‘Sathya Gaveshana’ in the 23rd August 2017 edition of the Lankadeepa exposed in detail the administration mess that was prevalent at the South Eastern University. The conflict that prevailed between the Management faculty and the administration appeared to have been resolved. Meanwhile the conflict that arose between the Technology Faculty and the administration seems to have aggravated so much that the Ministry of Education had to step in and appoint a competent authority to resolve the issues. However still the issues remain unresolved.
Students banned for ragging incidents while some denied of opportunity to sit for exams due to absence of attendance records
The current ‘Sathya Gaveshana’ is probing into this unresolved crisis that exists at the Technology Faculty of the South Eastern University.
A Technology Faculty was first opened at the South Eastern University. That was on the June 29, 2016, under a special Gazette notification number1973/28. This notification was signed by the then Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella.
The faculty commenced functioning on December 5, 2016. The Technology Faculty, which began ceremonially under the patronage of the Vice Chancellor Prof. M.M.M. Najim, had an initial batch of 160 students. The students were enrolled for two courses. As many as 85 students were picked to follow the Agri Technology degree course while 75 students were selected to follow the Information and Mass Media Technology degree course. These students were from many parts of the country.
Students sitting for the Information and Mass Media Technology Examination have to study ten subjects during the first semester. Students following course in the subject stream of Bio systems Technology have to study 11 (eleven) subjects
Addressing the first batch of students at the inaugural function Vice Chancellor Prof. Najim said, “You are now free from all acts of suffering and you will never face any difficult situation. This University is located in the most beautiful environment in Sri Lanka. With the sea on one side and the river on the other the place is surrounded by paddy fields and other plantations. The entire environment is well suited for education. Students attending this university may have various ambitions, but their main ambitions should be education, enhancing knowledge and fulfilling the ambitions of their parents”. Extracts of the professor’s speech have been obtained from the official web site of the University.
This Technology faculty was established in Oluvil. Started as a temporary measure, this faculty was located in a building owned by another institution. From the beginning the students continued with their Education at this premises without issues. Problems surfaced sometime in April 2017.
Objections to the attire of students
When female students began participating at lectures clad in skirts and blouses, the administration unit opposed it. They had suggested as an alternative that students attend lectures clad in jeans. There was also objections to students wearing slippers and a suggestion was made that they should wear shoes. However students stuck to their previous dress code for their convenience.
This issue led to the closure of the Technology Faculty on April 25, 2017 for one week. There were queries as to why the university had insisted that female undergraduates wear an alternate dress to skirts and blouses and for them to refrain from wearing slippers? Universities are set up to provide opportunities for students to pursue education in a stress-free environment. The students too have raised questions regarding the same issue from the authorities. People, who speak about ragging, refrained from commenting on the restrictions imposed on the dress code.
Meanwhile the Dean of the Technology Faculty issuing a letter to the parents dated April 17, 2017 and referring to the temporary suspension of lectures at the university stated: “As you are aware five months have lapsed since commencing studies at the University Technological Faculty. However, despite several intimations, the students have been seen supporting students in other faculties in carrying out ragging of first year students. On previous occasions the parents of students, who were alleged to have been directly involved in ragging, were summoned. In their presence the students were admonished and the situation returned to normalcy. But during the past two weeks it has been evident that certain students are directly supporting ragging. Despite repeated requests, which urge students not to get involved in ragging, they continue in ragging students of other faculties. According to the University Grants Commission circular number 946, extending support for ragging is considered as an act which makes a student subject to punishment.”
“We have observed that the situation exists despite no one heeding the requests of the authorities and this has had an impact on the students attending lectures. Till this issue cropped up the students adhered to the regulations imposed by the Board of Teachers. These teachers have now decided not to get involved in educational activities until such time the students adhere to these regulations”.
‘Sathya Gaveshana’ in its issue dated December 27, 2017 suggested that ragging should be banned at universities. There were enough reasons that were suggested to stop ragging the contents in the article were well supported with facts. If the students of the South Eastern University too are engaged in supporting or being involved in ragging, action should be taken according to the regulations of the University. But such actions taken should not be seen as an act of revenge and these measures should not curb the students’ right to education. The students maintain that they are being made victims on trumped up charges.
In the midst of all these issues the examinations of the undergrads commenced. The students of the Technology Faculty received their admission cards in July 2017. Students sitting for the Information and Mass Media Technology Examination have to study ten subjects during the first semester. Students following course in the subject stream of Bio systems Technology have to study 11 (eleven) subjects during the first semester. However with regard to an issue connected with attendance the students
“Investigations should be according to the fundamentals of Natural Justice”
When contacted Attorney Jayantha Dehiattage said that with regard to the process of punishing a student, first the authorities can temporarily ban such students from entering the University. “Thereafter within a reasonable time a charge sheet should be given to the student. A disciplinary inquiry should also be held.
