FUTA: Branches of foreign  universities are of no use


By Dasun Edirisinghe

In the wake of the JVP -led Socialist Student Union (SSU) handing over a petition against setting up a branch of a UK based university in Sri Lanka, the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) claimed that the university at issue was not among the top British higher educational institutions.

FUTA President Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri told The Island that the University of Central Lancashire (UCL) had been opened in 1992.

He said that setting up a branch of that university in Sri Lanka would not help students gain a university experience, but only to buy a degree.

"Our politicians are abusing the names of foreign universities to sell degrees in Sri Lanka," Dr.  Dewasiri said adding that one could not get the real experience of a university at a branch.

Sri Lanka’s Higher Education Ministry was promoting degrees as a commodity among students and that would not help to create a knowledge hub, he said.

"If Sri Lanka becomes the knowledge hub of Asia, we will have to produce knowledgeable graduates, but the duty of these university branches will only be to issue a certificate on a particular skill," Dr. Dewasiri alleged.

The government’s plan to set up ‘Free Education Zones’ had only led to setting up more free trade zones, introduced by the UNP government after 1977, which were selling labour at small amounts, he said.

The senior academic said that after discussing with education sector trade unions, FUTA had decided to set up a Steering Committee to analyse the issue.

Speaking to The Island, on condition of anonymity, a senior doctor attached to the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), told The Island that the University of Central Lancashire was not among the top 48 universities in the UK.

He said that the UK had 48 of the top 400 universities in the world, according to the most respected rankings, but the University of Central Lancashire was not one of them.

"According to a Britisher, who regularly writes to a Sri Lankan newspaper, even the majority of British people have never heard of that university," the doctor said.

National Organiser of the JVP affiliated Socialist Students’ Union Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa said that they now wanted to find out who was telling the truth – the British High Commission in Colombo or Minister Dissanayake.

Minister Dissanayake announced in Parliament, on October 09, that Prince Charles would lay the foundation stone for a branch of the University of Central Lancashire in Mirigama next month but that has since been denied by the BHC, Dr. Jayatissa said adding that minister Dissanayake’s statement in Parliament was clearly recorded in the Hansard.

"If the BHC statement is correct, then Minister Dissanayake has misled Parliament in his statement made in the first week of October," he said.

Secretary to the Higher Education Ministry Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne, denying the JVP allegations, said that although the BHC in Colombo denied Prince Charles’ involvement in laying the foundation stone, for the construction of a branch of the UK based university, it was being set up here under the British government’s bilateral relations with Sri Lanka.

Dr. Navaratne said that the University of Central Lancashire might not be among the top UK universities, but it was a State-run university there.

"Opposition to it is directed by the enemies of the country," he said adding that Sri Lanka could save billions in foreign exchange by setting up branches of overseas universities here.

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