21 universities closed due to industrial action
The Minister for Higher Education, S.B.Dissanayake, has closed 21 universities until further notice due to on-going industrial action by the Federation of University teachers (FUTA). The action started last year but has intensified since 4th July this year.
The statement published in the official government journal in part reads as follows:
“21 universities and educational institutes, except the Faculties of Medicine have been closed from yesterday until further notice.
The Minister of Higher Education S.B.Dissanayake has taken this decision in terms of the powers vested in him by the University Act No 16, 1978 after having discussed the present university crisis with Vice Chancellors and Directors of universities and academics not involved in the Federation of University Teachers Association’s trade union action.
The Minister issuing a message in this connection said that he suspected political motives behind the trade union action by FUTA to create a political crisis leading to regime change. The Minister explained that the government took every possible effort to resolve the matter through negotiations, and had a series of discussions with FUTA at Ministry level.
He said FUTA had a series of discussion with Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and the Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa without success. The minister said FUTA has not agreed to resolve this matter amicably due to some unknown reasons which may be due to political reasons.
The Minister stated that when the prevailing situation in the academic crisis is analysed, it is very clear that there are some invisible parties who want to use this crisis to achieve their petty political motives while they do not seek any positive alternatives to resolve the matter amicably.
The Minister explained that there were around 10 discussions and exchanging of letters, drafts of MoU etc and with all these genuine efforts by the government the FUTA did not agree to resolve the matter.
He said that the government in principle agreed to grant 5 of the 6 demands presented by the FUTA, except the demand for a 20% salary increase. He said that it is very clear that their aim is to create instability and a political crisis leading to a regime change.”
According to a number of newspaper reports the Federation of university Teachers is demanding the following actions:
• Increased allocation for education. To achieve 6% of the GDP expenditure on education in times to come. If we can achieve this, we would be able to strengthen the entire educational sector and enhance quality of delivery to very great heights.
• Preserve the autonomy of universities from undue and personalized political interference. Universities should be allowed to maintain and improve their roles as educationists, academics and collaborators in community building, serving the people.
• We also demand that the university community be involved in all higher educational reforms.