University Education: What We should do in future : Education the pathway to success | Daily News

University Education: What We should do in future : Education the pathway to success

We live in a time when knowledge is ever more vital to our societies and economies,in a world where there is a rapidly circulating capital and people and revolutionary communication technologies. Our universities need to help drive forward the economy of the nation, and funds we invest in our teaching and research need to be transformed into highly skilled graduates that contribute to the economy. And our research should lead to innovation. Knowledge is replacing other resources as the main driver of economic growth, and education has increasingly become the foundation for individual prosperity and social mobility. Higher education generates broader economic growth as well as individual success. In the world many universities earn much money and send their graduates to serve in other countries (export of knowledge). Our universities should support our strength.

We have 15 public universities operating in the country. It is true that university education has been gradually expanded by various governments. At present, we have matured universities as well as young universities. When our society proceeds, we need to look into present failures and omissions. Also, we should improve the quality of our education and look forward to the dynamics of education. This article makes an attempt to fill this gap.


Sri Lanka is famous for public welfare and hence for free education at all the levels from grade one to university, technical colleges and other vocational institutions. When education is taken as a single service or a good, it is an investment in people, a basic social service, known as a merit good, and a source of human capital. An individual’s earnings are related to his cognitive skills. Education also promotes the entrepreneurial skills of people as well as technology. It is a strong weapon that can be raised against poverty and enhances capability of people who receive it. World Bank says that knowledge, an output of education, illuminates every economic transaction, revealing preferences, giving clarity to exchange and informing markets. By so doing, education strengthens a market system. Moreover, education enriches human rights, which enrich labour and capital, make the land resource conducive for production, enhance the efficiency of the government, and which provide ultimately a friendly environment for the competition and the smooth functioning of the market.Also, education is a part of the distribution branch of the government.

Thus, education increases income level of people in an economy while it keeps inequality in income distribution low. Even if education brings about a lot of advantages, in our country contribution of education to the nation needs to be reviewed. Education is popular, but percentage of people who receive higher education is still absolutely lower. Therefore, ranking of the country according to human capital index is also lower. Negative aspects of the society is also higher according crime rate, road accidents and corruption (see table below).

What are the purposes/functions of universities?

Universities are known as: Institutions dedicated to the learning and personal development of their members, especially students. It is the obligation to equip graduates so that they can obtain viable employment;Sources of expertise and vocational identity. The role of universities as repositories and generators of knowledge, Creators, testers, and sites for the evaluation and application of new knowledge (creation of knowledge); Contributors to society and nations.The obligation to offer rational and timely criticism in areas of public policy and social and economic life.

In short, universities are meant for creation and dissemination of knowledge.

According to Eric Thomas, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, the main functions of higher education and universities are predominantly two-fold. One is as educational establishments and the second as generators of knowledge and technology. As educational establishments, their function is to provide able, self-directed learners that are independent and confident, and will go out into society and give their service to the society through leadership or through civic duties. As knowledge generators, they are research institutions which provide new knowledge, to change paradigms, to aid society in its development and in meeting new challenges as they come along.

A former Vice-Chancellor of University of Leeds explains the main function of the university as making a significant contribution to civil society. Obviously, the education that we provide to our students, preparing them for their contribution to society is a key function. We create new knowledge.

That is a key and important part of any research-led intensive university. The link between the two is particularly important to us. We think they feed off each other, and of course, interpreting all of that into things that are of use, and that have an impact on society. Those, to us, would be the key functions of any university.All these views on education are consistent with the functional theory of education which explains that education enriches the society by creating human capital. In addition, universities can be used to earn foreign exchange.

What should we do in our universities?

Our university has now called for applications for the post of Vice Chancellor. Those who apply for this post should explain what he/she will do for in the university in the case of being appointed. As a university teacher, I propose as follows.

1. Ranking of the university should be improved

Sri Lankan universities are still ranking at lower levels. Therefore, on one hand, improving the ranking of our universities makes education market attractive in neighbouring countries. On the other hand it promotes quality of university education. This can be partially achieved by improving both research quantity and quality. In addition to current arrangements, establishment of research panel in each faculty and among faculties will be helpful for this.

Broadening research contacts with government research institutions will also be a subsidiary strategy in achieving this objective. Finally, to raise or to maintain research quality it is better to have the best scholars in positions of power - the Dean, the Head of Department and the course coordinators.

2. Quality of education needs to be improved

In our country, education has not significantly contributed to growth and development. It should be corrected. We still have to improve teacher quality and teaching quality. Some teachers have limited scope to manage with English.

