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Sri Lankan Universities Falling Apart

| by Darshani Wimalasuriya
( December 12, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The quality of Sri Lankan university education is declining rapidly.  According to the World ranking Sri Lankan universities are now lower than the universities of failed states in Africa. Major universities in Uganda, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are now in a superior position than the Sri Lankan universities. Instead of educational quality Sri Lankan universities are now famous for violence, extremist student politics, strikes, low productivity, and moral decay.

Mr. Navarathna Banda – a senior lecture attached to the Sri Jayawardhanapura University provides factors that pushed the Sri Lankan universities in to a deplorable state. According to Mr. Navarathna Banda over 90 % of Sri Lankan university professors and senior lectures are under qualified and do not have a wider exposure. Majority of these university teachers are working in the same universities where they graduated and they do not have any overseas exposure or experience. Academically speaking their knowledge and experiences are stunted.   Their knowledge is limited and outdated. These university teachers cannot provide students to face the educational challenges of the 21st century. 
Over the last 30 years the Sri Lankan universities failed to do any world class research, conduct any validated scientific study or to do a notable publication that captured the attention of the international academia. These failures represent the emptiness that is filled in our universities. To cover-up these failures Professor Naleen De Silva recently did an Arsenic research at the Kelaniya University violating all the international research standards and it became a laughing stock among the academic community.  

Ragging and Violence in the Sri Lankan Universities
Unfortunately ragging and violence have become an inseparable part of the local universities. Ragging involves   harassment, abuse and humiliation that are aimed at the new students. It is a major form of human right violation. According to our assumption 100 % of former Sri Lankan university students have faced hazing -either physical or verbal abuse as first year students. So far no one could not disprove it and we challenge anyone to come forward and refute this statement.
For decades brutal ragging is prevailing in the Sri Lankan universities. All these years the university teachers could not and did not want to eradicate it from the universities. The   reasons are simple. These teachers were one time victims of ragging and majority of them later turned in to perpetrators as they became senior students. For them it is a moral challenge to prevent ragging in the Sri Lankan universities. The other point is radical political groups use ragging as a political weapon to control new students.  
Sexual violence and brutal physical ragging is a hidden malady in the Sri Lankan universities and Perdeniya University has the worst reputation. The most infamous and horrible case of sexual violence was reported in 1975 from the Peradeniya University. A young 22 year old female student named Rupa Rathnaseeli of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya jumped from the second floor of the hostel -Ramanathan Hall when a group of seniors tried to insert a pen in to her vagina as a part of sadistic physical ranging. She sustained serious injuries to her spinal cord and became paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair for many years. Her dreams were shattered and young life was wasted. In 1997 Rupa Rathnaseeli committed suicide. Upon this incident the Peradeniya University Authorities made a cover-up story and concealed the evidence. After her death they conveniently forgot about Miss Rupa Rathnaseeli. Those who attempted to administer sexual violence on her working as administrators today. Some are university professors.

In 2011 three students from the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya were arrested by the Police and produced before the Kandy additional Magistrate Mr. Ravindra Premaratne for sexually assaulting a fresher. In another incident three second year female students of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya were charged with ragging a group of female freshers in a lavatory. These female freshers were stripped naked during the ragging and they were forced to perform indecent acts of sexual nature. The University authorities imposed three week suspension on these three female students.

According to an unofficial internal report these three senior female students sexually molested a newcomer female student from Gampaha District. The internal report further reveals that the victim was afraid to lodge a complaint to the university authorities since they had very lethargic policy on female ragging incidents. Therefore no further charges were brought against the perpetrators. Although these senior female students had committed a serious sexual offence they were able to participate in lectures soon after the 3 week suspension. Up to date the authorities of the University of Peradeniya did not take any action against the perpetrators and they mostly covered up the incidents.

Similar events had been reported from Ruhuna, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya and Sabaragamuwa, universities and the authorities followed the Peradeniya method.  

