January 26, 2020
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    ramanayake

     

    Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. So said the visionary South African leader, the late Nelson Mandela. Education is indeed a life-changing experience, where the ultimate aim is to produce good citizens who can make a positive contribution to society.

    But the education sector in Sri Lanka is riddled with many problems, some of which have been persisting for decades. One silver lining is that Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries with universal free education virtually from the cradle to the grave. Yet the biggest problems are found in the field of higher education, since our state university system is unable to absorb all the 180,000 students who qualify for university admission every year. Only around 30,000 can enter the State universities every year and even if more universities are established, we are looking at only around 40,000. This has led to the biggest question facing our higher education system – what exactly should we do with the rest of the students?

    President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, just two months into his Presidency, has addressed this issue several times already. He focused heavily on both primary and higher education in his wide-ranging Policy Statement delivered in Parliament on January 3. “Our most valuable resource as a nation is our future generation. As such, we have identified the development of our human capital as one of the primary responsibilities of the government. The opportunities young people have to pursue higher education and technical education should be broadened. The infrastructure facilities needed for this must be developed within a short time frame. The number of students entering tertiary education can be increased through more effective utilization of the capacities of state universities and other higher educational institutions,” President Rajapaksa said.

    Modern job market

    Then, pointing out the mismatch between the job market requirements and university courses, he said “Some of the courses taught in universities today are not in consonance with market requirements. In the near future, we intend to introduce short-term courses to equip our university students to meet the needs of the modern job market, which they can opt to attend whilst pursuing their current courses of study.” He added: “The education sector can be a significant foreign exchange earner. A large number of Sri Lankan students presently study at higher educational institutes in Asia. Instead of sending our students abroad for higher education at a high cost, we should introduce a programme to attract foreign students to Sri Lanka. We must prepare short term and long term programmes to improve the global ranking of our universities.”

    The President has since then referred to the issue of unemployed graduates. As a medium term measure to remedy this situation, the Government has announced plans to employ up to 50,000 unemployed graduates in various sectors. This is a step in the right direction. In fact, the President instructed his officials to let in several student leaders from the university students who had held a protest outside his office last week, making six demands including an increase in Mahapola scholarship grants and early payment of arrears. The President addressed these issues too and there was not a canister of tear gas in sight, a departure from the usual scenario where the protesting students are tear gassed and chased away.

    The President has however noted that it would be virtually impossible for any Government to give employment for all graduates who pass out. Hence, he pointed out the need for graduates to venture out with their own schemes for self-employment, SME and other such steps, which the Government can support with expert advice and loans.

    The major problem is that a large number of students who fail to gain admission to local universities for no fault of their own go to foreign universities, sometimes to unheard of countries and institutions. This can sometimes have tragic consequences, as the country mourned the deaths of three young people who had gone to Azerbaijan to pursue their dream of higher education. It is no secret that parents sometimes sell all their assets to send children abroad.

    In the light of this tragedy in Azerbaijan and, a few previous incidents of this nature, it is time for the education authorities to issue strict guidelines for students who wish to study abroad. The education authorities can take a cue from the Foreign Employment Bureau, which has a very strict system for monitoring local and foreign employment agencies and also host employers abroad, via welfare officers in our diplomatic missions. Registration at the SLBFE is compulsory for all those who go abroad for employment, in order to prevent employees from falling prey to unscrupulous employers and various scams. This has largely prevented the abuse of Sri Lankan workers abroad.

    Overseas educational destinations

    Given the veritable explosion of numbers of Sri Lankan high school leavers now studying overseas, it is time to establish a similar system to monitor overseas educational destinations in order to ensure the welfare of our students. We see a large number of advertisements in the newspapers offering higher education in remote, often quite under-developed, countries and often unheard-of institutions. There is no idea at all about the educational, health and safety standards in these institutions and countries and, whether the courses/degrees offered are recognized elsewhere in the world. It will perhaps be a wise move to publish a list of institutions that are approved for higher education abroad after scrutiny by our educational authorities. Parents and students should also be advised about the ramifications of applying to educational institutions in countries which do not have a Sri Lankan Embassy or Consulate. Consular assistance and logistical arrangements can be rendered much faster in countries that have a Sri Lankan diplomatic presence, which is a great advantage at a time of crisis.

