Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 15 January 2012





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Incidents - stage-managed to rouse students

Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake

When Rohana Wijeweera conducted indoctrination classes in universities, he told us the Vietcong (Vietnamese communists) shut the door on US imperialists’ infiltration into Asia. But via the Dudley – Sirima duo, the US once again started creating a window in Sri Lanka to creep in to Asia and revive their conspiracy.

Subsequently, this theory was padded up with another, that India was going to capture Sri Lanka and that their entry is going to be via the northern-most tip of Sri Lanka – the Jaffna peninsula. This particular class was called ‘Indian imperialism’. These were the JVP’s tactics to rouse and brainwash undergraduates to toe their line. That is how they teamed us up, with sensational concocted stories.

When the JVP fractured into two, I suppose the group of members who held an insurgent mentality but remained silent all this time, have become the ‘JVP radical group’ with the hope of reviving their bloody past.

For the past 35 years, Sri Lanka’s universities were controlled by the JVP-backed Inter University Student Federation. We expelled them and restored the situation in universities along with the Vice Chancellors. We were not very successful in Ruhuna and Peradeniya, but all the others were put back on track.

I feel, as a person who had experienced the JVP’s past tactics, that the radicals are going back to Wijeweera strategies.

What was the reason at Sri Jayawardenapura university to begin the struggle? The popular slogans, removal of the VC and Private Universities Bill were not there at the outset. It was started with a so called attack on a statue dedicated for student heroes. The bomb that exploded near the heroes statue was created using gun powder from fire-crackers. It was not difficult to find out who did it. This is the Wijeweera mentality.

I attended the Colours Night of the Sabaragamuwa University on December 30. Outsiders were there to make trouble. However, despite their best attempts to get the students to throw pellets or at least hoot at me, they failed. I stayed on till around midnight, having a good time with the undergrads. There is a very strict teacher in charge of discipline – Dr. Sanjeewa. He convinced students not to fall pray to JVP tactics. His house was attacked by the JVP-backed students last week.


Three JVP students who are members of the Rajarata Student Union claimed that they were assaulted by some unknown gang clad in black. The students informed the Vice Chancellor about this and when he and Dr. Sanjeewa got ready to visit the scene of the incident, a mob of about 200 students surrounded his house, damaged his quarters and attacked his vehicle.

The students who claimed they were attacked did not even have a serious scratch on their bodies.

All these incidents are stage-managed to rouse students. There is no real cause for their uprising. If you analyst the sequence of events at the universities, it does not need genius to realise this.

At the Kelaniya University, the abdomen of an undergraduate was slashed with a sharp knife. He needed 39 stitches. At the Rajarata University, a boy was stabbed on his hand and lower back for defying the JVP call. There is an armed gang backing the JVP students.

In the Peradeniya University, over 15 students were suspended from class for a certain period as punishment for serious ragging. This is the reason for the unrest at Peradeniya. There is no ‘one single’ demand for the students to take to the streets, they are being taken to the streets on numerous allegations.

The ‘lost JVP-grip’ is behind the recent spate of incidents and the ultimate aim of the JVP radical group is to take control over the undergrads.

I met undergrads and teachers of the Jaffna and Eastern Universities and the Trincomalee and Vavunia branches. Student leaders said JVP dissident Udul Premaratne and others visited them seeking ex-LTTE undergrads.

What is the reason for this? Their intentions are pretty obvious. They are plotting a major insurgency, joining forces with LTTE residences.

In Sri Lanka, private universities have been operating since 1987. The Bill to allow private universities was first introduced by President J.R. Jayewardene. There are 59 degree awarding institutions registered under the BOI. Fifty one have begun operations, of this 11 have closed down. As of today, there are 32 affiliated institutions which award foreign degrees.

Private degrees

Even Gateway College and Royal Institute award private degrees, they are affiliated with recognised British universities. The CINEC Maritime Campus too is affiliated with a foreign university and awards marine engineering degrees, because they want their graduates to have world recognition.

Three months ago, the External Affairs Minister, Australian High Commissioner and I attended the opening of a Sri Lankan branch of the third oldest university in Australia. It offers engineering and IT courses.

Amidst this back drop, what is the purpose of this protest by the IUSF?

Some of these degree-awarding institutions maintain a good standard, but others are not so good. The proposed Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Qualification Framework Act will streamline and empower the State to monitor these private institutions. Our intention is to assure quality and protect the rights of the students. The Bill has laws to close down sub-standard institutions.

We have also proposed a Human Capital Development Finance Act, to grant loans to students to follow professional or higher education courses such as Chartered or CIMA examinations. This will enable students to obtain easy loans.

These are the two Bills that we have proposed to introduce.

We don’t need a new Bill to bring in private universities, we already have one prepared during Prescient Jayewardene’s tenure.

I would like to request parents to protect their children from these destructive forces. Be alert to what is unfolding and don’t let your children fall prey to their dark agendas.

