What struggles parents go through to get their child into a good school. When they finally make it to university - all those bright kids with top marks- it would be safe to assume that their intentions are to get their education and find a job as fast as they can.
Yet, today's university students seem to be spending more time on the roads - protesting, shouting slogans and some even damaging public property, which raises serious questions about if getting top marks alone makes them the 'smartest' kids? Surely smart kids think for themselves, think of the country, feel some guilt in wasting public funds that could have gone to educate another student who may have missed a university education by a mark or two? Then what about ethics, morals and all those other things that make up a more well rounded individual?
While university students don't make the most of free education, those in private universities - the ones who are paying for their education, complete their three to four year degree, take up a career and move ahead with life. What does the future of a state university student look like? Is it getting any better or worse?
In an attempt to shed light on this matter, Life Online spoke to a few authorities while also listening to a few university students.
It takes approximately four lakhs to sponsor one university student: P.G Jayasinghe
Speaking to Life Online, Ministry of Higher Education and Highways additional secretary P.G Jayasinghe said that it takes approximately four lakhs to sponsor one university student.
"Currently there are close to 100,000 university students in the country. But this amount varies depending on the course that they are following. These students strike during class hours but we don't have a procedure to monitor how many class hours they have missed. Because even if some students don't attend classes, the classes will continue. It is sad that these medical students for example spend most of their time on the roads thereby delaying their opportunity to graduate and become doctors. By the time they leave the university they have to sit for an open exam to get in to a job. But some don't pass this exam because they are over-age. Then they have to think about their family life etc. So university students are facing a huge challenge because of these ongoing strikes."
The People's Liberation Front (JVP) was the initiator of unions such as the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) which has taken centre-stage in getting students to join in their demonstrations and strikes. What commenced as a cause to end capitalism, today has become a deciding factor for many university students and those interested in getting university entrance.
Staging protests and strikes is a fair practice: Wasantha Samarasinghe
Speaking to us JVP Politburo member Wasantha Samarasinghe said that the protests and strikes staged by the university students are a fair practice. "They are voicing out in support of the future university students. If the government and the authorities don't act responsibly then at least the students will have to take a step forward. If a student enters university it is solely because of the riots and sacrifices the past students have done for their sake. The university students have a right to voice out for free education and be a part of the system. Their highest achievement was university entrance and they will not make their parents regret."
Comments from current and past students
The image reflecting on the side of the local university system is extremely negative. This in turn encourages many young minds to seek alternatives rather than getting a free education at a local university, prestigious or otherwise. We decided to speak to a few students, some who are currently in a local university and how they view this issue; the others from private universities who chose otherwise because of these strikes and politics involved in the system.
The eligibility of the students to study in government universities should be taken away if they strike or protest against anything. Those who strike should be sent home permanently and those students who are in the waiting list should be given the opportunity to study. Tax money of the public and other financial sources are being used for the education sector in government universities, and these people misuse those by striking and spending time on the streets rather than making use of the opportunity to study. Those finances could be used for the development of schools in rural areas or some other deserving sector rather than it going to these so called university crowd.
The students in private universities complete their degree within three to four years but this crowd of students in the government universities takes at least five to six years to graduate because of all their strikes and unreasonable behaviour. While private university students have graduated, got themselves a job and moved on in life; these government university students are still held up in uni, striking on the streets and delaying the intakes of the next batch of students as the current batch still remains as undergraduates. This simply is the behaviour when they obtain something FREE of CHARGE, they do not know the value of it, hence the behaviour to misuse is seen. - A. Selvarajah
*Sarah is a first year undergraduate at the University of Colombo (UoC) and it has been six months since she joined. According to her, the ragging began when they started university in February. "In the Science faculty, the second year students would let us sit in the canteen for 30 minutes before lectures and 30 minutes after. What they did was they taught us the rules to follow. For example, they'd tell us where we were supposed to sit in the canteen, where we had to throw our garbage, how we had to respect our lecturers. At the Science faculty of UoC, ragging is very much restricted and anyone who crosses the limits are immediately expelled or suspended.
When I became an anti-rag, others were jealous of me because they too wanted to be free from being ragged. But the majority of them don't want to risk their future at the university. Since their parents have hopes on their education, they choose to be ragged. Therefore if seniors ask them to protest or go on strikes they have to do that."
