VC Hirumburegama: 'They don't know English!'
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.
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
Although they tried their best to get the support of students and
administrative officers for this so-called protest, none of them
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
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".
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
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
"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
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.