building with what we have in hand here and now.


Appendix A


 
University Of Jaffna
Proposed B Sc Courses in (1) Prosthetics & Orthortics   (2) Psychosocial Welfare
Projected Capital Expenditure Statement


2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Total
Receipts:
Rs.'000

Government Grant






Diaspora Funding
      37,000
       4,000



    41,000
Industry Donations





              -  
Total Income
      37,000
       4,000
              -  
              -  
              -  
    41,000







Expenditure:






Land
      30,000




     30,000
Buildings
        4,000
       2,000



       6,000
Equipment
        2,000
       1,000



       3,000
Vehicles
        1,000
       1,000



       2,000
Total Expenditure
      37,000
       4,000
              -  
              -  
              -  
     41,000

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