Darn the road is blocked by protesters again! Students are on the road screaming their guts out and demanding that Private Universities should not be allowed in Sri Lanka. Are these students protesting because of political motivation? or is peer pressure? There is no rational discussion or debate in the media backed with data and empirical evidence . Hard questions with regard to who actually enter Public Universities through state funds, what is their contribution to society, what is the actual payback in economic terms are not addressed. And we at Marga wondered “what is the public view on this?” So we picked the Annual International Book Fair (In 2016) which is held at the B.M.I.C.H during the month of September and interviewed a random sample of 600 persons and carried out an opinion survey on higher education. The annual Book Fair draws a large crowd of students and parents for are interested in one thing – BOOKS …in other words Education. A moderate estimate of the total number of visitors is around one million. Now that is a good group to get an opinion from, and through individual interviews we are bound to get an honest and spontaneous response.
The findings are quite interesting. Predictably almost 100% of the respondents are of the view that free education is good for the country. Reasons quoted are equal opportunity for all, it helps those who have economic problems and it brings about an educated public. Just over 3 out 5 who were interviewed stated that private universities should be allowed in Sri Lanka. Majority of the respondents who have not been to the University or not yet entered University and those who have left the University are of the opinion that private universities should be allowed. However in the case of undergraduates the opinion about whether or not Private Universities should be allowed is fairly divided. So no prizes for guessing who is blocking the road.
Over 50% recognized the need to cater to students who cannot get into public universities through private universities. The main contention about Private Universities was about quality issues. The disagreement about whether or not Private universities should be allowed is chiefly among undergraduates and it is fairly divided. Seven out of 10 sample members is of the view that the few who enter university make the best use of the opportunity they get through free higher education. Seven out of 10 also stated that there should be changes made to the University system. 100% of the Undergraduates who were interviewed were of the opinion that university system should be changed. Some of the key changes that were suggested were the introduction of courses that match the job market.