ECONOMYNEXT – State university students in Sri Lanka have blocked the road to the parliament complex in Sri Jayawardenapura, Kotte, in protest of a controversial defence university bill, media footage showed Tuesday (03) afternoon.
The Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) launched the protest in front of parliament against the Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) bill, demanding the bill be withdrawn.
The protestors claimed the bill is threatening free education in Sri Lanka and is an attempt to militarise tertiary education in the country.
Police have stopped the protesters from making their way to the parliament premises, and the students have now blocked the road leading to the House.
The KNDU bill was first presented in 2018 under the previous United National Party (UNP)-led Yahapalana government. The current government under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought in the bill again in July for a second reading.
Sri Lanka’s opposition parties including the main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya, which broke away from the UNP, the UNP itself, and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) have said that the bill, if passed, could remove the KNDU from the purview of the ministry of education and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and be brought entirely under the purview of the ministry of defence.
As per clause 18 of the bill, the board of governors of the KNDU will be appointed by the minister of defence and will consist of nine members. This includes the secretary and additional secretary to the ministry of defence, one nominee each from the UGC and the treasury, the chief of defence staff, the commanders of the army, navy and air force, and the vice-chancellor of the university who will be a military officer.
Clause seven of the bill states: Where the [defence] minister is of the view that any situation prevailing in the university is likely to endanger national security or is detrimental or prejudicial to national policy or is likely to disrupt the smooth functioning of the university, he may direct the board of governors to take all such steps as he may deem necessary, to bring such situation under control.
Clause five (o) of the bill states: “The university shall, subject to the provisions of this act, have the power to establish campuses, colleges, faculties, departments, centres, academic institutions and such other specialised institutes, schools and divisions as may be required by the university.”
Sri Lanka’s leftist parties have historically been opposed to privatising education. (Colombo/Aug03/2021)