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The Ministry of Higher Education has decided to make compulsory for all university entrants a 3-week training in army camps (supposedly because they are the only places that can accommodate all the entrants) and then give them 3 months of training in English and Information Technology (IT) at District level.

While the intentions may be laudable, I wish to argue that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. I hope Vice Chancellors and others in academic leadership will support me. I list the reasons for my opposition below.

  1. This measure will delay entrance to universities, causing both entrants and their parents much anxiety.
  2. Most if not all universities have orientation programs at which English, IT and other soft skills are taught. It is much better for students to be taught in their future academic environments rather than at district level, because a university environment is an academic one that creates a sense of seriousness of purpose.
  3. It must be remembered that a previous program of this nature, i.e. the GELT program was not continued, presumably because it was a failure. What guarantee do the universities have that we will not have to repeat English and IT classes once students come to the universities – causing further delay in graduation?
  4. In the same context, individual universities will take an active interest and responsibility in teaching English and IT, because the teaching of further courses will be made more difficult if their own students do not have these skills. It is not clear who feels responsible for the newly proposed English and IT program, but there is NO naturally structured responsibility that they will have; the trainers will not see the students after the training. If the ministry wants to improve English and IT among students, they should strengthen existing orientation programs within universities – NOT start new and untested ventures.
  5. While I have the greatest of respect for the army for their recent achievements, an army camp is not the place that the majority of potential entrants would like to go to. Many parents would be very apprehensive about sending girls especially to such camps. Furthermore, while I am sure there are many Tamil entrants and parents who would be thankful to the army for delivering them from the LTTE, there would be many others who would be apprehensive about anything to do with the army – these are social realities that we have to contend with and mere assurances of safety within these camps would not suffice. In fact Muslim girls may even be prohibited by their religion from attending such residential camps. I myself may not mind a son undergoing such training but would be reluctant for a daughter to do so.
  6. As a Senior Professor with 30 years of service, I consider student diversity to be one of the most significant ingredients in the process of producing good graduates. I do NOT wish to see parents of Tamil or female entrants opting to send their children to private universities or to settle for non-university careers in accountancy, marketing or banking purely because of the obstacle created by this training in army camps. The entire university community will be impoverished thereby. We must make sure that decisions we take do not discourage or cause discomfort to ANY potential entrant.
  7. If this training is made compulsory, it is very likely that some parent or entrant will file a fundamental rights case against it because this requirement was not divulged at the point that students were applying for entry. If nothing else, such a lawsuit will delay the entire academic calendar, and once again ALL students will be the losers.

In the above context, I call upon the relevant decision makers to postpone any training of this nature until much wider consensus is sought. My own strong view is that existing orientation programs should be strengthened. If at all, the proposed training for this year should be conducted on a purely experimental and voluntary basis.

Professor Priyan Dias
Senior Professor of Civil Engineering
University of Moratuwa
2 May 2011

  • ravana

    Dear Prof Dias
    Sri Lankan students arriving overseas for postgraduate and undergraduate courses are in general considerably poorer in the use of English in comparison to their Indian counterparts. I think Sri Lankan educators and politicians must surely accept considerable responsibility for this lack.
    Having said that, giving over this task to agents who have not even the fig-leaf of the Sri Lankan education system to cover their inadequacy, is sure to help the status of Sri Lankan students tumble further. In the eyes of educators of the World this would be another sign of increasing corruption within Sri Lanka.

    If Law professors can collude in providing an unfair advantage to a parliamentarian student, then the mind boggles at what could be done with this proposal to manipulate University entrants.

    It appears the the Sinhala political elite with plenty of cunning but no intellect will become ensconced within the Sri Lankan education system in the next two decades, that no institution outside of Sri Lanka will accept Sri Lankan qualifications.

    However, given the significant talent among ordinary Sri Lankans, it may be necessary for overseas interests to provide scholarships to deserving poor Sri Lankans for study overseas.

  • TT

    A marvellous idea!

