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The new government’s State
Higher Education Minister, Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, resigned in February,
only a month after assuming duties with a green light to introduce reforms.
Following pressure from the
Federation of University Teachers' Associations or FUTA, the chairperson of the
University Grants Commission, or UGC, Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama, quit
her job, also in February. Six members of the UGC resigned with her.
FUTA is now protesting
against the installation of her husband, Dr Kumara Hirimburegama, as Colombo
University Vice-chancellor, and have demanded his resignation.
At the presidential
election, students and lecturers desiring a change voted against Rajapaksa’s
decade-long regime during which students’ rights were largely suppressed.
The new government had
promised students, teachers and parents a completely restructured higher
education system within 100 days, but with 80 of the days already passed, there
have been no major changes, and the new academic year admissions have been
On 31 March, protesting
students blocked several roads causing heavy traffic congestion and later
marched towards Temple Trees, which is considered a high security zone.
Clashes erupted when police
fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse students, as a result of which
eight students were hospitalised and seven policemen were injured.
Protesters urged the new
government to immediately solve problems in the education system, close down
private universities and increase the Mahapola scholarships subsistence awarded
to students from low-income families, as promised in the election.
Higher education ministry
officials earlier had said they would release the university handbook at the
end of January. It includes the new university admission forms and guidelines.
But following the changes in chairs, the ministry is still struggling to
release the book.
Meanwhile the newly
appointed chairperson of UGC, Professor Mohan De Silva, says he aims to appoint
officers to the university system who are non-political to improve the
administration of the universities and to maintain the quality of academic
He also said the UGC had initiated
the admissions process for the new academic year and would immediately release
the anticipated handbook regarding university admissions.
In his short time in office,
former higher education minister Wijesinha created a friendly atmosphere with
university students, launching a “Meet the Minister” programme and suspending
the controversial three-week compulsory Military-led University Leadership