|Thursday, 9 January 2003|
Emeritus Professor A. D. V. de S. Indraratna: : Five decades of distinguished service
It gives me great pleasure to write a few words to mark half a century of distinguished service rendered by one of the most remarkable and endearing men that I have had the good fortune to come to know, and respect.
Not only has he been one of the leading academics and one of the most outstanding teachers of our time, his services have been writ on a much larger canvas covering many areas of public policy which the average academic would hardly have ventured to tread.
Born in Hikkaduwa in December 1927, young Indraratna had his early education in the village school in the Sinhala medium. He had the good fortune to be picked up for a scholarship to study in the English medium at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda by P. de. S. Kularatne, the leading educationist, who was at the time Manager of Dharmasoka.
Not only did young Indraratna grasp the opportunity offered to him with both hands, he passed the SSC examination in the English medium in December 1946 with a First Division with 4 distinctions. He appeared for the university entrance and HSC examinations in one year after passing SSC, which was indeed unusual, and passed both examinations becoming the only candidate to pass the HSC examination from the Southern Province. Those, indeed, were only early indications of what potential young Indraratna had for the future.
My first recollection of Prof. Indraratna goes 50 years back to December 1953 when as a smart, young Assistant Lecturer he invigilated at the examination centre in Galle where I sat the University Entrance Examination. Young Indraratna had graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1951, and had been appointed an Assistant Lecturer in Economics in the following year, with Accountancy as his special subject.
Although I myself did a special degree in Economics on entering the university, I missed the opportunity of having him as one of my teachers as the period of his post-graduate studies in UK largely coincided with my stay at Peradeniya, and accountancy, which he taught on his return, was not among the options that I had selected for my degree. However, in later life, I have always treated him as a 'guru', benefitting from the wealth of his writings and the depth of his knowledge and experience, whether it be in economics, education or other areas of mutual interest.
I have always been in the habit of telephoning him whenever I needed to draw on his encyclopaedic knowledge, particularly on matters relating to higher education, and never has he shown an inclination not to share his knowledge.
Prof. Indraratna's contribution to the teaching of economics, accountancy and commerce has indeed been monumental. He moved from Peradeniya to Colombo in 1963 as the Lecturer-in-Charge of the Department of Economics of the second Arts Faculty of the University of Ceylon. He was appointed Professor of Economics of the newly established University of Colombo in 1968, and became founder Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences in the same year.
In the latter capacity he was instrumental in establishing the Demographic Research and Training Unit in 1974 with help from the UNFPA, and was its Director until he left the University of Colombo in 1978. He was thereafter Professor and Head of the Department of Economics in the University of Sierra Leone for a period of nearly four years.
On his return from Sierra Leone in 1982, he started another chapter in his eventful career as Director of Planning and Research in the University Grants Commission, which position he held until 1994. In this position, he is credited for having taken a number of new initiatives among which were the publication of the annual Handbook of Statistics on Higher Education and the five year corporate plans for university education.
The comprehensive data-base on university education that he established was a great boon not only to policy makers and administrators, but also to researchers and educators.
His long years of experience working in and with universities as well as his insights and the depth of his understanding of university education has virtually made him a storehouse of knowledge on the subject which would be invaluable in any serious attempt to develop sound policies in higher education.
Prof. Indraratna was one of the pioneers in teaching Economics and allied subjects at university level in the Sinhala medium. His 'Mila Niyaya' remains to this day one of the most lucid expositions of price theory in the Sinhala language.
In 1967, he was awarded the Sahitya Mandalaya prize for his book "Visheshayen Lankawa Asritha Arthika Prashna" (Economic problems with special reference to Sri Lanka).
Indraratna was never content with leading a cloistered academic life despite his numerous academic pursuits. His services were always available to governments of different persuasions and at present, he holds the position of Chairman, Fair Trading Commission. At the relatively young age of 33 years, he served as a member of the National Education Commission of 1960, chaired by the late Prof. J. E. Jayasuriya.
He has sat on numerous commission committees, boards and councils since then, and contributed his might to the policy making process in diverse fields. I had the pleasure of sitting with him on the Council of the National Institute of Education for about a year in the late eighties, and also serving as a member of a committee which he chaired to look into the functioning of the affiliated university colleges, in the early nineties.
While his publications are too numerous to mention in an article such as this, special mention must be made of his Economics of Higher Education in Sri Lanka, which blazed a new trail in the study of this subject. The unique publication entitled "Fifty Years of Sri Lanka's Independence. A Socio-Economic Review" edited by him stands as a testament to the initiative, enthusiasm and unflagging commitment that he always shows in the pursuit of excellence in whatever he undertakes to do.
This publication, which contains 29 chapters contributed by distinguished scholars, and professionals covering the entire socio-economic development of the country, and runs into 600 pages, would never have seen the light of day if not for his boundless energy and drive, which certainly has been the envy of much younger persons.
Last, but not the least, Prof. Indraratna's contribution to educating the general public on socio-economic issues has been almost unparalleled.
Countless are the articles he has written to Sinhala and English newspapers explaining to the general reader lucidly and in simple language what he must know on subjects like inflation, devaluation, government budgets, trade and unemployment which have a bearing on the citizen's daily life and well-being. Professor Indraratna was appointed Emeritus Professor by the University of Colombo in 1987, honoured with a Sarvodaya National Award in 1995, and conferred with the Degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) honoris causa by the University of Colombo in 1996 "in recognition of (his) pioneering and sustained contribution to the intellectual life of this country in general and to the study and dissemination of economics, in particular". His students, colleagues, well-wishers and friends felicitated him at a largely attended meeting at SLFI with the presentation of a Felicitation Volume in January 1994.
May these words reflect, in some small way, the thoughts of many of his admirers as Prof. Indraratna completes five decades of distinguished service to the academic and public life of this country, and may he be blessed with good health and long life to be able to render such service for many more years!
Eric J. de Silva
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