The Ministry of Higher Education has issued a directive that all state universities should hire the services of Rakna Lanka Ltd for provision of security services. The undersigned of the University academic community considers that directive to be in complete contravention of the norms and conventions by which universities are expected to function.

The letter issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education seeks to bypass standard procedures that are followed in the university system in the hiring and outsourcing of services. That process requires tenders to be called for and for a suitable company to be selected in a transparent and independent manner. The Secretary’s instruction therefore is in violation of established processes and is contrary to the underpinning principles of governance and the autonomy of academic institutions.

Rakna Lanka is held out to be a government owned commercial security venture and has been set up under the Ministry of Defence, under the direct supervision of the Secretary to that Ministry. The website of Rakna Lanka states that only ex-servicemen are hired by the company. The website also provides a list of other state owned departments that have hired the services of Rakna Lanka.

Internationally, privatization of security has been debated on intensely owing to the sensitive nature of what is termed as “security” and how such “security” is maintained. Experiences in other parts of the world suggest that accountability should be increased in the maintenance of security, not decreased. In that light, the directive by the ministry that all security in all state universities should be handed over to one commercial enterprise owned by the state, coming under the supervision of one public officer, becomes problematic. Holding such an entity accountable to the university authorities could, predictably, become difficult.

It is important that universities retain their independence in matters of hiring and recruiting, tailored to suit the individual needs of each university. The authorities should abide by just and fair procedure, engage in dialogue and consultation with the University community, and give due recognition to the positions occupied by University authorities, the Vice Chancellors and others in these matters. It is of the utmost importance that university autonomy is preserved under such circumstances.

We are also concerned about the increasing infringement of university autonomy in matters pertaining to academic programmes and in decision making by the state. We are especially concerned about the role the military establishment is increasingly playing in the administrative and academic spheres of the universities, which are a place of free exchange of ideas, critical thinking, and innovation. We of course have in mind the leadership training programme conducted by the Military to university entrants, which, arbitrarily imposed on all concerned, reduced the authority of the academic community within its own area of purview. This last development of encroachment via hiring procedure by the Ministry of Defence is seen as a further elaboration of this trend of increasing militarization of the universities.

As an academic community we are willing and able to cooperate effectively with the authorities in these and other issues facing university administration and academic quality. We urge the government to respect its obligations toward the academic community and the universities with respect to its written and unwritten contract with the university system.

Signed

  1. Ranil Abayasekara, University of Peradeniya
  2. Harini Amarasooriya, Open University of Sri Lanka
  3. Suresh de Mel, University of Peradeniya
  4. Sampath Deegalla, University of Peradeniya
  5. Noel Dias, University of Colombo
  6. Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa
  7. Lesly Ekanayake, University of Moratuwa
  8. Primal Fernando, University of Peradeniya
  9. Lakshman Galagedara, University of Peradeniya
  10. Ranil D. Guneratne, University of Colombo
  11. Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka
  12. Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya
  13. K. R. B. Herath, University of Peradeniya
  14. S. R. Herath, University of Peradeniya
  15. Rohini Hewamanna, University of Colombo
  16. M. I. M. Ishak, University of Peradeniya
  17. Janaki Jayawardena, University of Colombo
  18. Romaine Jayewardene, University of Colombo
  19. Danesh Karunanayake, University of Peradeniya
  20. Parakrama Karunaratne, University of Peradeniya
  21. Dulakshi Karunasinghe, University of Peradeniya
  22. Gamini Keerawella, University of Peradeniya
  23. Manikya Kodithuwakku, Open University of Sri Lanka
  24. L. C. Kurukulasuriya, University of Peradeniya
  25. Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa
  26. Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya
  27. Darshana Liyanage, University of Ruhuna
  28. Sanjeeva Maithripala, University of Peradeniya
  29. K. P. P. Pathirana, University of Peradeniya
  30. A. L. M. Mauroof, University of Peradeniya
  31. R. Meegaskubura, University of Peradeniya
  32. Nilhan Niles, University of Moratuwa
  33. Rathnamali Palamakumbura, University of Peradeniya
  34. Susantha Pathirana, University of Peradeniya
  35. Asoka Perera, University of Moratuwa
  36. Nimal Ratnayake, University of Peradeniya
  37. Rohan Ratnayake, Open University of Sri Lanka
  38. Asanga Ratnaweera, University of Peradeniya
  39. Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo
  40. Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo
  41. I. M. S. Sathyaprasad, University of Peradeniya
  42. Kalinga Tudor Silva, University of Peradeniya
  43. M. Sitralega, Eastern University
  44. Upul Sonnadara, University of Colombo
  45. Sumathy Sivamohan, University of Peradeniya
  46. Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo
  47. Carmen Wickramagamage, University of Peradeniya
  48. B. Dileepa Witharana, Open University of Sri Lanka

