University students protest this week in Colombo
The government has closed all state universities apart from medical faculties from today.
Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake said they will remain closed until further notice, due to an ongoing strike by teaching staff. In announcing the closure, he vented his displeasure at the circumstances leading to it.
“The university crisis is based on political motives and hidden conspiracies,” he said.
“About 10 rounds of discussions have been held to solve the issues but the Federation of University Teachers Association was not taking any positive steps towards resolution.”
He added that the government has also proposed a presidential commission to find long-term solutions.
But Federation president Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said: "We’re concerned about the government’s policy on higher education, which is reflected in the proportion of funds it allocates. In 2005, the government spent 0.52 percent of the GDP on the universities. This has declined to 0.27 percent.”
The teachers want a bigger budget allocation for higher studies, better facilities and a final decision on a pay rise for academic staff.
The Ministry of Education maintains that it has reached agreement on all the demands except for a 20 percent salary increase.
But Devasisri, senior lecturer at the University of Colombo’s department of history, warned that if the strike continues, education in general could be affected.
"Universities should be free of political interference so that people are able to teach and think without fear," he said. “We will organize a mass protest with 80 trade unions tomorrow.”
With the universities effectively paralyzed since the academics’ strike began on July 4, the conflict has attracted criticism.
“The closure of universities for such a long period is a sin and it invites youth to riot,” said Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, Buddhist monk and convener of the National Movement for Social Justice.
“Around 20 academics have left the country recently because of this crisis and it’s difficult to appoint new teachers with such limited government funds,” he said, adding that the government should be pressured to increase its spending on education.
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