FUTA Stories : 6% is not enough !

GAYA FERNANDO

 

What does this FUTA protest mean to the rest of us ?

 
The FUTA trade union action has gathered momentum and means something to post-war Sri Lanka. In the media there are many interpretations of what FUTA means to Srilankans and its great to read them all. Yet even though the FUTA action can be interpreted as proof of the academic right to dissent, to opine that it has morphed beyond issues of educational reform et al is to distort its real significance to people from all political affinities, ethnicities, faiths and belonging to local and Diaspora.

I believe that to take the FUTA struggle out of the core issues that it is linked with, to remove the FUTA action from the very context of educational reform of Sri Lanka in which it is rooted also serves to move the attention away from what is at stake to Srilankans.  Yes, while it does give the Government a challenge formidable, it is different from other struggles, for, in its own right there is a problem here worth solving and one that presents the Government with a real opportunity to invest in the future of Sri Lanka and be responsive to the governed.

In an attempt to better understand this sentiment I invited respected, non-politically motivated academics who attended Sri Lankan Universities to respond with their position on the current FUTA action. Some live in Sri Lanka, others not.

The demand for 6% of GDP to be allocated to State Education was upheld unanimously.

 ” FUTA’s request of 6% GDP on education is a legitimate request. Investment for the state education is essential for the development of the country. The majority of the Sri Lankan born academics and professionals around the globe are the production of the state education. The war is over. The funds can be diverted wisely to education . What we need is to identify the right people to manage the allocated funds which will eliminate corruption. We can find people with greater accountability within FUTA. I am supporting the FUTA because I am thankful for the state education I received in Sri Lanka. I am voicing out because I am concerned for the children who cannot afford private education in Sri Lanka. Every child deserves an education ” – A Thamil living overseas

” I do think that they have a right to trade union action and don’t believe it’s any conspiracy to topple the government. I’m all for 6% of the GDP being set aside for education (goes without saying since the quality of the state education system has been going downhill and even countries like Bangladesh are doing better than Sri Lanka) and for raising academic salaries. However, I do have a problem that groups like FUTA also generally protest the co-existence of legitimate private institutions of tertiary education, alongside the state system.” – A Sinhalese living overseas

 

We can discern

 
However, and this is important, Sri Lankans have openly criticised FUTA while wishing the protest well and this is a good sign. We can be a discerning people, both local and Diasporan, when there is something as important as State education for future generations at stake.

Discernment in this case would be the ability to identify those factors with which we agree and at the same time criticise FUTA’s systems, structures and behaviour, WHILST supporting FUTA in their demands and trade union action. The call for change does not necessarily compromise an overall position of support for FUTA or otherwise.

“It is not just a crisis arising out of a lack of resources” was the common position held.

” Having been employed by the university system and experienced the mediocrity and petty-mindedness of the academic scene in Sri Lanka (plus doing my bit to reform it from inside), I must say I largely agree with some of the criticisms of FUTA. It is not just about resources but changing the culture of academia in Sri Lanka – and that won’t happen just because you get 6% of the GDP.”
 – Researcher and former University Teacher living overseas

 

“The crisis is internal as well. Politicization is partly an outcome of the university teachers especially ones who use their political influence to get top positions. We all are against politicization but when we need something we use the same. This is a systemic crisis” – A much- respected University Professor living in Sri Lanka.

“I would agree that if they are against private education then we have a problem as this is somewhat an extreme or even chauvinistic position. But I need to read their charter before I comment further” – A Sri Lankan Research Consultant living overseas

The journalist Malinda Seneviratne made this observation in his many writings on the ongoing University Education crisis.

Many would prefer academics as opposed to politicians playing Opposition in a nation that sorely needs strong critiques of regime and system”.

” While I agree” says another Sri Lankan expert overseas, “This is why I would support the present campaign. FUTA is a trade union at the end of the day and that comes with all the flaws one can expect of unions. But the fact that they can rally such a strong body is a warning shot to the current regime. There is a growing groundswell of discontent that needs to be taken note of. Repression is not the answer. Today it’s education, tomorrow it will be something else. You can keep the lid on a boiling pot for only so long. However I do disagree with the writer when he says “That shows how poverty stricken we all our as a people and as a nation”. This is a defeatist final sentence and doesn’t give much hope for us as possible change agents for a better future!”

So we are a discerning people. There is a time and tide in the affairs of men and women and for Sri Lankans this may very well be an important opportunity.

100% Commitment by FUTA needed

What is needed therefore is not only the 6% that FUTA legitimately demands, but the 100% commitment by FUTA to take on board the well-reasoned independent critique by discerning Sri Lankans to ensure real change to the institution of free education in Sri Lanka. For it is to this institution, regardless of ethnicity, faith, political or other affinity that our future generations of Sri Lankans will be admitted to prepare for a new future with new challenges.

For, as a leading academic in Sri Lanka put it :

” FUTA is not just a Trade Union, it is a body consisting of the very academics who could contribute to national policy making in multiple ways (not just joining the govt bureaucracy). so if FUTA asks for 6%, it should also develop a national education policy, direct how education should be reorganized, restructured. In absence of such a comprehensive policy package, 6% will not achieve anything, it may even makes things worse.”

FUTA has happened and with it comes a new era.  If FUTA fully understands what this action, supporting this action, what its membership, well-represented by Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, faiths, etc mean to us, they will realise that securing the 6% will not be enough. What is at stake here is a whole lot more.

Photocredits of images above:  Krishantha Fedricks, below : Kalpa Rajapksha

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