critical remarks – The island


by Sivamohan Sumathy

In the space of two months, we have witnessed a massive reversal of our political perceptions. Anger against the Rajapaksa regime had been building for a long time, but it was the shortages and the long queues, the failed harvests after the ban on fertilizers, and before that, the women protesting micro-loans. finance, blocked protests against layoffs, it was the tip to indicate. People flocked to the streets, even as the property became the street. The protests had as their baseline a simple call – GOTA (President Gotabaya Rajapaksa) go home, leave the office. Behind this simple call hides a multitude of requirements, sometimes contradictory, congealing on a single requirement; accountability, participation in governance, an economy for the people – in other words, systemic change.

While we can ask Gotabaya Rajapaksa to go home and demand the abolition of the executive presidency, the issues raised at the system level also need to be looked at more closely. Here I mean the university and the university system. The University itself may not be run in the highly centralized manner of the executive presidency, but the twin imperatives of economic policies and centralized forms of governance shape the university’s hierarchies and educational sphere. While individual universities are direct state entities, the UGC, as the administrative body of APEX, has much say in the running of the university. A centralized form of governance has infiltrated all areas of the university’s academic and administrative matters. Governance structures have been de facto centralized, removing power from academics and institutional employees. By losing our political independence, we have lost confidence in our own work, in our diplomas and have become apologists for what we do. We have become subject to the dicta of the state, channeled through the UGC. We had to prove our worth through bogus criteria like Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF) and others. Funding for higher education has also led to a crisis in the university system. Within the University there is of course a history of resistance to the encroaching hand of the state and its debilitating funding maneuvers. Many of us have repeatedly called for the independence of the university – Autonomy. In these troubled times, when the country as a whole is on the verge of collapse, we might want to consider what self-reliance might mean today. Do we have the luxury of self-reliance, at a time like this, when it is plainly visible that we are so intertwined with the day-to-day life of the country as a whole?

Rethink autonomy

Autonomy can be considered in two ways. First, the university as an independent entity that has sole control over its administration and academic affairs. Second, autonomy as a cardinal principle underpinning democracy and the democratization of university structures. It is this second meaning of the term that I will develop and reconceptualize. Autonomy is a function of democracy and it is also a process, a movement, mobilizing university communities from the bottom up, to advance the principles of social justice. The idea that autonomy is a movement means that it is a dynamic process and must be situated in the context in which it operates. Autonomy in the second sense means maintaining the independence of the university from the top-down directives of rulers and their undemocratic actions. It cannot be a notion or abstract principles. It must be actualized as an element of struggle and participation in which the numerous communities of the university are involved. Simply talking about autonomy means little if what we mean by autonomy is not to make our academic and pedagogical purpose inclusive and socially relevant.

Structurally, this can be understood through the following sets of relationships:

The University and the State

The University, its structures and its relationship with its own members and communities

The University and the international and the global[u1]

The University and the general public.

The above classification is for analytical purposes only, and the four aspects are closely related. In the exploration below, I focus only on three of the four aspects, the relationship between the state, the university and its structures, and the relationship between the university and the people in general.

The State and the University: In our quest for autonomy, we must look to the state to understand the global workings of power, politics, hegemonic authority and money. The state remains the university’s primary source of funding; and through policies, it shapes the mandates of the university. Funding and politics have a symbiotic relationship here and, in turn, limit autonomy as a democratization movement initiated and implemented by and at the lowest levels of the academic hierarchy.[u2]y. The state also intervenes in the functioning of the university, through what has been identified as politicization. Politicization occurs through appointments, benefits, and other types of advantageous treatment of those in positions of power. It should be noted here that the idea of ​​university autonomy has had particular significance for actors in the system in recent years, as politicization, it is assumed, is at its height and needs to be curbed. Politicization is relevant largely in the areas of finance, recruitment, and political victimization/favouritism. At the structural level, the state intervenes aggressively through quality assurance programs and the development of programs and policies related to funding and the threat of defunding.

The University, its members and


The internal relations between the constituent members of the university are our focus here. That relation [u3]expresses itself structurally, through certain formal and informal arrangements of hierarchy; and through governance and participation bodies. These: governance and participation bodies are: Faculty Councils, Senate, Councils, Unions, Other Associations, Departments, Postgraduate Institutes, Centers such as the Center for Distance Education and continues, advisory committees, sub-committees, student unions and other student associations. . Another facet that expresses this relationship is the sphere of pedagogical and academic imperatives – the curricula[u4]m, lectures, exams, grades, grades, extracurricular activities, are places of educational interaction that shape the relationship between members of the university, especially between students and teachers.

The university structure is organized hierarchically, with the council at the top of the apex. Yet this hierarchical structure has a certain level of participation by the many layers of staff and students. While there is room for improvement, the biggest concern is the informal networks of power and hierarchy that operate in tandem with structural hierarchies. It is important to consider how governance structures can be further democratized, granting a good measure of autonomy to the individual.

Any movement for autonomy should strive to question hierarchies, discriminatory and disempowering practices, harassment, and deal with identifications and discriminations of gender, sex, class and ethnicity.[u5]

The reverse of autonomy

Autonomy can be a double-edged sword. Autonomy can mean that government and state agencies can wash their hands of ‘providing’, asking universities to self-fund education. Autonomy is understood as financial autonomy and this is how state agencies often understand the word. Related to the above[u6], UGC, and other state agencies can dictate to us what our curriculum should be, what should be emphasized in our teaching and research, and where universities should be directed. This affects relationships within the university, as funding imperatives, cost-cutting measures, devaluation of standards, and funding for certain programs create tension between departments and academics within the university. Some programs are perceived to be more commercially viable. Within the public good of university education, there are structures that encourage privatization, such as fee-based study programs.

For example, an organization that deals with distance education, generating huge revenue for the University, in turn acts as a model for other faculties and departments to emulate. Remuneration rendered for services in these programs is attractive and creates desires and ambitions among staff for such independence[u7]are. Autonomy is a biased and fallacious ethical principle.


Maybe[u8] it is not autonomy that should be emphasized, but the democratization of structures, where a productive dialogue can be established between the people and the university community. This will be done through channels that take economic democratization and political democratization as key concerns. Autonomy must be rethought as weaving links and greater integration with the rest of the population through points of pedagogy, research, policy and dialogue. In doing so, we can maintain our independence as educational institutions and reinvest in our education, not through the SLQF, but as service, contribution, critical intervention and out of concern for ourselves, our well-being. and the well-being of the country.

(Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy taking place on the fringes of the amphitheater that simultaneously parodies, subverts and reaffirms social hierarchies.

[u1]This is not covered in the following…

[u2]Could quality assurance processes be cited here as an example?

[u3]Which report ? Between the university and its members?

[u4]Not an evaluation method?

[u5]This part needs to be reworked a bit – I think it would be useful to revise the subheadings and tie them more explicitly to the relationships you mention above

[u6]What do you mean above? Not clear.

[u7]Not sure how global goes into the picture of this section – it’s in the subtitle?

[u8]This last para is super 4


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