08/22/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Professors and students take to the streets after authorities shut down country's universities

Melani Manel Perera
Medical faculties remain open, but the government wants to end the two-month long professors' strike. Teachers want better salaries and more money for education. A mass demonstration is planned for tomorrow.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The government of Sri Lanka yesterday ordered the closure of all of the country's universities, except medical faculties. It took the step in response to a two-month long strike by professors. For the authorities, such action is jeopardising students' future. For the Federation of University Teachers' Association (FUTA), the decision by politicians is "stupid and unjust" and will have as a consequence the destruction of the country's educational sector. The Federation announced a mass demonstration in opposition to the closure tomorrow in Colombo.

FUTA wants the government to invest 6 per cent of GDP in education, raise teachers' salaries and ensure universities' independence from any political interference. Its strike began on 4 July. Since then, all activities on university campuses have stopped.

Last evening, members of FUTA, religious leaders met at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in order to discuss for the public awereness.

"The educational system is going through a profound crisis," said the Venerable Shobitha Thero, a Buddhist monk. "What economic aid universities receive is inadequate. This has led to the underfunding of the system. So far, 20 university professors have had to leave the country."

According to Sanjeewa Bandara, a student union leader, "This problem should trouble the entire population because the crisis disproportionately affects young people, who are our future, and the entire educational system."

"We should fight together and be committed to the rights FUTA demands," he added, "so that our children can have a free education."

"Between 2005 and 2020, the government closed 355 schools, forcing students to move to cities and spend a lot more for their education," he explained. "This government is undermining the value of education, trying to turn it into a consumer good."

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