Sri Lanka: Government using ‘Hidden Agenda Theory’ to suppress legitimated demands of the University Community

In Sri Lanka the universities have remained closed since August 21, this year and university staff has been on strike since July. The point of contention is a demand for a 20% pay hike, improved facilities and more government spending (6% of the GDP) on education. The demands of the Federation for University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) in July this year and has failed to yield any satisfactory result so far. Even in this crisis the government is accusing the strikers of having “hidden political agenda” and the Minister of Higher Education, S B Dissanayake has ordered all universities except the medical faculties closed. University staff and student who protested the move has been tear gassed.

 Like a flash back to the late 1980’s, the government  resorted to closing down Sri Lanka’s higher seats of learning to prevent the escalation of a crisis in the University sector.

 Networking for Rights considers the action by the government to silence a legitimate demand by public servants as a violation of their rights and another move to curb dissent. A government which believes it has the support of the people should not fear in engaging with them and finding a solution that satisfies both parties. Instead, the government believes that the “hidden political agenda” theory, which is being flouted again and again to silence everybody, could be used to whip up sentiments against the academics and university students. Continued tactics to silence its citizenry will only result in people gathering together to topple the regime, as the government fears. A genuine democracy would promote freedom of expression, not suppress it.

 Each time universities are closed, or academics and students resort to strike action, Sri Lankan students are pushed back several years; the negative effects caused by university closures in the 1980’s is being felt even today. Those who can afford it, will leave the country and continue their education elsewhere, perhaps never to return. So would university staff. The loss is for Sri Lanka’s younger generation and the country as a whole.

 Networking for Rights demands that the government not only to re-open the universities but also to engage in meaningful dialogue with the FUTA that would give both academics and students a fairer chance of reaching their potential. The government would do well to win the hearts and minds of both academics and the future leaders of Sri Lanka rather than treat them as foes.

 NfR stand by the demands of the FUTA calls upon world academic community to show their solidarity and support for the legitimate demands of Sri Lankan academic community  and the strike action  which has reached 3rd month.


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