This is a map showing the average years of education for various countries. Blue is bad and green is good. From the awesome statistics and maps site, Nationmaster.
I’m going to start from the assumption that Sri Lankan higher education isn’t educating enough people. I’m also going to start from the assumption that Sri Lanka is a poor country. Morquendi (http://morquendi.blogspot.com/2005/03/responding-to-indi_21.html) seems to be happy with the way the Universities are run, but I am not. Aside from qualitative issues, everyone that wants to go simply cannot. The fact that someone like Mahangu (www.mahangu.org) has to even wonder whether he can get into University, and spend a year wondering at that, is not acceptable. There are at least 75,000 qualified students denied a University Education and about 125,000 who could probably get into Uni if they were living in the States or Canada. Let’s stick with the 75,000 since that seems to be accepted as the number of people who pass A-Levels, but can’t get into school. For those people Higher Education is a right. Beyond stating the obvious, how do we deliver?
1. Expand Public Universities
One answer is to simply expand the existing government run Universities. What we need – at a minimum – is space and resources for 75,000 fresh students a year. Right now there’s only space for 15,000 freshmen each year – so we basically need to sixtoople the public university system. It’s not impossible to educate so many people, we just need money to pay for the teachers and buildings and computers and stuff. I’m going to guesstimate the costs from the UGC (www.ugc.ac.lk) and their report “Analysis of Unit Recurrent Costs of Undergraduate Studies” (not on site, as far as I can tell).
During the year 2003, 44,622 (excluding backlog) undergraduate equivalent students were studied in 12 conventional universities and Rs 4,480 million had incurred on them as recurrent expenditure. In the Open University (www.ou.ac.lk), there were 8,073 undergraduate equivalent students and Rs 332.7 million had spent as recurrent expenditure
Looking just at Conventional Universities leaves us with the juicy figure of –
Yearly Cost Per Student: Rs 96,317 (about $1,000)
Yearly Total Cost: Rs 4,480,000,000 (about $45,000,000)
45,000 students, $1,000 per head (I use dollars so my calculator won’t explode). That costs about 45 million dollars every year. It’s hard to provide a decent education at those prices, but that’s the status quo. Since education is a right, we need to add 75,000 freshers per year. Okee Dokee, 3 years of that intake and you’ve got a University system that with 270,000 students. Education is a right and those students earned it, so all is peachy. Education is not a commodity, but what’s this? Some asshole left a hefty bill on the table – about $270 million. A veritable sixtoople.
To quote Mother Wolf Tits, at whom the Third World suckles:
The World Bank, which has assisted in the movement toward private investment in education, says even governments that spend a significant portion of their budget on public universities cannot keep pace with surging public demand. If governments in Asia were to use conventional solutions to meet current levels of demand for postsecondary education, its capacity would have to be increased by at least 40 percent, according to one estimate.
So, to the free lunchers I ask, who’s going to pick up the check? Seriously. Copy and paste this question and give me a response. How do you plan to raise $270 million dollars a year? I think the obvious solution is to move the Universities to the beach and get Anura Bandaranaike to do a belly-flop.
2. Add Private Universities
Note that the heading here does not mention ‘Burn Down Public Universities” or “Eat Poor Babies,” as tasty as they are. Add Private Universities. What this means is that you take some of the 75,000 who have nowhere to go and, God forbid, give them someplace to go. Ah, but they have to pay, what about the rural youth? In case you forgot, we did not burn down the public universities, so if their marks are great they have the same opportunities as before. Now, if they’re one of the disenfranchised 75,000 – then what? Well, then they have more opportunities than they do now. If they invest in a private uni education, perhaps they can get jobs as petty traders, middle management, or call center operators. Given reasonable prospects, micro-creditors like SEEDS or even the government can give them loans. Oh, but the loans tie them into a capitalist system that will eat their babies. You what else is part of the capitalist system? Work. Money. Children with food in their mouths. Capitalism is sucky, but it at least delivers something.
But oh, the free lunchers will say, how many rural folk will take on the debt. I dunno. Everyone I knew in Canadian University had debt. Even that rich country with a small population asked for some money to run its Universities. We all expect more income later in life, so it actually works out OK. Even assuming that no-one takes loans to go to private uni, let’s say 500 rich Uncle’s Nephews decide to forego Colombo University for Oppress U (Pvt). That leaves, whaddya know, 500 more spots in the Public Universities for the noble poor.
Will this devalue the Public Education system? Unless you give my grandma a brain-transplant, no. Sri Lankan Universities already convey status despite offering degrees and research well below international standards. The Private Universities can’t and won’t compete on status. To quote the Chronicle on Higher Education, “private institutions tend to emphasize job-related skills in business, tourism, and information technology.” People like Morquendi look down on this, saying “I refuse to see this island turned into a country of petty traders, machine operators and call center operators” so it’s likely that they will continue to respect the public degrees. The graduates are, after all. the 45,000 best and brightest. The top 15,000 of the class will have the same status as they’re used to.
Private Universities don’t take anything away from anyone. They just add education for people who are denied that opportunity. The focus is on the 75,000 that don’t get in and how we can deliver their education to them. Not slogans. Not ideals or universities in the rural skies. Education.
What Private Universities can do is deliver. Not to everyone, and not for free, and certainly not in an ideal fashion, but they deliver something. They can deliver education to some of the 75,000 disenfranchised without taking anything away from anyone. Also, without us begging, borrowing, or invading Mauritus to generate $270 million in tax revenue. Private Universities can generate their own yearly income and take some pressure off the Public Universities – saving everyone money. The end result is more people being educated, with no one being educated less . You get to have your status quo and eat it too. As for how this has worked in other countries the Chronicle of Higher Education article is a good source.
3. Do Nothing
This is what protestors, including Morquendi and Mahangu, advocate. Note that I say do, not say. I know what their ideals are, but I haven’t heard how they will actually educate one more person. If the free lunchers can figure out how to raise $270 million for a state run system that would be awesome. Do keep in mind that this amount must be generated every year, and try to stay of the Wolf Tits.
The current position of ditching class to protest doesn’t educate any one or build any schools. In fact, it stops schools from being built. Evil, evil schools for rich bastards, but schools nonetheless. So, to the free lunchers, I’ve heard your goals. Now deliver.