If you were ever a student at one of the state universities in Sri Lanka, then you might know the real impact strikes and protests have in the education system of the country and in the lives of many students.
For the past few decades, strikes have become one of the effective methods used in Sri Lanka to grab the attention of the government and the international community. It has come to a level, where we very often come across people marching towards a government institution, protesting with black flags, holding boards and creating huge traffic jams. While the long argued SAITM protest started to cool down, the university strike by the non-teaching staff is giving nightmares to many.
The education of thousands of students has been affected since the beginning of the strike. Universities remain closed, lectures cancelled, exams postponed, research halted and submissions of thesis materials are delayed for the 25th consecutive today. “It can be a dispute between the non-academic staff and the government, but it affects us the most, with the cancellation of lectures which we pay for,” Dinithi, a student from one of the state universities told Lanka News Web.
The statistics from the University Grants Commission (UGC) suggests that 29,083 applied for basic degrees in the year 2016. But with continuous strikes, the quality of higher education is put at stake.
While we talk about the frustration over the strike, the demands by the non-academic staff are also understandable. More than 10,000 non-academic staff from 15 universities, and 24 unions went on a nationwide strike on February 28th; demanding facilities and standards agreed by an agreement signed in 2016 which includes, increase in the salary structure, insurance services, creating an appropriate pension system, removal of restrictions on promotions, etc.
Though a meeting was held between officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and University Trade Union Joint Committee (UTUJC), the meeting did not reflect the demands. Following the meeting, Edward Malwattage, Chairman of the UTUJC said, the decisions were not in favor and satisfactory of the Union, therefore, they will not sit for further discussion until their demands are fully granted.
“This was the case when my friends studied too. They had to spend additional years in the University to complete their education,” Rajeev, a MBA student at a private university commented. According to the UGC data, 29,545 Graduate (Bachelor Degree) passed out from state universities and Higher Educational Institutions (HIE) in the year 2015.
On the other hand, many are raising questions such as why the Minister of Higher Education and the Minister of Finance who are the two main parties involved in the issue are remaining silent. It is also important to note that the strike has not only affected humans, but also animals which have been caged at universities for different study purposes.
With the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva asking Sri Lanka to speed up its reconciliation process on one side, and with no confidence motion passed on the Prime Minister, it is clear that Sri Lanka is having a rough time internally and externally.
But if the vision of the Ministry of Higher Education which aims at "Sri Lanka to be an international hub of excellence for higher education by 2020” is to come true, then it is high time the government take actions to address the demands of the non-teaching staff, and ensure proper functioning of universities.