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A prudent step

by Gayan Abeykoon
September 12, 2023 1:00 am 0 comment

The move by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up the first non-government Medical Faculty indeed is a timely one, particularly in the context of the acute shortage of doctors in the country and the mass migration of medical specialists. Speaking at the function to commemorate the Joseph Fraser Ninewells Hospital’s centennial anniversary, the President also emphasized the necessity of restructuring healthcare policies and increasing the number of Medical Colleges to address the shortage of doctors. He said he hoped the Government would support the establishment of additional Medical Colleges and Universities ensuring that Sri Lanka can produce more doctors.

In fact, private Medical Colleges should have been setup at the very outset. Had this been the case we would not have had to face the present crisis in the health sector caused by the flight of doctors and medical professionals.

Also, the move by the Ministry of Education to offer interest-free loans to A/L students to pursue their education in private universities too is a prudent step that would fit them in for a job-orientated education, assuring them of their future. State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said that the student who receives the loan should pursue job-oriented courses. This hopefully will be the beginning of a scheme whereby students pursuing higher education would receive value for their academic achievements instead of falling by the wayside due to their degrees not fetching them gainful employment. It should also herald the dawn of a new era in the country’s higher education sphere where our universities gear themselves to turn out products that would be productive and assets to the Motherland.

Hence, it is time for a reconsideration of the whole businesses of our universities turning out art graduates who are today a frustrated lot unable to compete on equal terms with their more resourceful counterparts in other faculties geared for the professions. Not all private universities can accommodate A/L students who are given interest-free loans to study at these institutions. The State too should think of ways to expand its own universities so that not many would be left out.

Besides with the unemployment rate among the country’s youth on the rise and subjects taught in the schools and universities largely not equipped to cater to the modern job market here and overseas, more voices are being raised among educationists and experts for a thorough reassessment of the prevailing education system to make it more relevant to the present day.

Former Commissioner General of Examinations L.M.D. Dharmasena, a former School Principal himself had called on those currently following Arts subjects for their Advanced Level (A/L) examinations to also take up subjects related to technology. He has asked students who follow Arts subjects for their Ordinary Level (O/L) exam to switch to subjects such as English, Computer Science, Information Technology (IT) etc. when they enter the A/Ls.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for those who obtain their degrees in the Arts stream to fit into the modern job market. The demand, both in the public and private sectors is for those skilled in subjects aligned to technology. It is thus difficult to get good jobs in the public and private sector for Arts graduates.

Around 150,000 students pass the A/L exam each year, but only 40,000 can gain university admission. A sizable segment of those who gain admission enter the Arts Faculties, leaving out the bulk of the students from the fields of science and technology. No wonder we cannot sufficiently cater to the present-day job market where the demand is for those with skills in technology-related fields. Therefore, the unemployment figure is rather high.

Pathetically, unemployed graduates are taking on menial tasks for want of other options – even letting themselves be hired as conservancy labourers, as recently reported in the media. Almost all these souls are degree holders from the Arts stream. The Government spends at least Rs. 500,000 on behalf of each university student until he/she graduates. Is this money worth it?

Besides, all havoc in the universities is caused by Arts students such as engaging in radical politics and sadistic ragging. It is also these Arts students who unduly prolong their stay in universities. Perhaps, this is the reason why President Wickremesinghe wants it made mandatory for all university students to leave the campuses after only one extra year. The conclusion is inescapable that such students come from the Arts Faculties since by nature of the subjects involved they have time to kill, unlike medical and engineering students whose courses are specific and well-streamlined.

It is also clear that those engaged in sadistic ragging of freshers form the bulk of the students who have overstayed their university tenures and are making a nuisance of themselves to others by disrupting their academic careers. These segments largely hail from depressed social classes and underprivileged backgrounds and carry heavy chips on their shoulders.

They have little prospect of being gainfully employed in any case. Their lack of knowledge of English which they derisively refer to as the Kaduwa (Sword) too has added to their feeling of inferiority. Thus, they view all other students with envious eyes and take out their frustrations on these hapless souls. It is also these types that form the bulk of radical political parties that are seen protesting daily, making various attempts to topple democratically elected Governments. As Higher Education State Minister Dr. Suren Raghavan observed they do everything else but obtain their degrees.

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