Peace prompts study revival

April 5, 2002

Peace has returned to Sri Lanka following the ceasefire agreement between government forces and separatist Tamil Tigers. It heralds a new era for the higher education sector after a decade of civil war.

The University of Jaffna, in the far north, is especially likely to see the difference. Jaffna city was occupied by the rebels in the early 1990s and re-conquered by the army in 1996. Although teaching continued throughout the civil war, the university was unable to develop. Now, with land transport links being opened between the peninsula and the rest of the island, plans are being laid to expand the 28-year-old institution.

During a recent visit, Kabeer Hashim, tertiary education and training minister, promised two new buildings costing 100 million rupees (£730,000), one to expand the agriculture and science faculties and the other for student accommodation.

He promised to allocate funds to transport medical students to Jaffna hospital. But he stressed that his department remained under financial constraints.

At the meeting with Mr Hashim, deans presented papers highlighting shortages of senior medical lecturers, non-academic staff, laboratory equipment, furniture and vehicles. The institution is still recovering from the theft in 1996 by the Tigers of valuables, including computers, worth more than 100 million rupees.

Vice-chancellor Ponnadurai Balasundarampillai told The THES that he wanted to expand Jaffna's department of law and to establish an engineering faculty. He said that he had asked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to help develop agricultural studies and fund a permanent campus at Vavuniya, a teaching hospital, a laboratory and a library.

The vice-chancellor claimed that the government had been neglecting tertiary education. He said that since the ceasefire "primary and secondary education have been expanded but not higher education, as only 12,500 students are taken in to the universities yearly".

Of these, about 5,000 students are studying at Jaffna, mostly Tamils from the Northern Province.

A priority for the government will be attracting majority-community Sinhalese students from the south and west of Sri Lanka to promote national reconciliation.

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Additional reporting by Keith Nuthall

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