    In my view all entrants to taxpayer funded universities must undergo a few months of compulsory military training. That should include leadership training, inculcating a good exercise regime and above all building a sense of appreciation and respect towards armed forces personnel. This is a good opportunity for the nation’s future professionals to build life long friendships.

    I don’t think MOST university entrants will have any problem with that. Of course there are the others.

    • ?????

      have you ever undergone such a training? do you know the fact that military does not allow creativity?

      • TT


        There is room for creativity in the military including the SL military. Anyway creativity is not the main focus of this pre-university course. Most SL’s have no problem with that. They will find long lost freinds in the military! Too bad some don’t have (and don’t wish to have) SL heroes among their friends circle.

        I support a move to introduce compulsory military training for 6 months for all SLs when they reach 20 years. It happens in South Korea, Singapore and Switzerland, three very peaceful, law abiding and prosperous countries.

    • “I support a move to introduce compulsory military training for 6 months for all SLs when they reach 20 years. It happens in South Korea, Singapore and Switzerland, three very peaceful, law abiding and prosperous countries…”

      Your ignorant comment highlights the following. You assume that prosperity is a direct result of military training. This is merely a correlation and does not imply a causal connection. This is a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc type of logical fallacy and you sir/madam must be sent back to (a good) school for extensive purging of the mind!

  • the way of the Dodo

    Another waste of time on the whole. But it will be amusing to see how this will effect the JVP brainwashing campaign that starts around this time. It will also get rid of the ‘rag’, or hazing as some call it.

  • justitia

    It was stated earlier that the students would undergo “leadership training” in army camps. The army cannot teach “leadership” or “english” to any one. But the author of this article seems to think that these classes will be for the purpose of teaching english.
    This confusion needs to be clarified.
    He also voices fears of students about being exposed to an army environment.
    The teaching of the english language is a must if these students are to further their knowlege during their undergraduate studies, and after graduation in various disciplines,or become useful members of society in sri lanka or abroad.( A sri lankan immigrant has been elected as a Member of Psrliament for the first time, in Canada ).
    I suspect that this “scheme” is to give the army something to do, as they have no useful role to play now that the war is over.The armed forces are already running tourist oriented activities, and even selling vegetables.Army top brass have been inducted into the diplomatic services,and appointed to various posts in public enterprises.
    The government is saddled with armed forces most of whom are unnecessary now, but dare not send them home – with 50,000 deserters at large, most of whom are blamed for criminal activities.
    No politician dares to recommend a reduction in the armed forces, though the maintenance of this idle army is costing billions.
    As surmised, parents should collectively file an FR case against this proposal, which does not exist in any other country.

  • MDP

    I would be really glad if it’s possible to form a proper strategic planning commity consist of unbiased professionals such as the aurhor. I sincerly believe that it’s the only way forward for our country. Most of the ministers are lacking good ideas/proper plans to move forward. So such a panel would feed much better ideas to be implemented.
    At the moment as I see there is a bunch of creative people just performing teaching duties in the universities.

  • Daniella

    Training at army Camps is a subtle descrimination against Tamils and Muslims students to keep them from entering Sri Lankan Universities…A novel way of re introducing ethnic ratio for University entrance which was one of the main causes of the ethnic conflict.

  • Lakshan

    I don’t know who came up with this stupid idea of sending would be graduates to Army camps. In the university there’s enough space for leadership development. While I agree with crusade that SB leading against JVP encroachment of universities or any such mindless political entity , herding university entrants to army camps is counterproductive as the writer clearly notes in her article
    Due to incessant conflicts during past 35 years our society has become heavily militarized. Hence any further militarization would not help the spirit of democracy that should prevail

    • the way of the Dodo

      There is no JVP encroachment. They are established.

      And the good prof is a he 🙂

      • Lakshan

        My apologies to the Prof. 🙂

  • Sam

    I have the least of confidence that this Military training fiasco will not be more than a proposal, hence, with all due respect to the military, I strongly feel its not the place to build Leadership. It might build followers though who will do anything and everything an autocratic leader would command. The paper article was highlighting the need to inculcate a sense of ‘love towards the country’. Now we all know what the content of that program will be.