In 1993 an innocent student named Chaminda Punchihewa of the Ruhuna University died as a result of cruel ragging. He was viciously beaten and forced to perform vigorous exercises by senior students. In 1997 a first year female student of the University of Ruhunu committed suicide following intolerable ragging. She was subjected to unbearable sexual harassments. In 2011 Professor Susirith Mendis head of the Ruhuna University informed the media that a group of students administered physical ragging on a female student – Vathsala Kumudini De Silva and as a result of physical ragging she became semi-paralyzed in one limb.

In her autobiography ‘Punarukthi – (Rebirth) the   award-winning actress, dramatist and writer Anoma Janadari states that inhuman and degrading ragging were imposed on students at the University of Colombo. She further writes that most of her female batch mates were   subjected to sexual harassments by senior students at the Colombo University.  Another former student of the University of Colombo (now completing her post graduate degree in a university in Michigan) confirms that in 2011 some senior students of the Colombo University splashed buckets of water over freshers and these water buckets contained human feces. She further says that it was an inhuman and degrading act committed in a major university in Sri Lanka and no one was held responsible.

The award-winning Sri Lankan film and tele-drama actress Yashoda Wimaladharma reveals that she had to undergo brutal ragging while studying at the University of Kelaniya and it became an emotional shock for her father Mr. R. L. Wimaladharma who served as a lecturer at the Kelaniya campus. According to Yashoda Wimaladharma her father could not witness these merciless harassments to his daughter and he suffered a heart attack. 

The Student Unions  

Sri Lankan Universities have student political groups that are manipulated by the extremists. When a new batch of students arrives at the University, they are intimidated and threatened to use physical ragging by the seniors. Often the new students are not allowed to have a dialog with the university lecturers, not allowed ask questions at the lectures, not allowed to take part in the English courses and not allowed to use the university library by these extreme student unions. The freshes have to wear non expensive clothes and for them it is prohibited to wear shoes. In some universities they are not allowed to take baths or clean themselves after using the toilet for a number of weeks. In some universities the students are not allowed to drink beverages like coca cola. This sanction was vigorously implemented at the University of Colombo and University of Kelaniya.

The senior students of the Sri Lankan universities use physical and sexual harassments to control the newcomers. Among the sexual violence forcefully stripping naked, forced masturbation, forced to perform oral or anal sex, sexual act simulation, urinating on victim, inserting pens and candles to the victim’s anus or vagina, smearing tooth paste or marmite in the victims genitals, forcing to wear clothes without undergarments (without panties or jockstraps ) , bucketing or throwing dirty water with animal and human feces, swearing with utter filth, interrogating the victim with thousands of vulgar questions, forced to repeat filthy words or sing filthy songs in front  of a group etc. are quite common. Although rape and sodomy are rare the recent reports indicate that these types of extreme form of violence are slowly emerging in the Sri Lankan Universities.

The student political groups use ragging as a weapon to control the new students and to indoctrinate them. There are unspeakable human right violations occurring inside the Sri Lankan universities and many university professors and other authorities maintain silence. Many of the sexual and physical harassments are covered by the university establishment and the general public is unaware of most of the horrible events that occur in these educational institutions.

Majority of the university lecturers do not want to get involved in internal politics or to have grudges with the extremist student groups. Sometimes inhuman form of ragging is happening infant of their eyes and still they do nothing to stop it. Many university teachers pretend that they did not see the incident and move away. The professors and lecturers openly opposed ragging were subjected to numerous types of violence and some were compelled to leave the universities for their safety.

The Poor State of Sri Lankan Medical Faculties  

One time Sri Lankan medical schools produced knowledgeable doctors who had international recognition.  Unfortunately this trend has changed over the past few decades. According to a prominent Sri Lankan medical doctor who is workings as an associate professor in an American university, the quality of Sri Lankan medical faculties has come down. Majority of the   Sri Lankan doctors who graduated in the past few decades have very poor English knowledge and they are unable to communicate effectively and professionally.  He further says that Sri Lankan doctors lack attitudinal training, medical ethics and accountability towards their patients. According to the international ranking of medical schools many medical schools of the 3rd world countries such as Nigeria, Nepal, India, and Tanzania have beaten the Sri Lankan medical faculties.