This is usually seen in faculties of humanities, social sciences and management. Due to that their research output is also very low. To achieve this end we have to modify the practice of recruitment and promotion. In general, recruitment on favours to academic staff of universities is substantially rare. However, there are some irregularities in some promotions, especially to professorships. For both recruitments and promotions there are some circulars issued by the UGC. However, promotions to professorships are offered to underqualified members and sometimes qualified members are not promoted. Sometimes those who have not published even a single journal article and do not hold doctoral degrees have been promoted to the professorship. Now this type of professors work as subject experts of other applicants who apply for the professorship.

University professors should be academics who are familiar with university education in foreign universities and they should be accepted by foreign universities. However, this type of under qualified professors do not belong tothat group. Only thing is, when somebody applies for a promotion to professorship, even if a subject expert proposes unqualified applicant or does not propose a qualified applicant for the promotion to a professorship, in the existing system, such experts are not/cannot be questioned about that.

In addition to recruitment and promotions, competition among teachers needs to be promoted further. Sometimes we need to have a behavioural change in our academics. In addition to present programs for academics, we need to have a system of annual assessment for teachers.

When we look at the problem of having qualified academics (or retaining experts in the country), we can look at the problem from the other side of the pipe. Universities as well as the public sector (and sometimes the whole society) are responsible to retain qualified academics. Salary alone is not an attractive reason for these people.

We can observe outward skilled labour migration in Sri Lanka. Recently in a newspaper, it was published that 38 academics in our university (university of Sri Jayewardenepura) went abroad have disappeared. Many experts leave the country with the view of having a friendly and healthy environment to live and seeking better educational opportunities for their children.

Many experts who leave the country say and ask us “can we safely drive a vehicle in this country?”, “can we get something done by a public institution?,” “can a young girl go alone somewhere out of the residence and come back safely?,” “can we enroll our kids in a public school without offering a reward?” and so on. To overcome this problem our public sector needs to be made more efficient and human culture in the country needs to be changed. When we take school education into account, even if the student-teacher ratio is too low in our country,almost all students enrolled in public schoolsare not satisfied with teaching in their schools and hence they go to private tuition classes. We know very well regarding the hardships we have to undergo when we go to a public school to enroll our kids. Once our media revealed that the public school education is the most corrupted sector in this country. Thus, retainingqualified academics is not only a duty of universities but our culture and the whole society are also responsible for it.

In universities knowledge is mainly distributed in the classroom. It should further be conducive for learning. At present, continuous assessment of students are not implemented as proposed. Assessment of students needs to be modified. For examples, there should be a minimum pass mark level for continuous assessment for the students and assessment needs to be diversified in respect of each module i.e abrupt interviews, written tests, take home assignments etc. Adoption of easy learning methods is another strategy. Generally a lecture note in software form is provided to the student before the beginning of the lecture (sometimes several days before the lecture). Better if these be policies in the universities.

3. New faculties

University of Sri Jayewardenepura has now seven faculties with the newly established two faculties namely Engineering and Technology. The university is now turning to be the biggest university in the country. The newly established two faculties have to be developed along the avenues that may contribute to growth and development of the country. In these faculties, when departments are created and degree programs are designed we have to be careful about the requirements of present and future national economy as well as global economy. We essentially should be careful about international trade and foreign direct investment.

4. Postgraduate education needs to be developed

In the case of medicine, only Colombo University offers postgraduate professional programs. If one more postgraduate institute is established more medical experts can be produced for the country. In the case of other faculties, we do not have full-time postgraduate students. By encouraging students to register for postgraduate programs, just after completion of their first degrees this can be partially achieved.

5. Additional steps

No gain without pain. Therefore, to promote competitionthere should be a performance-based additional allocation of funds for departments and some faculties and some other times to universities. Sometimes, universities can stretch their helping hands to lower level educational institutions namely schools. University leaders should have good academic relations with government authorities, and other relevant institutions at home as well as in overseas. This is not easy as it is proposed. However, attempts can be made by several activities. Firstly, public and private authorities can be invited for lectures in the universities. Secondly, university academics and students can visit private and public organizations from time to time.

Many of the ideas discussed above are consistent with the functional theory of education and this short note reaches to its end by stating an idea given to me by one of my friends in the legal profession. “When someone thinks poorly, he works poorly.

Ultimately, his performance is also poor”. We think poorly and work poorly. That is why we still remain underdeveloped. Now time has come for us to think efficiently.


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