After my O/Ls, I decided to follow marketing management and therefore without doing my A/Ls I joined a private university. As a result I was able to complete my American degree by the time when other peers from my college were still looking for a university. Had I done my A/Ls and joined a local university I still would have been there. In my honest opinion, I think university students do not have a right to vandalise, block roads, create havoc, attack government officials for their cause. Furthermore they are not required to make decisions for the country because there is a government elected by the people of the country to do so. Their job is to learn, because you and I are paying taxes for their education. If they don't attend classes, it's at their loss, our loss, our country's loss. Students who do picketing should be expelled from universities. Moreover they should carry a criminal record (especially for the ones who did so much damage to the country). - A. S. Perera
Sri Lankan universities, even though they are globally recognized would be the last place I want to study at since the mindset that most students have are of cavemen! It's pathetic to see "educated adults" taking part in childish acts of ragging and torture (even taking them in to extreme levels). They do not understand the simple fact that it has taken them 12-13 years of life and sacrifices and hard work of not just the student's but of their parents as well. As a result their three year degree becomes a five year joke. These students are easily manipulated by political influence for their entertainment and they waste their life on the streets. It is then that you would actually think if they are really the top brains in Sri Lanka. Even though they are book-smart it is sad that the students lack common sense. University students should be treated as students and should be dealt with severely if they riot and strike as they should be there to study and not be involved in politics (That's what the elections are for!). It's a simple theory that the governing body should practice. Bottom line is that I would never prefer a government university because I don't want to waste my life away due to vague practices of a handful. - Dan
I think they're being unfair; just because they study hard to get into university and come to Colombo they can't own Colombo. Even parents of students who go to private universities have worked hard to earn money and send their children to these universities. If I didn't have the option of private education, I highly doubt that I would end up where I am today as an entrepreneur.
As a solution maybe we should educate these students to respect others and think positively without trying to make chaos. If they're really good at their education they will of course find a good job because there are many opportunities in this country every day! But the problem is that they are looking for excuses to put the blame on someone else. - I. Weeraratne
The main reason for these fellows to make a big issue out of this is because by the time they finish their education, those from private universities have already taken over the jobs. But that isn't anyone's fault. A person should have the choice to study where they want to and they need to get their act in order. Protesting on streets won't solve these problems. I suggest that free education should be abolished and those students who are really in need should be given scholarships. - Senal D.
When I got selected to the University of Moratuwa, my father's uncle gave me a small piece of very valuable advice which made a big impact on the way I viewed university life. He said the first thing you need to think about after entering university is how to get out of it. Of course what his concise statement meant was, concentrate on the studies, pass the exams and gain employment as quickly as possible. After all the tax payers are funding our education and we need to start being productive quickly and become tax payers ourselves. Words of wisdom I cherish even today. Only if some of these protesting graduates ponder on these words! What happens is some seniors poison the young minds as soon as they enter as freshers. Some seniors tried this with us too but some of us had the wisdom to see through their nonsensical requests. I guess before students start their studies at universities, the authorities should conduct some sessions on the traps and pitfalls of university life and educate them on how to avoid those. - A. Azeez
I got selected to the Management faculty at UoC but decided to give it up due to ragging and as well as the total time frame taken to complete the degree (with strikes and closures, the time frame was indefinite). So in turn, I did CIMA and ACCA which took about 3 years in total to complete. I feel that things need to be controlled at the initial / budding stage itself. In the case of ragging, if each university could impose stricter rules and serious punishment, then it's a start. If they successfully implement it in one batch, then it's easier with the subsequent university intakes. Also educating at the pre-entry level too is important. Also we need a politics-free university system. We can maybe start working towards it - *Anne
My cousin was selected to do medicine at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura a decade ago. During an almost two year period he had to undergo ragging and the university closed about seven times due to students' and faculty strikes. With no proper lectures and having to face exams, he just couldn't take it anymore quite sadly.
We hardly see these issues in private universities. With our free education system and politics I don't think we can stop these strikes or ragging. Unless the students are asked to pay a fee, the governing board is fully independent and has the choice of selecting or rejecting not based on just entry marks but also on attitude etc. Also the university should be capable of instilling loyalty and a unique sense of pride to be a member of those institutions.
These students come from various backgrounds and political views and have got into this demanding culture where they think everything should be provided free their entire life time in this democratic socialist country. But when they finish university and enter the real world they still expect the same and struggle to fit in because reality is such that you need to earn your daily bread. - H. Sidq
*Names have been withheld under strict condition of anonymity