Sri Lankan police violently assaulted university students who were protested against the proposed parliament act to privatize the education. The police used tear gas and smoke bombs to attack the students.These smoke bombs were used for the first time against the public protests which caused considerable harm than tear gas.The Inter University Student Federation organized this protest on 28th August 2019 in Colombo. The proposed act is named as Higher Education (quality assurance and accreditation)’ Act supposedly introducing provisions to political appointees to decide the accreditation of higher education institutes.
Privatization of higher education is not a pet project of Sri Lanka but it is a global project implemented on similar guidelines in all regions of North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The origin of this project could be traced back to the early history of higher education but it was during the 1980s that privatization got a major boost. The 1980s marked a serious change in global affairs. The social democratic model that had prevailed from 1950s to the early 1980s was replaced by the model of economic globalization called neo-liberalism. Due to the impact of Soviet economic policies until 1980’s the education was considered as a duty of state. In contrast, economic globalization suggests a world without borders and has introduced a single global market with a universal set of rules. The authority of the State was taken over by the private sector multinational/transnational corporations. The role of the State as a provider of social security was converted into providing security and stability for the capital.
After introducing neo liberal reforms in 1978 to Sri Lanka an amendment was brought to Universities Act making a room to establish private Universities. Since then plenty of attempts were made to legalize the privatization of education. However the student movement in Sri Lanka unconditionally fought to defeat those attempts while emerging as the main enemy of the agents of neo-liberal economy. Education white paper, Thara-Harroled Committee report, Private Universities bill, SAITM private Medical Institute Judgment were the major attempts since 1980 which supposed to give blanket legal cover for privatization. The present government has drafted a bill titled ‘Higher Education (quality assurance and accreditation)’ as the newest attempt after the above vein attempts.
The preamble of the act says this is an act to ’provide for the establishment of a commission known as the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Commission for Higher Education in accordance with the National policy on coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education..’ When cursory glance have on the said title one could easily be misled that this act is for assure the quality of the Higher education. But preamble itself said that will be done according to the national policy on education. The national policy is nothing but to facilitate privatization of the education to establish neo-liberal agendas in the public education sector.
On the other hand the so-called commission consist of Secretary to the Ministry appointed by the minister, Additional Secretary to the ministry appointed by the minister who is assigned subject of finance, Chairman or his nominee of University Grants Commission, Chairman or nominee of National Education Commission, nine other members appointed by the President from a panel of fifteen persons nominated by the Minister.
The above members of the commission are vested with the vast and broad powers on higher education. Few main powers declared in the act are formulate, implement and update Sri Lanka qualification framework, to deal with foreign institutions on quality assurance and accreditation, determine policies, standards and criteria on quality assurance and accreditation, grant full or provisional registration to higher education institutions, evaluate foreign degrees, assess foreign degree qualifications, make recommendations for quality improvement, enter into agreements, contracts with third parties, recognize local or foreign bodies etc.
It is crystal clear this commission is going to be established to take the regulatory powers of the private local and foreign education institutions and the degrees to the commission. However all 15 members of the commission are political appointments. The national policy of the government and the minister is to expedite the privatization process. Having taken in to consideration the aforesaid line of explanation the ulterior motive of this proposed bill is clear that this commission is the state body of facilitating the privatization of education.
Currently quality assurance and accreditation of higher education degrees and institutions is being done by the respective professional bodies. For example Sri Lanka Medical Council is vested with powers to supervise and assure quality of medical degrees and institutions. Furthermore the standards and criteria of quality assurance is decided by medical council which is body consists of highly qualified and recognized medical practitioners. Sectors like Engineering, Architect, Nursing are also regulating by the professional of the respective field. Could you expect the quality assurance of the professions without the participation of the professionals and academics?.
Although this act gives an impression that the prime objective is to uplift the quality of the education the ulterior motive is clear that the control and supervisory powers of the higher education is going to be handed over to the politicians. During the SAITM struggle we had experienced that as to how the ministers and the political authorities uses state power to give recognition to a institute which the Medical Council and foreign medical bodies have black listed. However due the firm stand of Medical Council the government was unable to place their policy on medical professions. Once this new bill is passed all the professional bodies will not be able to supervise and regulate the higher education.
In the circumstances once again the student movement and masses are invited to take over the power of streets to defeat this obnoxious attempt of the government.This economic globalisation model, however, faced a serious setback during the last decade as a result of the global food, environment, energy and financial crises. Attempts at reforms in sectors that could have generated higher levels of profits such as education were defeated by massive public protests. The economic perspective with a profit making drive is increasingly seen as too narrow to address complex multi-dimensional global problems. The recent global dialogue on the inability of the market to address global problems, however, happened mostly in the developed world while countries in the developing world seem to follow the same prescriptions that were offered to them during 1980-2000 without having a proper dialogue at the national level on their effectiveness, sustainability or appropriateness.