After many sleepless nights of studying, grueling tuition classes, only 17% students gain admission to state universities among the 220,000 who sit for the Advanced Level examination. It is sad that every child in Sri Lanka will not get this privilege. The remaining students may have to resort to studying at a Private University, here in Sri Lanka or travel overseas for a foreign qualification by paying exorbitant fees. Let’s say the student gained entrance, they tirelessly study for over four years and at the end, they are unable to find jobs nor receive the proper respect that a graduate should, as state universities have such low international ratings.
What is the reason behind all this? What should be done to eliminate this situation?
A country that is recovering from 25-year-old civil war, Sri Lanka is at the threshold of world-class opportunities and has the ability to achieve major development goals. However, it is a widespread question among the public, whether the government is focusing on innovative methods to fuel economic progress. Sri Lanka is able to fund state-universities in terms of modernizations and establishment of new universities in various parts of the country.
Yet such actions are halted. As per United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, Expenditure on tertiary education (% of government expenditure on education) in Sri Lanka was 14.19 as of 2016. Its highest value over the past 43 years was 21.12 in 2013, while its lowest value was 7.62 in 1973. This is relatively low when compared to other developing countries, such as Malaysia (Expenditure on tertiary education was 27.26 as of 2015. Its highest value over the past 44 years was 36.97 in 2011, while its lowest value was 11.31 in 1971.) If proper funding were put forward, smart investments on equipment and facilities in engineering, sciences, and medicine could be implemented.
Gaining admission to universities itself is highly competitive; however, the students have to face greater challenges at the end of their university tenure when looking for employment. The Unemployed Graduate Association states that the number of unemployed graduates in the country has risen up to 53,000. This is a quite detrimental situation in the country. What could be the issue? It seems that there is a discrepancy between skills possessed by the graduates and the skills demanded by the labour market. When the requirement is not met, the private sector has no choice but to employ the nongraduates who have the necessary skills needed for the job. Globalization is at its peak; along with the technological advancements, the needs of the employers are rapidly changing. Therefore, it is essential that the universities make innovative changes to the curriculum to suit the current and the future requirements of the labor market.
In order to enhance the employability, critical thinking, organization and time management skills are some of the best attributes. Rather than solely focusing on academics, teaching of practical skills should also be included as well. Another persisting problem is the level of English knowledge among the graduates. When applying for jobs in the private sector, if the applicant does not possess the necessary English skills, either speaking or writing, most companies do not think twice to reject the applicant.
Public universities are known for openly canvassing political views and it is common sight to see posters and election campaigns being displayed inside the universities itself. This leads to some students being victimized for opposing political views; thus fights are a commonplace sight during the election times. Many students are mentally and physically harassed. At the end of the day, this adversely affects the grades of the student. The environment for studies should be clutter free and mentally stimulating; violence and various other nonsense should not be tolerated at all amidst the academic work.
Next big issue is non-other than ragging. Long gone are the days when ragging was a tradition used to welcome freshers to the university culture. Now it is a series of sadistic actions inflicted by hypocritical student leaders. New students step in with so many dreams in their hearts, maybe to bring in economic prosperity to their families, gain social prestige and contribute to the development of this nation. But what happens to such youngsters by the hands of these vicious student leaders? New students undergo irreparable mental damage, which often leads to depression and hopelessness. They do not recover but continue to hold it in their minds for years to come. With that, they lose interest in studies and merely completes the degree for the sake of it. Is this the university culture that we proudly speak of?
All the above mentioned issues lead to one thing: Sri Lanka will forever be a ‘developing’ country; significant emigration of educated individuals are leaving the country in seek of better living standards and many youngsters are looking out for educational prospects in world-class universities, Are they to be blamed or the chaotic situation of the country? What do we do with a literacy rate of 93% if we have a high graduate unemployment rate?
These are some of the questions that should be posed to the leaders of this country. Successive governments come and go, but there has been no discernible change in the state of affairs. It is not rocket science to understand that the future of the country lies in education.