Dated: Sept 21, 2011

  • sumathy

    There are 48 signatures here. Why do you say 31 academics? though I dont see the number cited here it was there in my link.

    • Microsoft Word for some reason counts it as 31 in the original document. You’re right – there’s 48 here.

  • Neville Perera

    Before the ship sinks, get as much out of it as possible.

  • James Chance

    Bravo to these brave patriots. May their example inspire other Lankans from all spheres to defend freedom, democracy and liberal values.

  • justitia

    This appears to be an attempt to provide employment to ex-servicemen via a ‘company’ under the control of the Defence Secretary.
    This is unfair/unjust, as ex-servicemen get a pension, & there are thousands of educated unemployed young men and women many of them with university degrees.
    Autonomy of universities existed even after the U of Ceylon under Ivor Jennings gave ‘birth’ to U of Peradeniya.
    There was discipline among undergrads, and security of university property.
    The rot commenced when politicians were given/assumed powers over university appointments.
    This proposal is the latest erosion of what remains of
    the ‘independence/autonomy’ of the university system.

    The ‘brave’ ones have signed above, the cowards & sycophants have not.

    The ‘military training’ of the new entrants, and even similar training
    of all young men and women has been touted as necessary, because there “is imminent danger of invasion” of sri lanka by outside forces/nations, by a diplomat in these pages.
    Thus “politicisation” is now slowly leading to “militarisation” of universities.
    This is how Military Regimes evolved.

  • sumanasiri liyanage

    It was not clear whether the signatories seek to highlight the issue of university autonomy or protest against the decision to give university security to Rakna Lanka Ltd. When I joined the academic staff in 1970 there was a practice (i am not sure whether there is a directive) that when the state universities purchase things, preference should be given to state sector agencies even the price was higher than that of private sector agencies. So the statement -“The undersigned of the University academic community considers that directive to be in complete contravention of the norms and conventions by which universities are expected to function”- not accurate. Of course this practice was abandoned after the adoption of liberalization and deregulation policies after 1977. Many services were outsourced not as a result of independent and autonomous decisions of the universities but as a direct result of the government policies (both the UNP led and SLFP led). the state universities began to offer fee levying courses in the context of these changes and those decisions are not autonomous but directly flowed from the policies of deregulation and liberalization. As a result, some academics are now more interested in fee-levying weekend courses than the non-fee-levying regular courses partly because of additional financial remuneration.
    The appeal has some validity if the signatories think that the security service of universities is critical for university autonomy. Part of this service was privatized during the last 20 years. Is this an objection against a some kind of re-statization of the security service? In the last 6 years we have seen similar attempts in other spheres (gas, sathosa etc).
    During the peace process 2002- 2005, we talked about decommissioning. Now war is over, Sri Lanka does not need a large security force so that decommissioning is necessary. I have suggested many a time that decommissioning can be done smoothly by forming service-firms (construction, security etc) and recruiting soldiers to these firms. If the setting up of Rakna Ltd is a step in that direction,I personally have no objection.

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Dear Mr Sumanasiri,

    I read your regular contributions in the Island with interest but i would disagree with you strongly on this point. The evil in handing over security services of universities to a private company headed by the President’s brother is self evident. The fact that this company constitutes the Defence Secretary’s nearest and dearest including the former Attorney General who disgraced his position by being more in the offices of the Defence Secretary rather than in Hulfsdorp during his term in office (where he rendered the Department to a joke in a similar way to Sarath Silva rendering the judiciary to a joke)is a fantastic indication of the depths that we have sunk to. All this cannot be glossed over by a reading that in the post war period, these matters shouold be privatised.

