New University, new hopes
A casual glance through
the employment columns of our sister paper The Sunday Observer
will reveal that a large number of jobs are available in the
labour market. Some of these ads are repeated week after week, a
clear indication that there are no suitable takers for some
jobs. This alone is enough to gauge that Sri Lanka's education
system does not produce suitable candidates for real-world jobs.
Another glaring fact is that only around 15,000 students can be
admitted to universities each year, although thousands more
qualify to enter. There are no alternative educational paths or
job opportunities for these youth, victims of the mismatch
between job market requirements and the theory-oriented academic
content taught in schools. It was a great mistake to curtail
vocational training subjects at school level - they are not
merely job skills, they are life skills as well.
One may argue at this point that vocational training was
always available in the country, which has several excellent
technical training colleges. But many employers here and abroad
were reluctant to recognize these qualifications even though the
standards at our vocational and technical training colleges are
very high. It is in this context that we should commend the
Government for establishing the country's first Vocational
Training University, which will award degrees to those who
complete its courses as opposed to a simple diploma. This will
mark a new beginning in the country's tertiary education sector.
Seventy six students will be in the first batch and more
students will be enrolled as the university expands.
It will enable the students who have been unable to enter
conventional universities after the GCE (A/L) examinations and
those who had dropped out before the exam, to study further in
their respective fields. A university degree will enable them to
be more successful in the local and foreign job markets, as
there will be worldwide recognition for the Vocational
University and its degrees. With the Government favouring
skilled job migrants over the non-skilled variety, it will
ultimately pave the way for more qualified skilled workers to
seek jobs abroad.
As President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the University's opening
ceremony on Tuesday, the University will be a boon especially
for rural students who had very limited opportunities for higher
education if they did not get selected to university. Their
limited knowledge of English was another inhibiting factor, as
most jobs for school-leavers require a good command of the
language. We hope the Government's English as a Life Skill
program would address such concerns.
It is not yet clear whether there will be more such
vocational training universities or whether some of the other
technical/vocational colleges would be upgraded to university
level. If such a step is taken, rural students will not even
have to come to Colombo for pursuing higher studies in
vocational training. The programs at this University should also
be widened in scope over the next few years to offer the widest
possible spectrum of courses to prospective students. It should
also consider offering short-term courses for those already
employed to learn new skills such as woodworking and motor
mechanism, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) style.
In the meantime, educational reforms should be aimed at
reducing the gap between job market requirements and the
educational system. It is well known that many university
graduates are hopelessly ill-equipped to face the employment
market as they do not have the skills sought by the private
sector. The Tharuna Aruna program has done a commendable job in
imparting such skills to a large number of graduates who had
then been recruited by well-known companies.
Universities and technical/vocational colleges should be
linked for research projects, with students and lecturers
undertaking exchange visits. This will benefit both institutions
in the long term. The private sector too could be involved in
these research efforts.
We hope the vocational university students will not follow
certain traits of their academic university colleagues, such as
frequent clashes, union rivalry, ragging and
politically-motivated protest campaigns. They should maintain
discipline and peace within the University at all times, with
studies being the sole objective.
The authorities should also get input from private sector
employers as to what type of courses would be most beneficial
for the employment market. That is where the graduates of this
institution will be heading and unemployment could be reduced
further if they have jobs waiting for them once studies are