It is over 50 days since the ‘GotaGoHome’ campaign kicked off. The campaign which started off as non violent protests by groups of residents in Colombo against the lack of fuel, cooking gas, shortages of medicinal needs and a skyrocketing cost of living.
The situation has become so desperate, hospitals have begun cutting back on surgeries as vital stocks of medicament ran out.
The protest took a different turn when what started as protests by individual groups, of a few hundred protestors, coalesced into a huge mass of desperate citizens surrounding the president’s personal residence demanding he resign which in turn led to the occupation of Galle Face Green – a permanent ‘Gotagohome’ protest site.
With the situation worsening, a permanent ‘Myna Go Home’ camp sprang up opposite Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official residence, while a third brother Basil (nicknamed ‘kaputa’, the then Finance Minister) was ridiculed and blamed for the financial crisis
On May 9, hooligans emerged from the PM’s official residence, the Temple Trees and attacked unarmed protestors while police looked askance at the two permanent protest sites. PM Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign and a new Premier was appointed. A few days ago ex-Finance Minister Basil resigned his parliamentary seat. Sadly, the situation on the ground continues to worsen, It raises the question as-to-whether name changes alone, will bring relief to the financial mess and peoples’ problems.
Today the protest sites do not attract as many protestors. Perhaps fatigue has set in, or perhaps the financial strain is telling on the protesters. Or it could be protestors were satisfied with the small victory won via the eviction of the premier. The reality however is, that name changes are insufficient to change the situation which led to the financial meltdown.
There is a drastic need for systems change. One classic example is the system of education. Our system of higher education must adapt. Education must cater to suit the needs of gainful employment. There is a chronic shortage of doctors. But archaic mindset prevents the setting up of private medical universities. Government by itself cannot cater to the need. Presently Sri Lanka has 15 state universities, but only about 30,000 students are admitted annually out of the 350,000 who sit the university entrance examinations.
As a result, thousands of our students head overseas for higher studies. According to International Consultants for Education and Fairs. The number of Sri Lankan students abroad have swelled in recent years, roughly doubling in the five years leading up to the pandemic to reach more than 30,000 students abroad in 2019.
The average traditional private university student spends, according to Education Data Initiative – a total of US$ 53,217 per academic year — a huge drain on hard-earned foreign exchange. At today’s rupee value this costs Rs. 19,215,062.19 annually! More private universities in country would save this huge sum of scarce resources leaving our shores. In fact the new universities will also bring in scarce foreign exchange via foreign students.
Sadly entrenched interests hold the country to ransom, preventing the opening of private universities.
As pointed out by government leaders themselves, our universities and higher education institutions still continue issuing degrees based on needs of a colonial era. For instance our universities churn out more ‘Arts’ graduates whereas the need is for persons qualified in specialist trades.
An example staring us in the face is that of a large multinational bank opening its regional office at Rajagiriya. Today a large percentage of its expert staff have to be recruited abroad as Sri Lanka is unable to meet the criteria. Examples are too many to be covered in a short column, suffice to say the country and people need a changed mental outlook, especially in the field of education.
Large number of students seek employment in the state sector and follow ‘degrees in the Arts faculty’. Unfortunately employment in the state sector is limited. So large numbers of graduates remain either unemployed or underemployed, only to be used by opportunistic politicians to fulfill their personal agenda.
Unless there is a radical change in our mindset, whoever or whatever the colour of the next regime, the economic crisis will not go away. We need to find ways and means to counter the outflow of precious exchange reserves. We will also need to understand that the subsidies we enjoy will be curtailed.
Yet to make this happen, the government needs to ensure its citizens are provided wages sufficient to meet escalating prices.
If not it may lead to situations we faced in 1971, 1983 and 1989.
Disclaimer: From ‘Gota Go Home’ to realities on the ground - - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view