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Private universities will continue under strict regulation – AKD

In an apparent softening of his party’s stance on private tertiary education, presidential hopeful Anura Kumara Dissanayake said today that, under his leadership, private universities will continue to exist under strict government regulation and in competition with a robust state university system.

However, state education will be thoroughly revitalised in a bid to enroll every child who would otherwise get left behind due to various shortcomings in the current system. This transformation, he told journalists this morning at a National People’s Power (NPP) press conference, will gradually result in a decreased demand for private institutes in the country.

“This revolution won’t occur overnight. The same society that exists now will still exist on 17 November. In that society, private universities will still be around. However, we will introduce strict regulation, as there are questions about the courses offered, the fees levied and the quality of education of these institutes,” he said, noting that in one private medical college, every student who sat for their final exam had passed it.

Education will receive the highest priority in a future Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led government’s development trajectory in terms of fund allocation, said Dissanayake, with at least 50% of all grade one school students projected to receive a university degree. This, he said, will become a reality in five years’ time.

“Only 8% of grade one students enter a state university. There is a huge market outside the state sector for private education. Investors enter the market as they see an opportunity there. Our vision is that one’s level of education is no longer decided by the size of one’s pocket,” he said.

Asked what would happen to existing private universities, the JVP leader assured reporters that they would not be closed.

“Today, students are driven to private education due to a lack of opportunity in the state sector, as well as inefficiency in the system. We will create an opportunity for every child to enter a state university. If someone still wishes to seek an opportunity elsewhere, outside the state sector, they will of course have that option,” he said.

Even in such a limited market, entrepreneurs will still have the opportunity to start a private university as a kind of social service, he added.

Commenting on the funds required for this promised transformation of higher education, Dissanayake said: “Funds were found to to buy multibarrel rockets and MIG aircraft at the height of the war. It’s not a question of funds, it’s a question of prioritising.”

Meanwhile, senior lecturer Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, who serves in the education committee of the NPP, with contributions of her own to Dissanayake’s presidential manifesto, elaborated on the candidate’s vision with regard to higher education.

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“At least 50% of students admitted to grade one must be able to receive higher education. We intend to direct students for academic education or vocational training according to their likes, dislikes and ability while they are still in school.

“Grade one admissions at the school level are currently at over 95% in Sri Lanka, but university admission is far below that. A country cannot move forward by restricting opportunities for higher education. Our main focus is on restructuring the education system to increase those opportunities,” she said.

Echoing Dissanayake, Dr. Amarasuriya said the lack of opportunity in the state sector was the main reason for increased private participation in higher education.

“We see education as the state’s responsibility. If students prefer private education, it’s because the government is not fulfilling that responsibility. If they still seek private education or wish to go abroad in an environment where opportunities do exist in the state sector, we cannot stop them. That is their right,” she said.

In response to the question of whether or not a JVP-led government will allow the continuation of private education institutes in the country, Dr. Amarasooriya said that was the wrong approach.

“Our approach will be that the government takes full responsibility. There is a private sector at present. What we can do now is to regulate it. Our stance is that education should not be a commodity,” she said.

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