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Prof. Ratnasekera: 33% increase in annual intake a daunting challenge



World Bank assistance sought to sustain significant University expansion

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors, Prof. Jayantha Lal Ratnasekera says accommodating approximately 43,000 students––a staggering 33 per cent increase in the annual university intake–– would be a daunting task.

Prof. Ratnasekera, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Uva Wellassa University, discussed ways and means of providing the basic facilities required by new entrants, especially at a time the State University system experienced severe difficulties caused by the continuing Covid-19 epidemic. The academic was appearing on Sirasa ‘Pethikada’ hosted by Asoka Dias recently.

Prof. Ratnasekera said that as they wouldn’t be able to upgrade the required facilities to 100 per cent, the undergraduates would have to bear the difficulties. Prof. Ratnasekera, who had graduated from the People’s Friendship University, Moscow, Russia with an honours degree in Chemistry in 1988 and subsequently obtained his PhD in Chemistry from the same university in 1993, explained efforts made by the authorities to accommodate an additional 11,000 students.

Explaining the difficulty in addressing the inevitable limitations especially at a time the country was struggling to cope up with the devastating pandemic; Prof. Ratnasekera said that the University Grants Commission (UGC) was engaged in discussions with the Treasury to secure the necessary funding. Prof. Ratnasekera said that the Treasury would provide funding though it was unlikely to meet their entire requirement.

Prof. Ratnasekera declared that the latest increase in the number of new entrants was the largest single surge ever in the State University system.

Pointing out that the annual intake had been raised to 43,000 from 32,000; the academic said that Uva Wellassa University recorded almost a 100 per cent increase. Providing required facilities sufficiently would be a huge task, the outspoken don said underscoring the need for adequate library and laboratory facilities in addition to a range of other necessities such as canteen and accommodation.

Responding to another question, Prof. Ratnasekera emphasized the responsibility on their part to provide the basic necessities. The academic explained how as part of their overall response to the significant expansion of the student intake, the UGC was going ahead with plans to increase what he called the teaching cadre by 500. Prof. Ratnasekera said his University would get 43 additional lecturers. The proposed staffing would be in addition to the filling of existing vacancies, he said, explaining the need for substantial external assistance to bring the project meant to accommodate an additional 11,000 undergraduates to a successful conclusion.

Referring to the World Bank funded ongoing Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) project, Prof. Ratnasekera said that the UGC was in discussion with the WB in a bid to secure much needed financial assistance in support of the University expansion. Prof. Ratnasekera was of the opinion that the WB assistance might not be available immediately.

He explained the role played by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors in overall UGC strategy and how it could assist the ongoing University expansion project. Reference was made to the moves to set up three new Universities, in addition to the 16 in operation now as the higher education sector underwent much needed reforms. The increase in the student intake should be examined against the backdrop of other relevant factors , such as the expansion of the University system, Prof. Ratnasekera said.

The senior academic however cautioned against expecting immediate results from investments made in research and related fields.

For want of proper understanding of what was offered by Universities, the undergraduates sometimes missed excellent opportunities to enhance their standing, Prof. Ratnasekera said, urging the student community to be aware of developments. The academic explained some exceptionally useful courses available at his Uva Wellassa University.

Prof. Ratnasekera called for a survey to find out the status of unemployed graduates. Assuring that he had absolutely no intention to undermine external degrees/external degree holders, he emphasized the need to examine the case of unemployed graduates. According to the vast majority of unemployed graduates they were those who obtained external degrees. Therefore a thorough examination of that issue and remedial measures were required.

Prof. Ratnasekera dismissed accusations pertaining to the alleged deterioration of the public sector University system. Contrary to those unsubstantiated allegations, the Universities, in spite of challenges faced were quite satisfied with the current status, the academic said, adding that other countries appreciated the Sri Lankan talent.

At the onset of the interview with Asoka Dias, Prof. Ratnasekera discussed how the Universities struggled to cope up with the Covid-19 rampage. The academic explained the difficulties associated with online classes and some of those chosen for Universities from 2018 Advance Level were yet to see the Universities due to the epidemic. Prof. Ratnasekera acknowledged the extreme difficulty in including the entire 160,000 University community in the ongoing vaccination programme. The Professor appreciated the inclusion of those in medical faculties et al in the vaccination programme.

Prof. Ratnasekera said that the entire University education couldn’t under any circumstances be conducted through online classes. Therefore, the need to resume classes at least on a staggered basis had to be recognised and tangible measures had to be taken in that regard, he said.

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SF claims thousands of police and military personnel leaving



By Saman Indrajith

Thousands of police and military personnel had left the services recently as they did not want to carry out illegal orders, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Parliament yesterday. According to the war-winning army commander 200 policemen have resigned during the past two months and 25,000 soldiers have left the army during the last two years.

“We urged the law enforcement and military officials not to follow illegal orders. We will reinstate them with back pay,” he said.

Fonseka also urged the President and the government MPs not to take people for fools.

“Sri Lanka owes 55 billion dollars to the world. Ranil’s plan is to borrow another seven billion during the next four years. So, in four years we will owe 62 billion to the world.

Ranil and his ministers ask us what the alternative to borrowing is. These are the people who destroyed the economy and society. They must leave. Then, we will find an alternative and develop the country,” he said, adding that the IMF loans had made crises in other nations worse.

“Ranil says that by 2025, we will have a budget surplus as in Japan, Germany and South Korea. These countries are economic power houses, and this comparison is ludicrous.”

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CEB hit by exodus of technical staff



By Shiran Ranasinghe

At least five technical personnel of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) resigned daily for overseas employment, a senior CEB official said.They included electrical engineers, electricians and foremen, he added.

“Most of them are quitting due to the economic crisis while others are simply disillusioned. Trained and experienced technical staff are in high demand in many countries,” he said.

CEB United Trade Union Alliance President Ranjan Jayalal said that the CEB had lost about 2,000 employees in recent times due to the above reasons.

“We had about 24,000 such personnel a few months ago. Now the number has come down to 22,000. A number of people had to retire on 31 December, 2022.

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Sajith questions sudden decision to charge Rs. 225,000 from students following NDES



By Saman Indrajith

The government had decided to charge Rs 225,000 from those enrolling at the Institute of Engineering Technology, Katunayake under the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA), Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said yesterday in Parliament.

Premadasa said that the institute awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences (NDES) and no fee was charged from students until 2023.The IET awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences under the three major fields of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and eight sub-fields.

“This is an institute that has created over ten thousand tier two engineers. NDES is a four year programme,” he said.

The opposition leader said that the sudden decision to charge 225,000 rupees from students at a time when the average Sri Lankan family is facing significant economic challenges is unfair.

“This institute offered free tuition. We should continue this tradition. A large number of engineers are leaving the country and we need to ensure that we have a continuous supply of engineers to ensure we can maintain our essential technical services,” he said.

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