Diamond Jubilee of University of Kelaniya


The University of Kelaniya has come a long way since its inception in 1959. The expansion and development in respect of its academic sphere has been outstanding, starting from very humble beginnings. The expansion of the infrastructure within sixty years of its existence is something the teachers, students and the other staff of the university have to be proud of.

The University of Kelaniya was established along with the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 1959 by the enactment of the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958. The date of assent of this Act was 19th December 1958 and came into operation in 1959 by the publishing of the Order by the Minister of Education in the Government Gazette. This University was named by the Act as the Vidyalankara University of Ceylon, while its twin university was given the nomenclature, Vidyodaya University of Ceylon. These two institutions were established by upgrading the two prestigious pirivenas at that time.

The Vidyalankara University also had the same Officers and the Authorities that were in existence in the single university in Sri Lanka at that time, the University of Ceylon. The University had as its Officers, the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar and the Librarian. The Chancellor of the University was the Governor-General.

The first Vice-Chancellor of the newly established university was Ven. Kiriwaththuduwe Pangnasara Thero and the second Vice-Chancellor was Ven. Yakkaduwe Dharmakeerthisri Pagnanara Thero. After these two erudite Buddhist theros, the first lay Vice-Chancellor was Prof. Carl Goonewardena, who was a Professor of History in the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya.

The Authorities of the university were the University Court, the Council, the Senate, the Faculties; the General Board of Studies and Research, and such other bodies as was prescribed by Statute as Authorities of the University.

The Governor –General, who was the ex-officio Chancellor and the Head of the University, was also the President of the University Court and presided at the meetings of the Court and at any Convocation of the University. The Minister of Education was the Pro-Chancellor and he presided at the meetings of the Court or Convocation in the absence of the Chancellor.

In terms of Section 6(1) of the Act, the university was able to admit only persons of the male sex, and of whatever race, creed or class. The university was not allowed to adopt or impose any test of religious belief or profession in order to entitle any person to be admitted as a student of the university, or to hold an appointment therein, or to graduate thereat or to hold, enjoy or exercise any advantage or privilege thereof.

By the promulgation of the Higher Education Act No. 20 of 1966, the debarring of women entering the university was done away with. By Section 38 of that Act, which stated that a University shall be open to all persons of either sex, and of whatever race, creed or class, who are lawfully in Ceylon, otherwise than under the authority of a passport or visa granted or issued under the Immigrants and Emigrants Act, the university was allowed to do away with the restriction and open its doors to women students too.

The next change to this university came with the enactment of the University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1972, the date of assent of which was 21st of January 1972. By virtue of the provisions in this Act, the four existing universities at that time, namely, University of Ceylon, Colombo, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Vidyodaya University and the Vidyalankara University, were transformed into Campuses with a President as the Head of such Campus. The Technical College at Katubedda was added as the fifth Campus. By publishing the Order under sections 18 and 85 of the University of Ceylon Act in the Ceylon Government Gazette of15th February 1972 , the first Vice-Chancellor of the then single university, Prof. BA Abeywickrema established the Vidyalankara Campus of the University of Ceylon, indicating its location in Kelaniya and assigning the Faculties of Arts, Languages, Buddhist Studies and Science. The Departments assigned to each Faculty were also enumerated. It would be of interest to all concerned with this university that the Vice-Chancellor also appointed Prof. KW Dissanayake as the first President of the newly established Vidyalankara Campus. He also appointed all the Deans of Faculties with Prof. Tennakoon Wimalananda as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and as acting Dean, Faculty of Buddhist Studies, Prof. DJ Wijeratne as the Dean , Faculty of Languages and Prof. Charles Dahanayake , Dean of the Faculty of Science. SPR Fernando was appointed as acting Assistant Registrar of the Campus.

Under the University Act of 1972, one of the aims was to have Centres of Excellence in the Campus. Towards achieving this, the first move was to have the Kelaniya Campus as the Centre of Excellence for Languages. As such, during the tenure of Prof. Abeywickrema , the Teachers in English and Western Classics, including the Professors in these areas in the Peradeniya Campus, were transferred to Kelaniya. They assumed duties in the Kelaniya Campus under protest. Of course, when the next change came about in the university system they were transferred back to Peradeniya. The only successful establishment of such a Centre was during the tenure of Mr. LH Sumanadas as the second Vice-Chancellor, when all the Departments or Units of Education were transferred to the Colombo Campus (which later enabled that Campus to establish a Faculty of Education). The last President of this Campus was Prof. Tilak Ratnakara.

The last transformation to this University was with the enactment of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978, which was certified on 21st December 1978 and published as a Supplement to Part II of the Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka of December 22nd, 1978. All provisions in this Act came into operation by the Order issued by the then Minister of Higher Education, Mr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne, in the Government Gazette of 22nd December, 1978. Under Section 138 of the Universities Act of 1978 the provisions of the University of Ceylon Act No. 1 of 1978 were repealed, and in terms of Section 139, the then Kelaniya Campus of the single University was deemed to be a University having the name and style as the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, with all the provisions of the Act applicable mutatis mutandis to this university, as well as to all the other universities established by that Act.

With the establishment of the new University of Kelaniya, Prof. Tilak Ratnakara was appointed as its first Vice-Chancellor. From then onwards, gradually the development of the university was seen, both in respect of its infrastructure, academic programmes, both undergraduate as well as postgraduate, the student numbers and in extra-curricular activities. This university has an undergraduate population of 10,909 in the seven Faculties and around 6,000 postgraduate students following about 40 courses. The university caters to a large number of external students who sit examinations in Arts, Commerce and Business Management. While there are 24,622 registered for the Bachelor of Arts, there are 3200 registered for Business Management and 68 for the Commerce (Special) degree. It was around 1991 that another important development took place in the university. This was the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine at Ragama, with the taking over of the then controversial North Colombo Medical College (NCMC), after it was disbanded and vesting it with the University of Kelaniya. Prof. Carlo Fonseka was appointed as the first Dean of that Faculty. With this new Faculty the university now has seven Faculties.

It is indeed something to admire regarding the progress made by the University of Kelaniya from its humble beginnings. I have no doubt that the alumni, present students, the teachers of the university and all other employees must be proud of their university.


Member of the Council, University of Kelaniya

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