    I was someone who voted for the incumbent President in 2005 but not thereafter as I became disgusted with what he is doing. Make no mistake about it, the more we tend to gloss over these happenings, the more we will loose whatever litttle democracy we have. I salute these academics for standing up and asserting their positions in contrast to those who take the safe path and grouse in silence but stay quiet when it comes to taking a definitive stand or those who talk vaguely of social issues and social change.

  • Diffpersepective

    Does university Academics or Administrators in this country have any right to talk of autonomy and independence?? I don’t think so… if you look at the track record, universities in this Country by far are ripe with strife from the students to the academic staff to the none academic staff etc…the quality and standards have deteriorated continuously…this is evident in the ranking of our universities among others in the region and world… However, there maybe a few exceptions.. who takes responsibility for that??? NO ONE… Everyone wants to talk of their RIGHTS but no one Wants to talk of their RESPONSIBILITIES. The academics will blame the Administrators…the Administrators may blame the Students, the Students may blame the Govt… and the merry go round goes round and round.. all the while Me who is not a “University” Alumni and have had no benefit from these Universities have to foot the bill as a tax payer… I say to these academics…. before you talk of autonomy and Independence, prove to those of us who pay your Salary that you are worthy of receiving Autonomy and Independence…Show us that the Universities in Sri Lanka are institutions that people can be proud of imparting knowledge and values to the young people and arming them with the necessary skills to be productive Citizens in the world!!!! Then speak of Autonomy and independence….
    I also do not see how having a Security Force that reports to the Defense Ministry Infringes on the University’s Autonomy and independence… All State Universities in The USA have a Police Force on Campus (Campus Police) that comes under the State Police… They don’t seem to be having any problem with autonomy and independence despite that.. In fact I am sure the lowest Ranked State University there would be much higher in ranking than any of ours. So what makes us so different????

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Dear DiffPerspective,

    On the whole, I empathise with your grouse about Sri Lankan academics since I have much of that same opinion myself. There is little intellectual spirit in the universities which are dominated by petty politics and massive egos that do not have anything substantial to lean on. Take the subject of law for instance. Does the Faculty of Law publish anything worth reading in the field of law and jurisprudence? Where are its stimulating discussions and engagement with the community? Have its academics published a single book apart from occassional articles to magazines? Perhaps disillusionment with the academics was why the recent call to increase their salaries and agitation aroused little public sympathy.

    Having said that, it must also be said that you miss the point about the security of the universities being handed over to a private company headed by the Defence Secretary and his cronies. The difference is that this is not the state security services unlike elsewhere that you have quoted. This is a private company and is governned therefore by a set of quite different rules. When we hand over an increasing number of functions to these entities, we loose control over monitoring them. This is why, I, for instance, wouldd still like to salute those academics who signed onto this letter of protest. Maybe some of them cannot do anything about the chaos in the universities as it goes beyond their individual or collective control. But at least, they protest!

  • Diffpersepective

    Dear Pandukabaya,

    Point taken, Yes there is a difference between my analogy and the local situation. Actually I’d rather see a Police Station in the Universities similar to my analogy… But what do you think the response for that would be from the Academics, Non academics and the Students if it was proposed by the Government???? So i see this as a second best option. The reality is that the system that is currently in place has not worked… The fundamental job of a security firm/s is to maintain security, law and order and maintain the peace..in this case on campuses. In that the present system has failed miserably and have been found to be wanting… Even though we may have the ability to “monitor them” etc, they have failed in their primary objective, therefore, why not try a different system with a little more teeth??? I am not for changing functions that are working either … only those that have been historically malfunctioning!!! Unless you are of the opinion that the current Security system in the Universities work perfectly and there is no need to change it, and/or that monitoring and being in control of the Security apparatus on Universities are more important than actually maintaining Security and the peace in Universities and making them places of education and discipline.

