External degrees need upgrading not elimination
Jan 5, 2011

Sri Lanka's education system seems to be rolling down a steep precipice. Not a week passes an issue which bears a connection to education crosses the newsrooms and become subject to editorials. While half of these problems have been progressively brewing into a boiling point, the others have been emerging as a result of shortsighted decisions taken by the responsible authorities who are appointed to assure the smooth run of the system.

Minister of Higher Education, S.B. Dissanyake has come to the limelight again with his latest statement on the quality of external degrees offered by the Sri Lankan universities. He went on to say that these qualifications are worthless certificates which neither benefit the degree-holders nor the country. As shocking as it may sound, one cannot ignore that his statement should always be taken with a pinch of salt, given the reputation he has earned as a person of contradictions and impractical statements.

Yet, those who read between the lines may interpret this as a possible indication of eliminating external degrees. No doubt, offering external degrees had been a controversial topic ever since its implementation. From the inception, it was the internal students who vehemently opposed the method, as it gave the student the opportunity to study while working; a privilege a fulltime student is not granted. Perhaps, the unsaid truth is that when it comes to recruitment the employers tend to give priority to those who have job experience, and for them a higher educational qualification in the relevant field is an extra advantage. In that context, the Minister's statement becomes untrue, as most of the external degree-holders have followed courses relevant to their respective fields and they do apply their knowledge in work unlike most of the internal degree-holders who end up in positions that are totally different from their fields of study.

If his argument is that some of the courses offered by these institutions are useless, one would wonder whether all the courses offered to the internal students are useful; for the number of unemployed graduates take to the road demanding employment certainly indicates otherwise.

Hence, quite contrary to the Minister's opinion, external degrees have benefited many students who could not qualify for the university entrance. Perhaps, the Minister did not realize that it is not the students' fault the local universities do not have sufficient facilities to accommodate all those who get through the G.C.E. A/L examination. There is no question about their eligibility; hence, limited facilities cannot and should not make them the lesser deserving lot in the emerging generation of intelligentsia. Education should be a system that changes according to the needs of the students. It should never compel the students to adapt themselves to the haphazard changes in the system brought according to the whims and fancies of the high-heads that govern it.

If the Ministers concerns are genuine, he should take action to revamp the external degree courses instead of pushing the students towards the private universities, which, with the colossal expenses will deprive most of them of their share of tertiary education.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka