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Proposed higher education bill will have adverse consequences – FUTA

Prof Dileepa Witharana speaking at the media briefing on Tuesday (30) | RepublicNext

The Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) is warning that the proposed Higher Education Bill on Quality Assurance and Accreditation will have adverse consequences to the state university system.

Speaking to the media today (30) at the Unversity of Colombo Prof Dileepa Witharana said that this bill is the first step in making the Unversity Grant Commission (UGC) redundant.

Witharana added that the bill will hand over the role of quality assurance and accreditation functions of both state universities and private higher education to a commission which is highly politicised.

Witharana further said that this proposed commission is made up of 13 members, four of them are statutory including Secretary to the Higher Education Ministry, Secretary of Finance Ministry, chairman of UGC and the chairman of the National Education Commission (NEC).

Then he said “other nine members are appointed by the President from a pool of 15 members nominated by the Minister of Higher Education, and five out of these nine members work as full-time members of the commission and one of them will chair the commission,”

“It is problematic to allow these five full-time members who are political appointees to virtually run the commission,” he added.

The second problem with the bill is that it simply prescribes external quality assurance as to the main tool to assure the quality of higher education institutes, including the quality of private education institutes.

This assessment is conducted by an externally appointed committee which consists of few outside academics who will visit the higher education institutes for a short duration.

He said that the state universities have different ways to assure quality through forums such as the faculty board, senates and other statutory committees.

“Using only this mechanism will not be adequate enough to assure the quality of a higher education institute, especially it is a controversial thing to use this tool only to private universities which had started in the recent past,” the Professor said. 

The third problem with the bill is that it allows through ‘ cross mobility’ for students from the private universities to move to a state university on the basis of the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF) which according to the belief of FUTA will also mark the end of using A/L results as the qualifying examination to recruit students to the state university sector.

“This will allow the movement between two vastly different systems, that is from an immature private higher education system which operates on a profit-seeking basis to a mature state university system positioned on a platform of social justice,” he added.