    • xy


  • sr

    Why can’t the whole university academic staff oppose this obnoxious idea?
    It isn’t a good sign that only one good professor(I’ve high regard for this professor after his submission to LLRC) has to come and tell us this?

  • KW

    There’s no need to create a mess if the AL GIT and General English is up to the standard. Creating another program (and of course involving the Army camps) will cause so many problems and will definitely end up with failure.

    I really doubt whether this program will suit the needs of different degree programs (For an example, all the other students may not need a thorough introduction to IT as IT/Computer Science students does) In that case, customized program according to the needs of the faculty/degree (as it is now) would be the best option. What government really have to do is, to ensure that existing orientation programs at the universities are done properly.

  • Why send everyone off for leadership training when not everyone is cut out to be a leader? Even in the military, it is only once potential leaders have shown some such qualities are they selected for special training. It all sounds a bit absurd and ill-planned.

    • the way of the Dodo

      it does sound ill planned. But i bet most university lecturers here will gladly welcome this given that this will severely hamper the JVP presence & prominence inside universities. And a lot of students who will have to attend universities where the rag is terrible will also find this relieving.

      • I can see this being eventually overturned by the Supreme Court as soon as someone points out that it’s a deprivation of rights to force someone to undergo military training in order to secure a uni education. My feel is it’ll eventually turn into a voluntary thing.

  • Damith Senanayake

    I completely agree with Professor Dias in this issue. I am a student of the University of Moratuwa, and if I were to undergo such a training, I would not have most probably applied for a university. I for one ( and I am sure there are many who are with me ) am against war in all its formats, whilst it is not arguable that it was required at a dark time of our history and it brought about a glimpse of hope for peace in the land. But those times are to learn from and not to encourage military. I would not want ANYTHING to do with a military camp let alone stay there for more than a couple of hours.

    This step is a violation of fundamental rights of humans to be diverse (not recognized in any constitution of course, as it is intuitive), and for likes of me who admire and love peace and frown on war in all its context, this is a mental torture and would indicate a demise of ethics in the so-called “miracle of Asia”…

  • To the first place , we still have no exact idea about the nature of this training campaign.It’s true that someone would probably get a negative attitude with the engagement of army camps. In my personal point of view it’s too early to make such straight forward comments and objections without knowing deep enough the matter.
    Still , I expect there should be some mechanism to make Sri Lankan university student more obedient and responsible.
    I say this because we witness some inappropriate incidents in local universities nowadays. As an undergraduate of university of Moratuwa we don’t see such violence inside our university but the situation is rather different when we peek outside.
    No university student should forget that we were fed by the free education and without this system, it might have been a day-dream to get selected to a university.I thoroughly believe that a university is NOT a place to learn how to fight , how to kill , how to protest and all the rest of it.
    The phrase ” military training” is something inscrutable and if the government is planning such a thing , I believe that’s not the way for a solution.
    There are problems for the rural student who comes to the university. Language barriers, financial issues , yet it’s not a reason for him to give up his dreams and become a victim of a pointless struggle to win nothing. It may be too late when he understands.
    This is the problem and that’s what we need to find a solution. We could find hundreds of rational solutions to fix this matter without making the university student a soldier.It just makes the situation worse.

    • This ‘leadership training’ it includes things like IT, English, social etiquette, sexual harassment, conflict resolution, history and development (Ravaya, May 22nd, 2011) on what basis the Army was selected as the best suited to provide this training?

  • sumathipala

    today is 8th of may and still no news about cutoff marks or re corrected results and i am confused how they going to start this on 23rd,and also what will happen to the students who will select to fill the vacancies??will they miss the training or is there any other way to give them the training??
    please explain this to me……..:D:D

  • Nandana

    Leadership training in the Army? What leadership?
    Anybody who has undergone any type of Military training would know that it has nothing to do with leadership. It trains one to be submissive, be tolerant to abuse and of course physical training. Military is a hierarchy system. They give orders and others comply, one has to, by military law. You dont need leadership to give orders.
    Leadership is better trained in sports.
    It is the politicians who need leadership training.