    It was revealed last week that around 20,000 students leave overseas for higher studies annually, which costs the country foreign exchange equivalent to Rs.50 billion. This is a huge sum that can otherwise be diverted for development and social welfare. The Government, which is formulating guidelines for studies abroad after the tragic deaths of three Sri Lankans students in Azerbaijan, is keen to ensure more educational opportunities locally for students with GCE A/L qualifications. Indeed, Sri Lanka should have more private institutions that offer degree pathways.

    “If the Government as well as the private sector can ensure that a high standard of education is provided by local universities and other higher educational institutions, it may even be possible for us to start attracting international students to study in Sri Lanka and convert the higher education sector into a foreign exchange earner for the country,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, addressing the Convocation of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University held at the BMICH recently.

    One possible solution is to open more universities here, but the State can only establish a limited number of new universities given the budgetary and logistical constraints. Nevertheless, Higher Education Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena has already pledged to convert to university level two existing institutions offering courses in Surveying and Forestry. Parents who can afford will send their children abroad, spending large amounts of foreign exchange. On the other hand, if we had more private universities, more students will opt to remain here and study rather than go abroad. This will not only save foreign exchange, but also attract it, through foreign students who wish to study here. It is also important to grade and register all private institutions that offer degrees locally, so that students will be assured of their investment. Education has become a major business globally, with some countries deriving around 5-10 percent of their total income from foreign students. It is time to shed outdated notions with regard to private education and embrace the fact that education is a global experience that produces globally-oriented citizens.

    President Rajapaksa has pointed out the importance of Universities offering degree programmes that will help the graduates to be gainfully employed. The 21st Century is widely acknowledged as the Knowledge Century and our universities should be able to match the job market requirements thus created. They should also be able to attract more research opportunities. In an encouraging sign, a team of academics of the Faculties of Science and Medicine from the University of Colombo recently received the first US patent for their discovery of a compound that shows significant anti-cancer activities. The team from UOC has discovered a compound extracted from the mushroom Fulviformes fastuosus showing significant anticancer activity against Rhabdomyosarcoma, which is an aggressive and highly malignant form of childhood cancer.

    Many new technologies ranging from Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Robotics, the Internet of Things, Biotechnology, 3-D Printing, and Automation, will reshape our world over the coming decades. Our universities risk being left out of the global education scene if they do not embrace these trends from now onwards. A radical new approach to education grounded on reality and future challenges will serve Sri Lanka’s future interests well

     
     

    The government has taken steps to purchase paddy at a minimum guaranteed price of Rs. 50 per kilo for the Maha season, co-cabinet spokesman, Minister Bandula Gunawardena said.Speaking at the weekly cabinet media briefing at Auditorium of the Government Information Dep0artment,Minister Dr.Gunawardena said the Cabinet of Ministers has approved the purchase of a kilogram of paddy that is up to accepted quality standards at a price of Rs.50. A kilogram of moist paddy that is below quality standards will be purchased at Rs.45.

     

    All unemployed graduates will immediately be recruited in order to involve them in strengthening the national economy President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.President made these remarks addressing a gathering of representatives of unemployed graduates held at the Presidential Secretariat.Information on existing vacancies at government, semi-government institutes and departments had already been collected. Graduates will be immediately recruited to these positions. They will be provided with formal training and awareness on leadership skills and the public sector. President said that his objective was to create a responsible government service and a government employee.

