Sri Lankan officials have shut down 13 of the 15 state-funded universities in the country this week in the wake of academic strikes. Authorities claim that the educators’ strikes, which have lasted for the past two months, have put students at a disadvantage and officials are trying to get their way in the ensuing political and cultural battle.
Conversely, academics have been fighting to keep universities in the country state-funded and free for citizens. The government has been attempting to partially privatize university education and educators have been trying to stop a political process that could make getting an education much more difficult in coming years.
The academic strike, which was started in early July by the Federation of University Teachers’ Association according to the BBC, also involved demands for salary increases and more government spending on tertiary education across the board. The Epoch Times notes that educators wanted 6 percent of the gross domestic product to be devoted to education.
In response government officials decided to shut down the universities indefinitely, only leaving open the medical facilities on the campuses. One official told the striking academics that they have chosen to leave students in, “darkness, without any hope.”
Admittedly, the academic strike began the slow shut-down of universities in the summer months but the government’s move has made a return to normalcy that much further from happening. Furthermore, the move shows that the government is heavily resistant to compromises regarding education policies. Many officials have blamed educators for trying to incite political crisis but the strikers have rebuked such claims. One academic striker told reporters that educators involved in the dispute are from various political parties and backgrounds.
The government and the academic strikers are set to meet on Friday to discuss demands and to attempt to come to some kind of agreement. While government officials claim that five of the six demands made by educators have been met, academics have stated that just isn’t the case, according to the BBC.
This two-month long strike was not the only political uprising to occur on the island nation this month. Last week electricity workers also went on strike demanding better working conditions and pay. That strike ended rather quickly after workers agreed to the government’s concessions.
It remains to be seen if educators and political leaders can come to some kind of agreement about education on the island. As the BBC notes, universities have often been the base of broad social change movements in the last 50 years in Sri Lanka. After the Tamil insurgency in the 1970s and 80s, universities have remained controversial institutions in many political leaders’ minds.
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