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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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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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