    • I think you’re referring to Basic Training. Officer training, NCO schools, etc teach leadership; decision-making and organisational abilities and many more. Orders alone won’t take care of everything.

      Reminds me of this story, where a young soldier was watching his company officers drinking tea, while the unit went about its business. He asked a sergeant whether it was the officers who planned out the logistics, and was told no, it was the job of the quartermaster sergeant. So he asked whether it was the officers who organised the platoons and sections, and was told that was the job of the sergeant major. So he asked whether it was the officers who led the men into battle, but was told that was upto the platoon sergeants and section commanders. So he finally asked the sergeant what exactly the officers were there for and was told “Well, when the time comes, they show us how to die”.

      You need leadership when things start to go wrong.

  • sir,
    I don’t know your political ideas or political loyalty but pointwise your
    arguments are correct. And your experienced professor at UoM Engineering and
    I think you have the full right to point these facts with your experience.

    Engineering and Defense is two different things.

    The millitary traning won’t build up the morality or motivate students.To
    mortivate students and build up their morality there are other techiniques.
    For a example the there are advanced psycological techiniques to overcome the
    obsticles of the learning or making good graduates.Unfortunately our Education
    system don’t use any of these techiniques.

    But defense traning will buld up the student’s displines and train then to
    give respect to respect, which is poor among the normal university students.
    and there are Alchoel and Drug habbits inside universities , How can you
    explain ,how to stop that witout building good displines inside them?

    Another method is religion. I’m suggesting religon instead of defense traning
    as a techinique to build up displines. and that way it should be started from
    the school ground level not top from the universities.

  • At the school days , roughly when I was at grade 8, (Sri Sumangala colleage) I was
    shown a film to never addicted to the Alchoel or Drugs, Thanks to that I am not
    a alchoel user or smoker till now. I’m speaking with that power inside mine. Yes
    the religion background inside my school build me up to that.

    I think this should be more religion than the defense way(Just go and do it Soildger ! style).

    • oldgrad

      I laud the prof for this letter and hope others follow.

      Military training is not about leadership. It’s about following orders. There are perhaps two levels. The grunts are trained to be submissive followers; here unquestioning obedience to leaders is absolutely mandatory. A few targeted chaps are trained to lead a group while still being similarly submissive to higher-ups. At BOTH levels, grunt or officer, it’s all about following orders from higher-ups.

      This type of training has absolutely nothing to do with university education, which is where you should learn critical thinking, where you should learn to explore and question the world in a disciplined manner, where you should learn to research. This is as far away from military training as you can get.

  • Fantastic post Professor Dias! as always your voice is clear and shines with reason. The analysis is very thorough. Crushing free thought and the free generation of ideas by forcing freshmen to undergo “leadership training” (a polite euphemism for something much more sinister in my opinion) is reason enough to shut this program down! Has anyone explored the legal aspect of this issue? namely can we file a fundamental rights petition? If I were a parent I would be very very apprehensive if my kids were taken away by force. This is coercion pure and simple. The costs do outweigh the benefits and we need to muster up a stronger opposition to this outrageous move by the authorities in charge. I sincerely hope that many more academics would step up and voice their dissenting opinions to the authorities.

    God knows they won’t listen to us so our professors and academics are our only hope!

    Praveen J
    3rd Year Undergrad – UOM

    • “God knows they won’t listen to us so our professors and academics are our only hope!”

      Why son, God himself is not your hope? I thought you had already found your God when I saw your big pronouncements in criticizing Buddhism in another thread as a big man.


      • Its a figure of speech. You should read my posts on the Abrahamic religions 😀

  • raj

    I see nothing wrong with this program. It is not supposed to be military training. Our prospective university students will learn how to be obedient followers of our raja and be good subservient leaders who do as they are told without being fooled by idiotic detractors.