A welcome step | Daily News

A welcome step

The decision by the university authorities to obtain a written undertaking from all university entrants, from now on, that they would not engage in ragging is a praiseworthy one that would hopefully eradicate the scourge of ragging in our universities once and for all making for a conduce atmosphere for students to engage in higher education in our campuses. University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunge has already sent the contents of the affidavit to the Vice Chancellors (VCs) of all the universities for obtaining the signature of university entrants. The affidavit was drafted with the assistance of the Attorney General’s Department and the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission.

All previous efforts to end ragging in the universities ended in failure including legislation drafted during the time of late Education Minister Richard Pathirana. The latest solution has a good chance of success since the undertaking has been given in black and white which no student will have the courage in going back on. The parents of university entrants could now breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that their children will now be safe from harm and could now engage in their studies in a congenial setting unlike before where freshers were subjected to the most barbaric form of ragging. Those university entrants who refuse to sign the affidavit or those who go back on their word should be promptly shown the door. University education in this country has suffered enough without having to prolong the agony any further.

Not just ragging, all forms of radical behaviour or conduct should also be subjected to such an affidavit. This will have to include politics too. What passes for student politics in our universities is the main cause of disruption of education and closure of universities. It was only the other day that President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that whereas he completed his law degree at the Colombo University at the age of 21, Wasantha Mudalige who is now 30 years is still in the campus. No doubt, this is due to the fact that our universities are more closed than open due to student violence and other disruptions prolonging study sessions long into the future, negating the whole purpose of a university education.

True, student activity in a university is a natural phenomenon and cannot be reined by taboos. But these should be within the norms of accepted conduct. But what we see today are radical students in our universities operating under political labels are mostly outside on the streets than inside universities. The future of the genuine students in the universities cannot be jeopardized due to the actions of a few. Had the university authorities taken stern measures prior to this, incidents such as the assault on a former Vice Chancellor of the Peradeniya University would not have occurred. At least now the top brass of the universities have summoned the courage to speak up against ragging unlike in the past when VCs and Deans of the faculties kept mum for fear of ruffling the feathers of radical students. The recent decision to permit the Police entry into the universities too is a positive step. University students cannot be above the law.

The new step, hopefully, would consign ragging in universities to a thing of the past paving the way for more and more students entering the universities. This is because the happenings in our campuses have made parents flinch from sending their children to universities while the wealthy sent their children abroad for their higher studies, their talents lost to the country.

Meanwhile, the present curricula in our Universities should undergo radical change and course material tailored to suit the current job demands and modern trends. It is being said that ragging is widely being indulged in by students in the Arts stream. These students mainly hail from depressed classes and deprived backgrounds and thus harbour grudges against the more privileged students who are generally attached to the Medical or Engineering Faculties. Their lack of knowledge of English or the kaduwa also have made them carry a heavy chip of their collective shoulders. Hence, as suggested by some higher education authorities, subjects related to Technology or IT should be introduced into the Arts stream in the universities so that this will help prepare the Arts students for gainful employment. As it is, they have no prospects of obtaining well paid jobs, their subjects being worthless as far as job demand goes in the present day. The story some time ago in the media of some 60 Arts graduates being employed as conservancy labourers in schools in the Southern Province just about sums up the plight of graduates with Arts degrees. It would be better if the Arts streams in the Universities are done away with altogether so that all students who enter universities are taught subjects that will fit them into gainful employment. We say this because the State spends as much as Rs. 500,000 on each university student. If after that they are fit enough only to be employed as conservancy labourers, all that money is certainly down the drain. This, at a time that the Government can ill-afford to throw away money and is cutting down expenses in Ministries and Government departments.

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