     

    01.Accelerated programme to purchase paddy during the Maha season 2019 / 2020

    Harvesting paddy of Maha season 2019 / 20 has already being inaugurated by now while a harvest of 03 million metric tons of paddy harvest is expected. As a result of avoidance of importing rice by the government as a policy although a slight hike of prices of rice can be seen; the decision leads to saving approximately 100 million US dollars of foreign exchange. The said circumstances have resulted in strengthening foreign exchange as well as decline of interest rates. Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers decided that the government shall mediate in purchasing surplus of paddy stocks in the Maha season of 2019 / 2020 with objective of encouraging the private sector paddy millers to purchase paddy under a fair price to ensure sustaining a fixed price of paddy. Therefore it was further decided to implement the following decisions without delay.
    •Imposing a minimum certified price of Rs. 50/- for a kilo of paddy with the due standard (subject to the criterion of moisture.)
    •Minimum certified price of a kilo of paddy with moisture to be certified as Rs. 45/-
    •Implement the government programme to purchase rice through district secretaries / government agents as well as the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB)
    •Direct purchase of qunatities of rice required for government institutions such as Tri forces, Department of Prisons, Hospitals etc; from Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) itself.
    •Immediately entrusting all the store houses / warehouses under the purview of the Food Commission for storing the paddy stocks purchased for storing paddy stocks that is purchased.
    •Utilizing lorries and trucks belong to the government for transportation of paddy stocks
    •Assuance of pledge loans through state and private banking establishments approximately amounting to Rs. 100 billion under a concessionary loan interest rate of 8% for those purchasers including small and medium scale as well as large scale millers for the purchase of paddy under the certified price.
    •Entrusting the monitoring of the paddy purchasing programme in the pioneering districts of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Vauniya, Ampara, Batticaloa, Monaragala and Hambantota to several state ministers.
    •Immediate issuance of circulars required to implement the above programme by the Secretary to the President.

    02.Appointing authorized officers for submission of visa application of tourist arriving and travelling within Sri Lanka via the Electronic Travel Authorization System (ETA)
    The Department of Emigration and Immigration follow the Electronic Travel Authorization System (ETA) since the year 2012 for issuance of pre – check up and approval to foreign tourists visit Sri Lanka. Although attraction of a considerable amount of Chinese tourists to Sri Lanka is apparent, those Chinese tourists are not encouraged due to delays in obtaining visa to visit Sri Lanka as a result of the language barrier resulting form the implementation of Electronic Travel Authorization System (ETA) system only in English at present by Sri Lanka. As a remedy to these circumstances it has been observed that these tourists are to obtain assistance from private agencies when travelling to Sri Lanka. Accordingly the proposal submitted by the Minister of Mahaveli, Agriculture, Irrigation, Rural Development, the Minister of Internal Trade, Food Security and Consumer Welfare and the State Minister of National Defense to obtain the service of Travelson International Travel Services (Shanghai) Limited prossessing experience in a number of countries in catering the need is approved by the Cabinet of Ministers as a policy.

    03.Establishment of National Scientific Technology and Innovation Authority (NASTICA)

    An approval has been granted earlier by the Cabinet of Ministers to convert Cordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) into National Scientific Technology and Innovation Coordination Authority (NASTICA) by a parliamentary act
    The Legal Draftsman Department is towards the end of formulating the proposed draft. The proposal submitted by the Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation to the Cabinet of Ministers to prepare the said draft act by introducing relevant provisions to the bill now been drafted including the duties and responsibility of Sri Lanka Innovators Commission with the objective of realizing the vision of converting Sri Lanka a centre for International Innovations adhering to the policy declaration “The Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” was approved.

    04.Accelerating the infrastructure facilities development of the Universities of Sri Jayawardhanapura, Wayambe, Ruhuna, Colombo, Sabaragamuwa, Peradeniya, Moratuwa and Sri Lanka Bhikku Campus.

    The Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal submitted by the Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovations to implement 13 construction projects recognized in the Universities of Sri Jayawardhanapura, Wayambe, Ruhuna, Colombo, Sabaragamuwa, Peradeniya, Moratuwa and Sri Lanka Bhikku Campus within the median time budget framework 2020 - 2021on the priority basis with the objective of developing the student capacity that can be enrolled for the year 2021 by 20%.

