Sri Lanka: SAITM — Solution unveiled, problem unsolved

All parties to the SAITM issue remaining intransigent and striving to ram their solutions down one another’s throat, the chances of the problem being solved in the foreseeable future are remote.

by Prabath Sahabandu

( October 30, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Expeditiousness is not the yahapalana government’s metier. President Maithripala Sirisena undertook to make the government’s solution to the SAITM (South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine) problem known early last week. Or, at least Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella told us so. But, it was only yesterday that the government officially announced its position through a media statement issued by the Government Information Department.

The government has decided to bring the SAITM as a non-profit institution under the Higher Education Ministry and the University Grants Commission. Dr. Neville Fernando and his family will cease to be its owners. Rejecting the government move, the anti-SAITM campaigners have let out a howl of protest, vowing to continue with their agitation campaign. They have called upon the government to find a solution in keeping with the Deans of the state-run medical faculties. So, the issue remains unsolved.

The state-run medical faculties have been crippled for about eight months and students, engaged in a seemingly never-ending protest, are wasting their youth. The government carries on regardless. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wax eloquent at international fora on global issues and suggest solutions thereto, but their joint administration has pathetically failed at home to solve many a burning problem affecting the public. The Rajapaksas who facilitated the establishment of the SAITM have made an about-turn and are protesting against it. Those who opposed the SAITM while they were in the Opposition are now fully backing it. Politicians of all stripes don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the fact that the students on both sides of the SAITM divide are children of this country.

When the yahapalana government’s wisdom of amalgamating the Higher Education and Highway portfolios was questioned, we argued, in this space, that it was very appropriate in that university students, teachers and non-academic workers were more on roads and the policy of the minister concerned as regards universities was ‘my way or highway’.

UNESCO has revealed, in its latest report, that ‘high-stakes tests based on narrow performance measures can encourage efforts to ‘game the system’, negatively impacting on learning and disproportionately punishing the marginalised’, according to an IANS report we reproduce today. In this country, it is not only the marginalised who are punished; even the best performers undergo punishment, albeit under different circumstances, for no fault of theirs, as evident from the predicament of the medical students.

The Vidusara has, in its latest edition, carried an interesting news feature, which says, quoting the findings of an international research, that life expectancy of men are associated with higher education, which is believed to prolong life. But, we doubt whether these findings hold true where this country is concerned. For, life in Sri Lankan universities, save a handful, resembles that of early Homo sapiens in the pre-Social Contract era, when it was, according to philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Some supposedly educated men in local seats of higher learning behave like Neanderthals as evident from not-so-infrequent bloody clashes which put the entire country to shame. It looks as if the situation had taken a turn for the worse with even the parents of university students having to risk their lives for the sake of their children. The parents of the undergraduates of the state-run medical faculties have declared that they will resort to a death fast against the government ‘solution,’ announced yesterday.

All parties to the SAITM issue remaining intransigent and striving to ram their solutions down one another’s throat, the chances of the problem being solved in the foreseeable future are remote. They must soften their positions and return to the negotiating table with a view to reaching middle ground. Their chicken game, as it were, only benefits the bankrupt, anarchical elements desperate to gain some political traction at the expense of universities and students.

Prabath Sahabandu, is the editor of the Island, a Colombo based daily newspaper where this piece first appeared. 

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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