Operations of Open Universities increasingly influenced by politics: OUSL Students’ Union Prez

By Aazam Ameen and Mihi Perera

The rejection of the names of candidates recommended by the Council of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), for the post of Vice Chancellor (VC) of that University, which falls vacant on 23/06/2021, is another political attempt to influence the process of free education which takes place in Open Universities, Harsha Madusanka, the President of the OUSL Students’ Union expressed to The Morning.

“We have noted an increasing political influence on the operations of Open Universities during the past few years. As a Student Association, we will not stand for this. We have already commenced discussions with the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) in this regard,” he told The Morning.

Explaining further, Madusanka reiterated that despite the 2020/2 amendment to the Open University Act of 1978 which clearly outlines the methodology in which a Vice Chancellor is appointed, the Council followed the amended guidelines.

“Even though three names were submitted to the President under this amendment for the post of Vice Chancellor, all three names were rejected without any explanation,” Madusanka stated.

Madusanka also stated that the Open University operates in a manner in which students pay one third of the course fees while the government pays two thirds. However, he stated that there was a recent move to make students pay the full amount.

“When this move was introduced, the students, teachers and staff members of the Open University protested stating that this was an unjust move on the government’s part,” he explained.

Following this, Madusanka stated that the incumbent Vice Chancellor heeded these concerns which resulted in increased hindrance to this from the government’s part. 

The Students’ Union alleges that due to these reasons, the government seeks to appoint a Vice Chancellor who will not do the same in terms of addressing the concerns of students when such unjust moves from the government take place.

Meanwhile, FUTA President Shyama Banneheka told The Morning that all three names recommended by the Council were suitably qualified academics, and that there was no apparent reason for such a rejection on the President’s part.

Commenting on the messaging sent out by such an action from the President, Banneheka expressed that such a move is a threat to the entire university system.

“The messaging he (the President) is disseminating is that he can go on rejecting names until he sees one that he favours,” Banneheka expressed.

He also added that if this is what the President wishes to do, there is no need for any procedure with regard to appointing Vice Chancellors.

“The President can just pick someone and appoint that person as the Vice Chancellor,” he stated. 

Despite The Morning’s repeated attempts to contact the Chairman of the University Grants Commission for comment, they proved to be futile.