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VC Hirumburegama: 'They don't know English!'


Pic: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe

Tension was simmering in the in the past few months in the University of Colombo. Even prior to the January 8 Presidential election, the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) played a vital role in assessing the role of the present Vice Chancellor Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama. FUTA was opposed to the malpractices he was involved in. They expressed their displeasure in no uncertain terms over his ability and incompetency as the chief administrator of an institution such as the University of Colombo and were calling for his ouster.

Yawning gap

There is a yawning communication gap among some of the lecturers of the Colombo University and VC Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama.

However, Dr. Hirimburegama was quick to dismiss allegations put forward by the Colombo University the Federation of Teachers Association (CUFTA) and FUTA, saying that allegations were levelled against him due to the new set of reforms that he introduced to the University, which in his view would enable the university to reach the highest standards of academic and administrative excellence meeting international standards.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, VC Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama said, "There were a few university lecturers who were not conversant with the English Language and could not compete with the high standards that I have introduced to the University system. It is because of this that they are bringing up these allegations. Not more than 20 lecturers support their so-called trade union CUFTA. It is not a registered trade union.

Although they tried their best to get the support of students and administrative officers for this so-called protest, none of them supported it.

If a bunch of incompetent university lecturers can succeed in chasing away the Chief Administration Officer of a reputed university, who has been appointed by the first person of the country, what would be the future of the education system of the country? I don't consider this as an allegation simply against me but as a threat against the entire university system,"

A few days ago, Dr. Hirimburegama lodged a complaint with the Police against the spokesperson of FUTA, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, also an active member of CUFTA, stating that his life was in danger due to the continued threats made especially by Dr. Dewasiri. "As a person who believes in the legal system and procedures I lodged a complaint with the Police claiming that I need security because my life was in danger" Dr. Hirimburegama said.

However, FUTA is convinced that their allegations were unassailable. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the spokesperson of FUTA and an active member of the CUFTA, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said, "It is hideous the way VC Hirimburegama acted by complaining to the police that I was threatening him. It is pathetic that he misunderstood trade union action as a death threat against him. trade union action is our fundamental right as university lecturers. From the day he was appointed we have condemned the decision, since there were many other deserving candidates. He didn't have even the the least qualification required to be appointed as a VC of a reputed university.

However, after a discussion we held with the newly appointed UGC Chairman, Prof. Mohan De Silva. we decided to suspend the protest staged from last Monday demanding the immediate resignation of VC Kumara Hirimburegama. He agreed to provide a solution within a week after discussions with President Maithripala Sirisena. We are closely monitoring the progress of the situation and sincerely hope the authorities will take the appropriate decisions to fortify the education system from political influence"

Due to the countinuous action taken against the academic duo Dr and Prof Hirimburegama by the FUTA, Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama relinquished her post as Chairman UGC.

Subsequently, Prof. Mohan De Silva was appointed Chairman. Speaking to Sunday Observer, Prof. Mohan de Silva said, "The current scenario in the Colombo University is unfortunate, as it is the mother of all universities in the country.

However, according to the University Act which incorporates the amendment in 2009, the appointment and removal of the Vice Chancellor, is a decision by the President".

Mechanism

Explaining the mechanism of appointing a VC which is a plum position in the university system, the Chairman said, "The mechanism of appointing a VC is clearly mentioned in the University Act. According to basic principals, the post of Vice Chancellor post of any university should be advertised in the newspapers.

Theoretically any one in Sri Lanka can apply for the post. A special committee evaluates the applications and shortlists it according to the criteria in the University Act. Once the committee shortlists the applicants, they have to make a presentation including the mission that they have for the university and their qualifications to the University council. Once the presentations are over the council members are empowered by the Act to vote for the candidates.

The first three will be chosen and officially announced to the UGC by the relevant universities.

The UGC submits the results through the Ministry of Higher Education to the President of the country who is the final authority. "There is one component of the University Act which clearly says, if for any reason the function of a university or a higher education institute is being hampered as a result of violations and ultimately the system is not functioning according to the minimum required standards which is expected by the UGC, it is our responsibility to report that to the Higher Education Minister. Thereafter the Minister will make the recommendation to the President based on the perception of the failure of the functional apparatus of the system. Considering all the factors, it is only the President who has the powers to make the decision.

"There is persistent disruption in the Colombo University. It is not a fault finding act, rather it is a functional issue of the system. If he loses respect and the command of the leadership, the whole system would collapse.

That's the problem with the Colombo University and it is quite complex right now. For a complex problem, although a simple and quick solution is always easy, a quick fix ends up going awry. However, there has to be a solution and President Maithripala Sirisena has the final say". Prof. De Silva said.

State Higher Education Minister Rajiva Wijesinha told the Sunday Observer that he resigned from his post because of the instructions given by Cabinet Minister for Higher Education Kabir Hashim calling for the resignation of former Chairperson of the UGC, Prof Kshanika Hirimburegama.

Draft

"Although I resigned as state minister, we completed the draft within six weeks of the Committee being appointed at the meeting of the UGC with Vice-Chancellors and Directors, because of the dedication of the personnel involved.

We made a few important points which will help to overcome disastrous situations such as the situation the Colombo University is facing right now. Setting up a Higher Education Commission instead of a University Grants Commission, reducing politicisation and giving greater autonomy to universities, by entrusting appointments to individual universities and criteria for admission subject to ratification by the Commission to adhere to national policy, enhancing transparency by making accounts open to stakeholders and also making appointments public and increasing responsibility of the authorities by specifying requirements with regard to welfare and counselling, to name a few.

This should be an abject lesson to those who claim that they are only concerned with early elections and that promises cannot be kept in the time pledged", he said.

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