FUTA – Government Talks:Should We Sacrifice Education For ‘Development’?
By Kumudu Kusum Kumara –
The second round of discussions between the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) and the government took place on the evening of 12th July. At the conclusion the FUTA issued a terse one sentence statement which said it all: “The only consensus of the meeting was that there is merit in discussing the proposal.” This isummed up the mood of the general membership of the FUTA to emerge during the next few days. It was one of utter disappointment. Addressing a meeting of teachers of Colombo University president of the FUTA Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri reported that “no really significant breakthrough or outcome” occurred at the meeting. The Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga had been “very friendly and accommodating” and had agreed that the FUTA proposals were very serious and that they ought to be addressed as such.
The government having taken one week to ‘study’ the FUTA demands for education reforms has come up with a general proposal of setting up a Presidential commission to investigate ‘complex issues’ involved in higher education. No one would deny the value of an independent Presidential commission to collectively examine the ills ravaging higher education in the country to develop a white paper for public discussion which could be the basis for a higher education reforms bill and a new University Act. However, membership of the FUTA believes that setting up of a commission cannot resolve the specific issues raised by the FUTA.
In fact they believe that the suggestion of a commission is a red herring, or a tactic to delay providing solutions to the FUTA demands. This lack of faith shared by the general public is based on a widespread mistrust of the motives of appointing such commissions given their findings are never taken seriously and implemented by the government. For example, the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry, the Youth Commission report, and Commissions of inquiry on disappearances etc. are cited by the public. A senior academic commented that a book can be produced on the topic. This is to say that the general membership of the FUTA will be totally opposed to the idea of a commission at this point merely because it is perceived as a delay tactic. Continue reading FUTA – Government Talks:Should We Sacrifice Education For ‘Development’?
President’s Secretary meets FUTA:
Will the government risk losing the University Teachers’ Community?
Kumudu Kusum Kumara
University lecturers of the entire state sector university system in Sri Lanka except the universities of Kelaniya and Uva Wellasa have been on a continuous strike since 4th July under the leadership of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA). At Kelaniya while the overwhelming majority of the teachers’ union membership had been demanding to join the strike it is reported that some members of the union leadership had got themselves entangled in the elections to the post of Vice Chancellor and thereby wanted to prevent a strike at Kelaniya to please the authorities. However members of the union have been clamouring for a change of the decision of the union leaders and most likely that they will join the strike any time soon. (In fact while this article was being finalised the news reached us that the teacher’s union at Kelaniya decided to join the FUTA strike with immediate effect from 11th July.) It is reported that at Uva Wellasa which the government promotes as the model university of the future knowledge hub that Sri Lanka is expected to become, university teachers are prevented from forming a trade union. The point is that the overwhelming majority of University lecturers island wide support the strike except a handful of pro government lecturers.
The government had been given ample notice of the strike and cannot claim it is unaware of the demands of university teachers. Early January, 2012 the FUTA informed the Minster of Higher Education that the government had reneged on the commitments it made to university academics at the end of the FUTA trade union action took place in 2011. The FUTA informed the minister that it would “resort to a trade union action to urge the government and the higher educational authorities to uphold the commitments made” none other than by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself to university academic community at that time. The FUTA pointed out that the “authorities consistently failed to keep the commitments made to the university academics.” The FUTA wrote to the President in the same vein in April 2012. On June 13, 2012 the FUTA informed the Minister of Higher Education of its decision to launch a continuous strike on the 4th July. After this decision the Minister invited the FUTA for a meeting on the 20th June the outcome of which was described by the FUTA as having “failed to resolve contentious issues.” The FUTA president Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri has further mentioned that “President Mahinda Rajapaska himself had broken the earlier promise to grant them redress through the budget 2012.” Immediately following the meeting with the FUTA the ministry of higher education (MoHE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) declared a media blitzkrieg on the FUTA. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors (CVCD) and pro-government university teachers were brought in as reinforcements. The Minister S.B. Dissanayaka himself lead the struggle from front. The strategy was to portray to the public the demands as unethical perhaps with a plan to crush the FUTA initiative having won over public opinion in government’s favour. While the state media both electronic and print was mobilised for this purpose the FUTA feels that even the non-kept media came under pressure to black out the FUTA perspective not however with complete success. The island carried in its Midweek Review on the July 4th the complete FUTA response to the UGC and CVCD. It is non-traditional media on the internet that helped the FUTA to put across its perspective to the public in a however limited manner. It is inevitable that today when mainstream media suppresses the news and views of the public web based media will take its place. It is that government action that would decide whether people would turn to face book and other web based social media as tools in their legitimate political struggles. Self fulfilling prophecies are made of such stuff.
Who really represents the university teachers’ community?
While the FUTA had announced its strike decision media reported that Sri Lanka University Teachers’ Union met with the President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the 1st of July and “made a request from the President to grant them a meeting with him to discuss their problems and issues. Accordingly the President has set up a meeting for the university academics on July 03 under the patronage of Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga.” And secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga invited the FUTA for a meeting on the 3rd on the eve of the strike and two leaders of the Sri Lanka University Teachers’ Union sat on the back benches on the side the government delegation occupied at the discussion. Continue reading President’s Secretary meets FUTA: Will the government risk losing the University Teachers’ Community?