Sri Lankan Universities are Virtually Dead

 Sri Lankan Universities are virtually dead says a senior lecturer attached to the University of Colombo. According to him qualified professors go to the overseas universities seeking prosperous job opportunities. Only the old and inefficient academics are trapped in the local universities. Majority of the Sri Lankan University Professors and senior lecturers do not want to improve the quality of the local universities or stop sadistic ragging. They never send their children to the Sri Lankan Universities. Their children go to the universities in United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. These irresponsible actions have created a huge academic void in the local universities.

Student Heroes

When the academics and university authorities were avoiding their responsibility several student leaders took courageous measures to stop ragging and sexual harassments in the Sri Lankan Universities. Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha was a third year Management student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He was a charismatic student leader who launched anti-ranging champagne at the university and soon other universities were inspired by his humane crusade. A group of student extremists killed him on the 7th of November 2002. He was viciously assaulted at the university premises and attacked with a computer monitor and smashed his head. One of his killers and one who masterminded the murder - Sujith Kuruwita used his political backings to evade the charges and today he is at large. After Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha’s death his humane campaign had a lesser voice and again violence and sadism took control of the Sri Lankan universities.

  Sri Lankan Universities Ranking 2013/2014  

Sri Lankan
World Rank
University of Moratuwa
University of Colombo
University of Ruhuna
University of Peradeniya
University of Kelaniya
University of Jaffna
National Institute of Education Sri Lanka
Open University of Sri Lanka
Sabaragamuwa University
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology
Eastern University of Sri Lanka
Rajarata University
Wayamba University of Sri Lanka
South Eastern University of Sri Lanka
Arthur C Clarke Institute of Modern Technologies
Uva Wellassa University
Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology Sri Lanka
Postgraduate Institute of Sciences
Industrial Technology Institute
Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture
Institute of Fundamental Studies Sri Lanka
General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University
Informatics Institute of Technology Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Institute of Architects
University of the Visual & Performing Arts
Buddhist and Pali University
Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education
Sri Lanka Press Institute
Institute of Engineering Technology

 Sri Lankan Universities are backward than the African Universities

The African Universities are now internationally more recognized than the Sri Lankan Universities. According to the 2012 world university ranking Makerere University (Uganda) has come to the 1174 place demonstrating a superior educational quality than Sri Lankan higher education institutes.  Ironically Idi Amen’s Uganda has easily defeated the major universities in Sri Lanka. According to the 2012 world ranking University of Moratuwa has come to the 2150 place, University of Colombo- 2255, University of Ruhuna -2353, and University of Peradeniya -2973. These local universities now represent a very low level of international ranking.

While Sri Lankan universities struggle with their low quality of education Polytechnic of Namibia has come to the 1319th   place and Sudan’s University of Khartoum to 1394th   place,   University of Nairobi 1435th  , Mansoura University of Egypt  to1685th , University of Ghana 1797th  Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University 1903rd    , Tanzania’s University of Dar Es Salaam 1977th   and Sudan‘s University of Science & Technology to 2020th place. Most of these African countries have low literacy rate than Sri Lanka. But they defeated all our local universities in the international arena.

Need Action

Regrettably Sri Lankan Universities are facing moral and educational degradation especially in the last four decades. One time Sri Lankan universities were the shining examples of higher education and academic leadership. Unfortunately the qualities of education and research work in the Sri Lankan universities have gone down drastically. Today Sri Lankan universities are lagging behind. According to the 2012 World University Ranking Sri Lankan universities have a lower position and some African countries with low literacy rate than Sri Lanka have far more better educational ranking than the Sri Lankan Universities.

Urgent measures must be taken to stop physical and sexual violence in the Sri Lankan Universities and the quality of education must be improved. Recently the Minister of Higher Education Mr. S.B Dissanayake told the media that he intends to invite overseas students to the Sri Lankan Universities. With current low grade of education quality, massive violence and frequent strikes in the Sri Lankan universities the foreign students might think twice to come to further their education in Sri Lanka.

Education is not a privilege. It is a human right. Higher education is the only hope and salvation to the Sri Lankans and do not let anyone to destroy it.
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