A few months ago, the president asked VCs why they were producing graduates who weren’t employable. Here is my opinion on this problem and the solution.
(Refer to current statistics on university faculty admissions and student admissions). As long as each diploma or higher diploma is offered for free, students will look for the easy options of college diplomas. Why would a government spend millions to sponsor a degree with specializations in aesthetic studies, history, political science, Islamic civilization, Pali, etc. Get free education by all means. But spend your money on producing a skill set that is useful to the community – medicine, engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, economics, robotics, computer science, aquaculture, marine biology (the focus is on the oceans because Sri Lanka is nine times or more than our arable land (see map given), agriculture, professional skills like masonry, plumbing, electricity, electronics.
Liberal arts education is intended for lovers of literature, history, theology, etc. and people should pay for such a degree program. Plan by all means for a full scholarship for the really talented in these programs. Anyone can pay for it.
Imagine the madness of a student entering a cosmetic study program for free with no real talent. He / she will not only prove to be unfit for the job, but not skills that they can monetize on their own. Compare that with a free professional program of your choice and you are employable worldwide or can start your own immediately.
A profession like teaching should only be embraced by those with a genuine passion for teaching and not by the lower class of arts graduates or A / L dropouts. Admissions must be by competitive examination with scholarships for the upper percentiles.
Any higher / vocational education institution, public or private, should be under a regulatory body with benchmarks set with global competence.
Today we have electricians, plumbers and mechanics practicing their trade without any authorization. Much like a practicing doctor with a registration from the Sri Lanka Medical Council, a number that all technicians must carry is a registration number from their respective authority.
Sri Lankans have bathed in the glory of high literacy for too long. It doesn’t mean anything when you have to compete on the global stage for lucrative job opportunities or foreign direct investment.
With our managed ocean resources, fisheries and aquatic farms are expected to have the potential to generate tens of billions of dollars in FDI.
Free education is probably the best benefit for Sri Lankans and this should be safeguarded. However, it needs to focus on what the community needs and what is deemed non-essential certainly needs to be paid for.
As an example, let’s take a few optional subjects; Medicine, English, Islamic Civilization, Pali.
We have to estimate from the 2021 class how many doctors do we need? Likewise English, Islamic civilization, Pali, plumbers, etc.
For the sake of argument, suppose we need 1,000 doctors and two teachers of Islamic civilization and maybe 20 Pali teachers and 2,000 plumbers.
A 1000, 10, 20 and 2000 as above should receive free scholarships and anyone else who wants to take these disciplines can pay them.
The irony of this is so striking when you look at the map above and find that we have no students or academic research in the area of fisheries and aquaculture. Entrepreneurs and trusted administrators will see some value in this.
(The author is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of TMC, an independent consultant, who has served as CEO, Marketing Director of large Sri Lankan and multinational corporations.)