At this inquiry the other party should prove the charges against the students who are alleged to have breached the rules of the university
Attorney Jayantha Dehiattage
“If there is any protest against any member of the Disciplinary Committee it could be presented. The Disciplinary inquiry should be held in accordance with the fundamentals of Natural Justice. At this inquiry the other party should prove the charges against the students who are alleged to have breached the rules of the university. For this purpose they could provide witnesses and furnish documents to prove charges. The guilty students have the right to cross examine the witnesses and also state evidences on their part. In this manner, after hearing evidences from both parties, and if the charges are proved punishable, punishment may be advocated. If punishments have been handed without the charges being proved the students can proceed with appeals. The By laws in this regard change from university to university. This is how a disciplinary inquiry should be held. In the event of a wrongful determination being made the guilty party could request for a writ order or file a Fundamental Rights Petition before the Supreme Court.
were able to sit for only a few subjects. Only 10% of the overall students were able to sit for the exams in all the subjects. There were only three students who were able to sit for exams in seven subjects. As a result a large number of students were prevented from sitting for exams in all the subjects. The students claimed that though they had attended lectures they were deprived of sitting for the examinations due to the absence of attendance records. As the records associated with attendance weren’t displayed on the notice boards there is much suspicion. As a result these students decided to continue with a protest campaign (Sathyagraha).
Banning of students
The authorities took steps to ban a group of students from attending lectures consequent to an inquiry held over a ragging incident which involved a fresher at the Technology Faculty. It’s true that those involved in ragging should be strictly dealt with. There is an act governing this type of issue. If there had been a complaint regarding ragging it should have been reported to the police and necessary court action should have been filed. But what happened at the South Eastern University ended up in a situation where their right to education was curbed. All this happened without a proper inquiry being conducted.
As a result of these developments 29 students of the first batch of the Technology University of Sri Lanka, saw them being slapped with a one year ban which prohibited them from following lectures. Six students lost their studentship. This deprived the students from sitting for two semester examinations. A disciplinary inquiry was held after the students were served with charge sheets. The students objected as two of the three members in the disciplinary committee were lecturers of the Technology Faculty. The students maintained that these two members had earlier spoken against them and having them as members of this committee would lead to partial decisions being taken. However, the protest by students regarding this issue failed to change the mindset of the authorities and stop the punishments handed to them. Generally at an impartial inquiry the students are granted the right to present their views. But unfortunately, during these inquiries, held at the South Eastern University, the students were denied this right. During another instance the students were asked to produce affidavits affirming that they would not stage protests. However the authorities stopped pursuing requesting these affidavits when the students referring this matter to the Human Rights Commission.
The former President of the Oluvil Technology Faculty Students Union Malinda Laxan expressing his views said, “Our protest had continued for the past 210 days and we haven’t received a solution for our issues. Our Vice Chancellor and the newly appointed competent authority have failed to come up with any solution so far. We have made all parties aware that they are responsible. The authorities seem to be hiding these issues. The students have been subject to severe injustice. We have not sat for any examination so far. We feel that this is the first university where students were subject to so much punishment. Students had lost the Mahapola benefits. We aren’t engaged in politics here nor are we involved in terrorist activities. We came to study. They are trying to imprison us, a move which we strongly appose. The responsible authorities should look into our grievances. We request that this issue be viewed from the perspective of the students. Allow us to fulfill the dreams of our parents” said Laxan.
A students’ representative of the Oluvil
Investigation by the Ministry being conducted
When contacted Secretary of Ministry of Higher Education J.J.Rathnasiri said that a competent authority had been appointed to look into the issues at the South Eastern University. “In addition there is an investigation being conducted by the Ministry too. This issue had been the outcome of a ragging incident. Those who engage in ragging, if caught, should be punished. An institute cannot function if such disciplinary action is not taken. We can’t allow these issues to have a bearing on the other students. Students resort to strike action when they are found guilty of carrying out ragging and during such instances they are banned from attending classes. They are the losers.
Asked what he has to say about students maintaining that often there is no evidence of ragging, Rathnasiri said that there is no point in arguing over the issue where there is no evidence. He said that ragging in a inhuman manner should stop. He said that he saw no reason for students to go on strike just because they are punished.
In addition there is an investigation being conducted by the Ministry too. This issue had been the outcome of a ragging incident
Secretary of Ministry of Higher Education J.J.Rathnasiri
University Yukthi Isuranga had this to say. “We have come from various parts of the country to this university facing many difficulties. We were the first to enter this Technology University, but now it appears that we would be the last to leave this university. We have been deprived of all that they promised us on the first day. We were shown another Peradeniya, but now we are even denied of the earth we stand on. We have lost the canteen and the prices of goods are beyond our reach. In the midst of several issues and confrontations we continue with our studies. We are subjected to suppression. If we raise our voices against these actions we will receive charge sheets or they’ll ban us from attending classes,” said Isuranga.
South Eastern University
It’s true that the university can’t go on restricting the opportunities available to students and stop the progress of their studies. But it so happens that this type of harassment and ill treatment of the students continue at the South Eastern University. Let saner counsel prevail and the wishes of everyone is to bring back the situation at this university to normalcy.
UGC in the process of taking action
State Secretary of State Ministry of Higher Education Jayanthi Wijetunga when contacted said that this is an issue of the South Eastern University. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is taking the necessary action in this regard.
Our attempts to contact the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, the Competent authority of the South Eastern University, and its Registrar proved futile.
This is an issue of the South Eastern University. The University Grants Commission (UGC) is taking the necessary action in this regard
-State Secretary of State Ministry of Higher Education Jayanthi Wijetunga