Z-score and district quotas to change

  • UGC wants uni autonomy in student selection

  • FUTA, IUSF critical of proposals


The Z-score system that is key in determining the entrance of students to state universities is being revisited as part of an effort to explore how the current university entrance system could be changed, The Morning learnt.

Speaking to The Morning on 17 February, University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunge said that the Z-score is currently being revisited, adding that an entrance policy that suits the present times must be formulated.

“We are revisiting the Z-score system, but it is a very delicate matter. However, it needs to be changed. The formula has changed over the years and our present admission policy is what we have had since 1994. This must change, as it may not fit the present day. Universities being given more autonomy to select their own students is also being considered.”

Referring to the district quota according to which higher education opportunities are allocated to districts, Prof. Amaratunge said that districts have changed from what they were 25 years ago, and that this quota too needs to be reviewed. He said that higher education authorities are conducting a survey to determine the best ways to bring changes to the system.

These comments came one day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the new graduates of the Kotelawala Defence University (KDU), said that the current university entrance system must change.

“Students should be able to pursue higher education without having their future determined purely by the Z-score they obtained. Individual institutions must be granted more autonomy and governing bodies of universities should be able to select the students they feel are best to learn at their institution.”

The President noted that talented students too should have the freedom to select their universities and that the competition among universities will lead to significant overall improvement across the entire higher education system. However, the President also said that the UGC must play a key role in ensuring the quality and standards of the universities.

However, the university community has raised concerns regarding some of the suggested changes proposed to the current admission and selection systems.

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (18), Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) President Prof. Shyama Banneheka said that while universities should be given more autonomy in other matters, university admission should take place centrally through a body such as the UGC, as is the current practice.

“Allowing universities to make their own selections would give rise to unnecessary competition between the universities and it would also pave the way to backdoor entry to universities.”

However, Prof. Banneheka agreed that the district quota should be revisited and said that a transparent and reasonable system should be introduced since the Z-score system is complex and not understood by the layperson.

“A system that can be understood by everyone should be introduced, but there should be a thorough study done before the implementation of any such changes.”

He said that such changes should be done meticulously and that the FUTA would like to offer their expertise in this regard.

Rejecting the proposals to subject the Z-score system to changes, Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Convener Rathkarawwe Jinarathana Thera said that all students who are eligible to enter university should be given the opportunity.

“We agree that the Z-score is not a factor to determine whether students should receive higher education or not, but it is required now because of the limited higher education opportunities available in state universities. All students who are eligible to enter university should be given the opportunity to do so and for that, universities have to increase their capacity. We urge the Government to at least double the capacity of universities by next year.”

Jinarathana Thera claimed that the Government is currently attempting to introduce financial wealth into the eligibility criteria to access higher education.

“The Government is following a trajectory of privatising education, which is not fair. This will take away the opportunities of the economically underprivileged students.”

When questioned about individual universities being given the autonomy to select their students, Jinarathana Thera claimed that the UGC’s approach to autonomy is to cut back on grants given to universities. This would then lead to universities having to raise their own funds, which would inevitably lead to the commercialisation of state universities.

The Z-score came in for discussion recently following a series of IUSF protests claiming that the Z-score had unfairly denied university entrance to students who had faced their General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A/L) examination under both the old syllabus and the new syllabus, and had performed well in their exams.