Universities – Autonomous or Dependent?

| by Gajalakshmi Paramasivam

( April 04, 2012, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write in response to the article ‘Further cuts in Peradeniya funding? ’ by Shamala Kumar, published in Sri Lanka Guardian.
The question that sprung to my mind was ‘Were Sri Lankan Universities ever autonomous?’ I do not know of any University that is autonomous. The question is ‘How does one measure autonomy?’
File Photo: University of Peradeniya
As I keep saying to my students in Management – our effective work produces outcomes at three levels – money, people and ownership. In terms of an individual they are the parallels of body, mind and soul. Anything that is done at soul/ownership level would go towards autonomy. A university that is deep in research tends to become autonomous more quickly than one that has great teaching achievements. Sri Lankan Universities proved to be more teaching Universities than research oriented universities.
Ms Shamala Kumar says ‘The most recent version of the draft bill on higher education, which was temporarily shelves but likely to resurface in revised form in the future, moves authority away from academic bodies to entities that are heavily stacked with appointees of the Minister. These moves diminish further the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of universities by diminishing the academic community’s role in decisions made in universities.’
To me this is a natural extension of the other side of the silence of Universities during the debate on ethnic issue which has now resulted in Sri Lanka as a country being downgraded at global level. I have not seen any participation by Universities – over the grades that Sri Lanka received from the International Community in relation to the ethnic issue. We do not know what the Sri Lankan Universities have discovered as per their research in this issue which is includes Higher Education opportunities?
Ms Shamala Kumar says ‘No longer is higher education seen as a system that strengthens democracy, justice and opportunity, but as merely a means for national development or as something belonging solely to individuals. From the perspective of national development, education is viewed narrowly as no more than a commodity, similar to tea. Just as ‘value is added’ to tea, education ‘adds value’ to human resources.’
I identify with this as ‘reality’. The question is – was the old position a duly earned position? Was the Higher Education system truly democratic, just and one that strengthened opportunity? If yes, how come we had to fight against the quota system which was effectively on the basis of ethnicity? To my mind, the relative investment in the University system through money v people changed. The more people that were taken the less money the Government felt obliged to pump into the University system to ‘show’ results. Money is easily replaced by mere grades without commitment to the core purpose of education – higher education in this instance. I analyze this as follows: People = Status plus goodwill. Status is close to money and goodwill is close to ownership. Those who go to universities for grades that would convert easily into money – are not likely to realize themselves through Higher Education. Even here in Australia, I have had many academics, including those who have invested in the Sri Lankan issue – writing to me to remove them from my email list – something they could easily do through their own systems – if they were democratic enough to know how to work the system themselves and/or had invested enough to work the computer experts in their universities. To my mind, they do not ‘like’ what they see me writing and/or their perception of my status which effectively would not bring them any credit in the material world. Hence they do not research into how they could delete my email without ‘seeing’ it first.
In turn I am happy that I did not give in to an employee of News Limited’s Sunday Times who was included in my list after Sunday Times published new reports on the Sri Lankan issue during CHOGM in Perth. Like the Diaspora that went to UN through the USA, I used my real ownership in Sri Lanka to interpret their interest at my level – so the issue would not be forgotten once the media’s business was over. To me, the picture needs to be as big as the deepest owner of the issue. I believe that once I draw my side of the picture as per my belief, the contribution I make through that expression gets included through right minded folks with official position. The above mentioned media person started returning each of my emails many times. I place the person on ‘block sender’ list and therefore, effectively I do not receive those returns and with them the lack of commitment to the core purpose of the media. As I wrote recently to a staff of ours in Sri Lanka, the purpose of the media is to inform what happened and how the participants interpreted what happened so that the readers could identify with the news through their own experiences. That way the readers own the news at their respective levels. Likewise the work of Universities.
As per my observations, Sri Lankan University graduates are good ‘export’ services. Not many of them are committed to research until the discovery of Truth. They are good teachers and technicians. They assimilate fairly comfortably with other grade-driven academics all over the world. Grades translate into status that impresses. To be truly autonomous, Universities need to discover Truth in issues that are of importance to the environments that allocate them that high status. Towards this one may need to invest less in courses that are there more for ‘show’ and less for true work in the consciousness of the core purpose of the University.
Be it in employment or in learning, there is a component that goes towards ‘show’ / frills. First the Government spent on status frills through allocation of money towards facilities. Then the Government paved the way for more intake of marginal students with least commitment to higher education’s core purpose; now the Government is spending to use the University to ‘show’ their military might. After all, it was the military that brought this government more credit than previous governments for eliminating a group that was listed as Terrorists by the global community. The Universities relatively have not brought this government credit. Hence it is a natural extension of this government’s path.
Despite all this, Sri Lankan Universities would become self sufficient / autonomous if they relied more on their own Alumni – especially those outside Sri Lanka – than they did previously. They need to consider themselves to Equals to the government and be diplomatic with the government – especially when the government faces cuts in foreign-aid. One committed to the core purpose of higher education would make up through ownership work to balance money shortage and more – which to me is the best return from democracy. Universities need to research themselves and identify with their own Truth. Then others with deep investment in Higher Education would connect naturally to them – through the system of Nature.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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