University academics have been on a strike in Sri Lanka since early July this year demanding higher spends in education sector and salary hikes and blaming the government for its increased political interference in campus life.
In a blunt response to this strike by academics, the Sri Lankan government has shut down 13 of its 15 state-funded universities except the medical schools for an indefinite period thus putting the future of education in darkness in the island nation.
University campuses in Sri Lanka have been the originating points for mayhem and commotion in the nation for decades. BBC reports say that students’ problems helped trigger the Tamil insurgency as well as equally bloody Sinhalese insurrections in the 1970s and 80s.
Higher authorities in the government accuse the academics of attempting to overthrow the government. The higher education minister SB Dissanayake said that their (the trade union’s) aim is to create instability and a political crisis leading to a regime change.
While the government maintains that it has already agreed to five of their six key demands, the spokesman for the academics’ main union, Mahim Mendis, told the BBC that this simply was not true. He added that the “politicization and militarization” of universities must come to an end.
Loyalists of ministers are said to have been appointed for top university posts currently. Mahim Mendis added that this is a national struggle and the suggestion that they want a change of regime is frivolous.
He also condemned a proclamation persuading universities to use security agencies run by the ministry of defence and he criticised a two-week programme of compulsory military-led training which all university freshers now have to undergo.
Secondary education has also been in disorder here, with a large-scale scandal involving ineffectiveness in the marking of school-leaving exam papers.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) General Secretary Tilvin Silva said that the solution does not lie in closing down the universities which would eventually lead to the toppling of the government.
Silva suggested that the government should instead take steps to bring the strike to an end. He also warned that they would take to strong political action if the government continues to put the country’s education sector in the dark.