Political parties, civil society, lecturers, students, trade unions and other groups in Sri Lanka have called on the government to withdraw the proposed Kotelawala University Bill which they fear could pave the way for privatisation of the higher education sector and militarisation of universities reports UniversityWorldNews website.

The bill will allow the existing General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU), which currently trains mostly defence personnel, to award degrees, charge fees and invest the profits in any business considered suitable by the university’s administration, as well as being able to admit students, decide entry qualifications, maintain academic quality and partner with other private and foreign institutions.

Controversially, the bill also places the management of the university under the defence ministry with a senior officer of the armed forces as the university’s head or vice-chancellor, not under the ministry of education and higher education, as is the norm.

The sudden uproar came after the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) revealed the defence ministry was holding internal discussions to imminently debate the bill in parliament during the COVID-19 outbreak.

On 21 June IUSF staged a protest in the capital Colombo demanding the withdrawal of the bill. During the protest a tense situation arose between police and students as police tried to disperse students, as public gatherings are banned during the current COVID-19 third wave.

IUSF Convener Wasantha Mudalige said that with the bill, the government was “moving towards military dictatorship”.

“If this bill passes, this will be the greatest risk for free education,” he told University World News, adding that more protests were planned.

“Under the guise of an epidemic, government is trying to pass the bill which is destroying free education. The government has obstructed a peaceful protest organised by students against the bill. If the government is trying to pass this, all forces must line up against it,” Amila Sandaruwan, national committee member of the Teachers’ Service Union, told University World News.

“Discussions are going on these days in the defence ministry regarding the bill. When we are protesting against the bill, the government uses police and suppresses our rights. We demand solutions for these issues, not a police crackdown on us,” Galwala Siridhamma Thero, convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation, told University World News.

The so-called KNDU Bill was first proposed by the previous government in 2018, but it was forced to withdraw the bill due to strong opposition, including from the academic community.

The present cabinet approved the current KNDU Bill in December 2020 and submitted it to parliament in March 2021. The government has not yet officially announced a date for the parliamentary debate, but unions fear the bill could be passed suddenly while travel restrictions and public gatherings are limited by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Full Article via UniversityWorldNews