  • academic

    This statement is also available at the uteachers.sl blog site.
    http://uteachers.blogspot.com/

    At this site, the statement is still open for signatures. And as of this moment (Monday 03/10/2011 2100 pm SL time) there are 113 signatories.

    • Thanks for keeping statement open for signatures. We’ve tweeted the link to your site and flagged it on Facebook as well.

  • Academic

    Dear Pandukabaya and Diffperspective,

    SOME of the criticisms that you mention may hold true at SOME points in time for SOME academics, but it is unfair to make such broad generalizations…..

    When I joined the system about 10 years ago with an overseas PhD I was provided a desk and a chair – and that was it. (I have heard of some cases who did not even have this!!). I had to share the large “kachcheri” style office space with 8 other colleagues plus the only common phone line to the dept. Needless to say this is not an atmosphere that is particularly conducive to research work. Before a lecture, I would take my lecture notes (which had to be prepared at night at home) and go out into the hallway near the bathrooms because that was the most peaceful place around to organize my thoughts!!

    Ten years later, some things have certainly improved but we still do not have our own office rooms. Having a dedicated computer and dedicated internet access for each academic staff member (which in today’s day and age is about the most basic infrastructure that should be provided for an academic) is still a luxury that very few depts offer. And it is in such environments that several of my colleagues are struggling to maintain quality in teaching and research work – and very often this is through personal subsidizing of the system (personally owned computers, personally footed internet bills, having to work at night etc.). We are also dealing with an administrative set up that provides little support and in fact erects lots of barriers. There are plenty of my colleagues who can earn three times as much in the Colombo private sector and ten times as much overseas. And yet choose to remain in the system, not for the lack of such opportunities, but for the sake of university education in Sri Lanka.

    So could I ask you to please consider these points as well before you write off all Sri Lankan academics?

    Academic

  • Diffpersepective

    Dear Academic,

    If you read my first post I have conceded that there are Exceptions… No argument there….

    Ciao

    • Academic

      Dear DiffPerspective,

      I would then like to propose that maybe the initial negative picture painted by you is more the exception rather than the norm. And NOT the other way around as you concede.

      And, Pandukabaya, thanks for standing alongside us in this statement.

      Academic (who is also a signatory)

      • Diffpersepective

        Dear Academic,

        Hmmmm…. Sorry no can do… My view is that the negative picture painted by me is the norm and not the exception… Don’t get me wrong though,…I don’t think that the Academics are the only group responsible either..I think the whole system is malfunctioning and needs a complete overhaul… So in my book the Students, Academics, Non Academics, Administrators and yes also Politicians are all equally responsible for what the Universities have become today.. and no one group can say they are the good group as opposed to other group.. Sorry, that’s how I feel looking from the outside… as the famous phrase goes…. “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”…. and as far as the Universities in SL go… in my opinion its inedible at the moment!!!

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    Great to see that other academics have also signed on. Sorry for dropping off the correspondence midway earlier this month but I retreated into a wilderness for a while to recover my sanity or whats left of it.

    To respond briefly to opinions of DiffPerspective and Academic, let me say first that in relation to preferring a a security firm presided over by the Defence Secretary and his cronies, the problem is the flouting of all norms and regulations. Ordinarily, tenders should be called for and propoer procedures followed even if we accept, in principle, that handing this task over to a security company is appropriate. This is the basic problem.

    Secondly and in response to Academic, no one minimises the problems that university teachers face. But that should not be an excuse for such a gross decline in standards. As a lawyer, I practice mainly in the provincial courts giving up a well heeled position in a private company overseas which was my granted due after a degree overseas but I left as I could not cope with American materialism any more. Now, it is a daily struggle, coping wth the idiocy of both judges and lawyers and their basic lack of knowledge, the corruption of the court staff, the grasping nature of clients, many of them not being as innocent as we would like to believe. The amount that I earn is pitifully small for all the efforts that are made. The judiciary to the Supreme Court upwards is a joke. Does that mean that I stop trying to implement the law to the utmost and do the very best I can for the client? No.

    I am sorrry but I tend to agree with DiffPerspective that principled academics are the excetion rather than the norm.