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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Proposed higher education bill will have adverse consequences – FUTA

The Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) is warning that the proposed Higher Education Bill on Quality Assurance and Accreditation will have adverse consequences to the state university system.

Speaking to the media today (30) at the Unversity of Colombo Prof Dileepa Witharana said that this bill is the first step in making the Unversity Grant Commission (UGC) redundant.

Witharana added that the bill will hand over the role of quality assurance and accreditation functions of both state universities and private higher education to a commission which is highly politicised.

Witharana further said that this proposed commission is made up of 13 members, four of them are statutory including Secretary to the Higher Education Ministry, Secretary of Finance Ministry, chairman of UGC and the chairman of the National Education Commission (NEC).

Then he said “other nine members are appointed by the President from a pool of 15 members nominated by the Minister of Higher Education, and five out of these nine members work as full-time members of the commission and one of them will chair the commission,”

“It is problematic to allow these five full-time members who are political appointees to virtually run the commission,” he added.

The second problem with the bill is that it simply prescribes external quality assurance as to the main tool to assure the quality of higher education institutes, including the quality of private education institutes.

This assessment is conducted by an externally appointed committee which consists of few outside academics who will visit the higher education institutes for a short duration.

He said that the state universities have different ways to assure quality through forums such as the faculty board, senates and other statutory committees.

“Using only this mechanism will not be adequate enough to assure the quality of a higher education institute, especially it is a controversial thing to use this tool only to private universities which had started in the recent past,” the Professor said. 

The third problem with the bill is that it allows through ‘ cross mobility’ for students from the private universities to move to a state university on the basis of the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF) which according to the belief of FUTA will also mark the end of using A/L results as the qualifying examination to recruit students to the state university sector.

“This will allow the movement between two vastly different systems, that is from an immature private higher education system which operates on a profit-seeking basis to a mature state university system positioned on a platform of social justice,” he added.

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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India extends under utilized $1 bln credit facility to Sri Lanka by one year 

ECONOMYNEXT – India has extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka by another year after the loan that was given to help the crisis-hit island nation to continue import of essentials was not fully utilized in the 12 month period originally agreed, officials said.

Sri Lanka faced with a looming sovereign default signed the credit facility in March 2022 for one year through March 2024. However, the full $1 billion had not been utilized yet.

The Facility has been used for urgent procurement of fuel, medicines, food items and industrial raw materials, as per the requirements and priorities of Sri Lanka.

“The initial agreement was signed in 2022 March and out of the 1000 million US dollars allocated materials were imported for $576.75 mil,” Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister said in his official twitter platform.

“The agreement is extended for the remaining $423.25 mil. We will prioritize the import of essential medicines till March 2024.”

Indian High Commission in Colombo said the State Bank of India (SBI) has extended the tenure of the $1 billion Credit Facility provided to Sri Lanka in response to a request from the Government of Sri Lanka.  (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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