I must also emphasise that this Government, under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, defeated one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world. US Intelligence termed the LTTE as one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world. Whoever plans to establish the country will be dealt with the same force; this is the message we like to give them.

Violence is not the solution

Senior Vice President Independent Student Union, Gihan Bandara

The Inter University Student Federation, which is now shedding crocodile tears over a professorial unit, was initially dead against setting up the new Medical Faculty at the Rajarata University. They put forth various demands to scuttle the process when it was first proposed.

The Government went ahead with the plans to establish the new faculty under tremendous pressure against it from the Student Federation. Their current ploy over the professorial unit is also a publicity stunt to convince the undergraduates and the masses that they won this unit for the students. It is already under construction and being completed by the University.

The university administration has now taken action to close the Medical Faculty over a ragging incident. Our stand is that this is an unfair decision. The most affected by this decision is the first-year batch. The university authorities must continue lectures for the first batch at least, until the ragging issue is resolved and action is taken against the offenders.

The Nidahas Student Union is against the arbitrary closure of faculties, depriving education to students.

At the Sri Jayawardenapura University, we believe that the actions of the Vice Chancellor had somewhat aggravated the situation. A group of about 70-80 students, supporters of the JVP, were suspended from lectures following a ragging incident three months ago.

They were the trouble-makers in the university. The Vice Chancellor, without any disciplinary inquiry, allowed them to attend classes following a protest by them.

This happened about a month ago. With their re-entry, troubles began at J’pura. The student monument was bombed around 3.30 am on January 5, by 5 am the entire university was covered in black flags, by 6 am a meeting of JVP-backed student leaders was convened and around 7 am nearly 1,000 students were gathered to protest against the Vice Chancellor.

The student leaders and protesters didn’t ask for an inquiry to find out who attacked the monument, but went straight to demand the removal of the VC. They hastily concluded that the VC had a hand in the attack. The ordinary students of the university are aware of who is behind the attack. It was an organised attempt to provoke students and take them to the streets.

We call upon the authorities to initiate an independent inquiry to expose the culprits and educate the university students and the masses of the truth of what is happening. That is very vital in dousing the flames of anger.

We see the current sequence of happenings as a means to save the losing grip of the JVP. The JVP lost badly in the national political front and they were losing their monopoly over the university students.

The IUSF is the JVP’s face within the university sector. These latest incidents are an attempt by them to revive their strength within the universities and take control of the student unions.

The JVP lost power in all universities except Ruhuna and Peradeniya. In Ruhuna too, they felt that they were fast losing grip. They have gone back to their past tactics of violence to retain power. This is our perspective on the evolving situation.

We agree that university students have problems, but violence is not the way to find solutions. Our student union held discussions with the UGC on several issues and obtained results. It’s a start.

Our fight is over three key issues

Convenor IUSF, Sanjeeva Bandara

The Government says the proposed Higher Education Ministry Bill will assure quality, that it will streamline, monitor and assure the quality of private universities. We know that the Government will not be naďve to call this piece of legislature a ‘Private Universities Bill’. However, the intention is the same.

Whatever the title may be of the Bill that is proposed, if it allows the setting up of new private universities in the country, we are against it. We say that this is the Private Universities Act in a different guise.

The IUSF is aware that this proposed Bill has legal provisions to set up private universities as well as to sell degree courses offered in State universities to private students.

The Act allows a Board, comprising members of private institutions and others, to be appointed by the Minister to monitor the private and State degree awarding institutions. This committee will supersede the authority of the University Grants Commission.

This Board is to be given wider powers, the intention is to legalise private universities and bring them on par with the State universities. There are provisions to this end in the proposed Bill. Our protest is against this secret move.

We agree that there are already private universities in the country. Our stand is that all these private institutions must be abolished. Our continuing fight is to achieve this goal.

The Government must expand opportunities for higher education in the State sector. The need of the hour is that. Private universities are not a viable solution or an option for the majority of people in this country. They will serve an influential few.

We don’t see that the Government has the interests of the State universities in mind. Some of the Vice Chancellors appointed to these institutions further the political agenda of the Government.

Compared to last year, the Government cut down capital expenditure to universities by Rs.1,300 million in the 2012 Budget. But the pace with which they are facilitating and funding the setting up of private universities is remarkable. Loan facilities, tax exemptions and other benefits are readily given to this sector.

There is an accusation that the LTTE and diaspora sections are behind the university unrest, that the Student Federation is working on a different political agenda and our intention is to take undergraduates to the streets and create a situation similar to the Arab Spring. These are just bankrupt statements.

University students are an intelligent lot. They cannot be roused to take to the streets over nothing. There are issues that need to be resolved with State intervention. That is the truth.

Our fight is over ‘three key issues’ the first is the abolition of the Private Universities Act, the second the GCE Advanced Level results mishap and the third is the undue delay in setting up of a professorial unit at the Rajarata University.

The first batch of students have been idling for nearly one year. They are unable to complete their MBBS since the professorial unit is not completed for their clinical studies.



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