    05.Attracting foreign and non - residential students for higher education within Sri Lanka

    Although there are legal provisions to recruit 4.5% of the student population from overseas students for undergoing basic degree courses in state universities, it is visible that only a slight number of foreign students are registering for University education in this country. Considering the prevailing circumstances, with the objective of changing Sri Lanka into an international knowledge portal the Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation submitted a proposal to inaugurate branches of world renowned Universities according to the global university grading while recruiting on the basis of payment of course fees with foreign exchange by Sri Lankan students engaged in foreign employments as well as to implement the promotion activities for recruitment of foreign students by charging within the percentage limit allocated for the foreign students and the Cabinet of Ministers approved it.

    06.Transferring the land and buildings where Medical Postgraduate Institute of the University of Colombo is maintained to that institution

    The proposal submitted by the Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation for transferring the land and buildings within in extent of 0.2074 hectares situated at Prof. Nandadasa Kodagoda Mawatha (alias Norris Cannel Rd.), at the grama niladhari division of Cinnamon Gardens, in the divisional secretariat division of Thimbirigasyaya in terms of the provisions of the government land ordinance by a free grant was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

    07.Current situation of the electricity field of Sri Lanka and the precautions to be taken to face the shortage of electricity.

    Due to delay in implementing the electricity power plant projects planned, Ceylon Electricity Board has to encounter a bitter crisis. Therefore, the Cabinet of ministers decided to take following decisions with immediate effect considering the proposals submitted by the Minister of Electricity and Power with the objective of securing and safeguarding as well as fulfilling the power requirements in Sri Lanka.
    •Construction of a power plant unit with a capacity of 300x2 of mega watt as an extension of Norachcholei Coal Power Plant.
    •Installation of an LNG (bi –sectorial natural gas plant) with a capacity of 300 maga watt as a joint venture with Ceylon Electricity Board and India / Japan at Kerawalapitiya
    •Acceleration of the construction activities of LNG (bi –sectorial natural gas plant) with a capacity of 300 maga watt proposed to be constructed in the Kerawalapitiya area under the funds of the Asian Development Bank
    •Acceleration of the construction of hydro - electricity plants and regeneration power projects that are under construction.
    •Implementation of projects agreed to be funded by the government of India for solar power generation hastily with the loan grant of US dollars 100 million.

    08.National policy on the conservation and sustainable utilization of mangrove eco – systems in Sri Lanka

    Although the mangrove eco – systems cater essentially to the environmental equilibrium as well as protecting the coastal belt, these eco – systems are being endangered at present due to various human activities at present. Considering the prevailing the circumstances, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal submitted by the Minister of Environment and Wildlife Resources for implementing the national policy that has been prepared with the objective of ensuring the sustainable existence of the mangrove eco – systems with the participation of all the parties applicable with the monitoring of the specialist committee on mangrove eco – systems conservation and sustainable utilisation.

    09.Procurement of a consultant for civil works package 03, under the Reconstruction of 25 Bridges Project

    Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has signed an agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka to provide 10 million Kuwaiti dinars for the implementation of the reconstruction of 25 Bridges Project. Phase 3 of the project includes the rebuilding of eight dilapidated and narrow bridges on the National Highway Network in the Western, Northern and North Western Provinces. Accordingly the cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by Hon. Minister of Highways to award the consultation services contract to M/s Al-Abdulhadi Engineering Consultance (AEC) JV with consulting Engineers & Architects Associated (Pvt) Ltd upon the recommendation of Consultant Procurement Committee.

    10.The contract for the supply , Installation and supervision of two 145kv Double Busbar (GIS) Gas Insulated Switchgears and the administration, Assessment, and Measuring contract of 145kv Double Busbar (GIS)

    The expansion of Kelanithissa 132kv Gas Insulated Switchgear (GIS) has been commenced in order to connect the 132 Busbar in Kelantithissa Grid Substation with proposed Gas Turbines. Accordingly the cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by Hon. Minister of Power and Energy to award the contract of supply, Installation and supervision of two 145kv Double Busbar (GIS) Gas Insulated Switchgears and the administration, assessment, and measuring contract of 145kv Double Busbar (GIS) to Asea Brown Bovari Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd., the original manufacturer.

     

     
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