Here’s an article by my moms to add to the education debate archived at kottu, and especially active in Mahangu comments. People have stopped rabidly flaming that running dog Chanuka and actually debating him, which is innaresting. Here’s Amma’s contribution. Mrs. Gamage is in no way affiliated with the other crap on this site.
Dr. Sujata Gamage
Coordinator, Education Initiatives, Pathfinder Foundation
(Former Director General, Tertiary and Vocational Commission)
What Sri Lanka needs is a healthy balance of public and private initiatives, carefully regulated for equity and quality. This is the approach adopted by countries all over the world, some more successfully than others.
Private higher education is not new to Asia. India has always had a system where universities are publicly owned and co-exist with a large group of private colleges. This private colleges offer degree programs in affiliation with the universities. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have a long history of private higher education coexisting with a few elite public institutions. By early 1990s Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand too had sizeable percent of students attending private higher education institutions. China, Malaysia, and Vietnam represent countries that have adopted the private higher education option more recently. In all these countries the government and civil society organizations are working to make the system more accountable and equitable. In Sri Lanka, in contrast, we get haphazard or even devious privatization by the government, and disruptive reactions from the students.
The government insists that giving the degree-granting status does not create private universities, when for all practical purposes it does. What can we do when institutions ask for degree-awarding status? It is in the Act they say.
In Sri Lanka, only an institution created under an act of parliament can call it self a ‘university’. The terms ‘university college’ is reserved for institutions that grant degrees under the authority of a university. Degree-granting institutions may call themselves ‘colleges’ or ‘institutes’. On close inspection, Aquinas College or some other degree awarding institution in Sri Lanka may be more ‘university’ like than some of our public universities. We don’t know for sure, because the guardians of higher education in this country are proceeding at snails pace in quality assurance of higher education institutes.
In other parts of the world, there are many private and public colleges that have long since operated as independent universities but call themselves colleges for historical reasons. Imperial College London is a case in point. Aquinas College, a local institution that received degree-granting status is a university for all practical purposes. Insisting that it is not adds to the suspicions of those who feel there is a conspiracy to ease out public investments in higher education.
Student groups condemn the awarding of degree-granting status to local institutions as a privatization of higher education per se, even when such institutions operate totally outside of the public purse. Bringing additional investments is not the privatization of the whole system. They insist that it is unfair for a person with a lower Z-score to be able to study for a degree through private means, as if the Z-score is an equitable measure of success. According to statistics by the census department 90% of the students taking the science subject in the GCE AL take private tuition and at least 65% of all AL students take tuition. Anecdotally, we know that a well-to-do parent may spend up to Rs: 3.0 lakhs for private at-home tuition for a child who is aiming for a place in medicine or engineering.
It is sad that the government and the student groups are playing word games here when almost all countries in Asia and elsewhere have widened higher education opportunities to their citizens by harnessing both public and private investments.. Additional investments from private sources have not meant the end of public higher education in those countries. In fact, of the top 50 universities in Asia almost all are public institutions.
Why the deception?
The way the Ragama medical college was established led to all kinds of allegations of impropriety. Apparently, children of powerful people were admitted without any qualifications in science subjects in the GCE AL examination. When the protests started rolling in the government of the day could not defend its actions convincingly.
The current government is stuck between conflicting election promises and the reality of governing. The “Rata Perata – JVP version” says it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that education is completely free of charge and calls for the expansion of the public higher education system by 6 more universities. The “Rata-Perata-SLFP version” is silent on free education and calls for creation new faculties within the currently existing universities. Now the government has no choice but to engage in word games for deception within and without.
Students have legitimate reasons for fear. If higher education opportunities are widened without regard to the demand for graduates, unemployment situation for graduates could worsen further. Medical students have a special reason to worry. Professional groups have a particular interest in keeping their numbers low. These legitimate fears fit very conveniently to the agenda of student leaders who want make the issue one between haves and have-nots and ride to power on the back of a dysfunctional university system.
What can we learn from other countries in Asia?
China and Malaysia are two of the countries that have embraced private higher education more recently. China’s case is particularly interesting since that country once served as model of communism in Asia.
Private education in Malaysia today is recognized by the Government as part of the national education system, and is governed by legislation enacted in 1996. The establishment, management, operation and the quality standard of programs in private higher educational institution are governed by these laws and have to be approved by the Ministry of Higher Education. This is to ensure quality education and safeguard the interests of the students. Some of the private colleges have also obtained listing in the Bursa Malaysia (formerly known as Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, KLSE)
There are 13 public universities, 11 private universities, five foreign university campuses, 10 university colleges and a large number of private colleges. Not only does government allow private institutions, but, it tells the world proudly about the higher education system in Malaysia through the government sponsored Web site, studymalaysia.com. Entry to public universities is strictly by university entrance examination criteria, while the entry criteria for other institutions vary.
Financing options for higher education are many. Studymalaysia.com attempts to give an exhaustive list of what is available. Do these options cover all who aspire for higher education? Not likely, but the Malaysian government certainly gives the impression that it cares and is trying to do its best in a planned manner.
In a paper titled A Critical Review of Recent Developments in Higher Education in China, Juming Zhao, a professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the secretary general of the Association of Institutional Researchers in China, gives some revealing statistics.
The total higher education enrollment in China reached 20 million in 2004. Since 1997 higher education enrollments in China have more than tripled. This increase coincides with the acceptance of a new ideology in China that the beneficiaries of noncompulsory education should share some of the costs of such education. According to the official formula, an institution can recover a maximum of 25% of its operating costs through tuition. Independent institutions can up to the full amount in tuition.
Equity in a higher education is serious issues in China. The average cost of a university education is about US$1200 per year. The average family income in the city is estimated to be about US$3000 per year. In the in the countryside it is about US$940. Student loans provide about US$500 per year but only 10 of the students were able to receive loans.
The Need for Clear National Policy
In China and Malaysia, the governments have clear national policies. That is, there is a specific role for private investment. China is expanding the state system, and the students must bear a greater share of the costs. Equity issues have not received sufficient attention in China. Malaysia introduced the Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996 and has continued to pursue policies that encourage the expansipn of higher education opportunities, both public and private. Even Bangladesh has a consistent policy on private universities. The 1992 Private University Act requires that at least 5 percent of the student body receive full tuition waivers. Today Malaysia and Bangladesh have become attractive destinations for students from Sri Lanka.
These countries are progressing because they have brought in private options of higher education not by stealth or by happenstance but as part of a national plan for tertiary education. These systems are not perfect by any means but they are based on honesty and expediency on the part of policymakers. Just what we lack here in Sri Lanka.