Nuances of Pedagogical Mission

An Exclusive Interview with Professor Sivakolundu Srisatkunarajah, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jaffna

He is an exemplary educator who shows the way to shape the future of the University of Jaffna simply by using his skills and experience whilst maximizing human and technical resources. Along with his vision he brings to the fore strong, innovative leadership and proven strategic direction. 

We have sat with him at his office in the university to discuss what needs be done to improve the higher education system.   During the long discussion, he elaborated on his vision and how to use the inherent power of this educational institute to produce world class intellects for better future of the country.  

Sivakolundu Srisatkunarajah, Professor in Mathematics and current Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna illustrated how to reshape our education institutes not only to meet prevailing marketing demands but also transform students to being responsible citizens.  Born in early 60s, he entered Jaffna University to study mathematics in 1979 where he earned Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with first class honors. In 1988 he completed his PhD at the Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus where he experimented on the asymptotics of the Heat equation for polygonal domains” As an educator and pioneer in Mathematical theories, his objective is , “transform the lives of students and communities through education and learning, and knowledge creation and dissemination.”

Following are the excerpts of the interview;

Q. Tell us in briefly of your vision and activities you have undertaken to achieve your vision as a Vice Chancellor of this university?

A. As the leader of the University, in my policies and actions, I adhere to the highest standards of professional integrity. I will promote critical enquiry and the rational evaluation of evidence, among my peers, even if such an approach leads me to reevaluate my own decisions as Vice Chancellor. I will at all times place the institution of the office of the Vice Chancellor above that of the individual holding the office.

I rigorously promote and evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching and learning support provided to students, the quality of campus social and cultural life, the originality and relevance of research to sustain and continually reinforce the academic quality of our degree programmes, and ensure that students gain maximum educational and social values.

Staff are the core resource of a University. University of Jaffna will be able to produce excellent research and will provide students with the very best learning opportunities only if the University can attract, develop, retain and reward quality staff who are committed to the educational goals and the mission of the University.

We must ensure that University of Jaffna is seen as a means of achieving professional success and personal growth. I will drive the University of Jaffna to support the professional development of all staff, to ensure that staff teach in ways that are efficient and effective as well as rewarding, to ensure activities are allocated appropriately to academic and professional staff, to create the time, space and facilities needed for innovative research, and to recognize and reward excellence.

University of Jaffna is expected to play a major role in the regional development. Therefore, I will drive the staff and the students to support and respond to the educational and research needs of the broader community. I will also support, and wherever appropriate, lead action to mitigate social harm from academic fraud, environmental degradation, social exclusion, and political and cultural discord. If the University community – the students, staff and alumni – can contribute to this endeavour, then together we will continue to make a real difference to the citizens of this country.

In order to continue the University of Jaffna’s commitment to the public good, we must ensure that all our students are equipped to think independently, to behave ethically and in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, and that they have the capacity and desire to continue to question, challenge and learn long after they have completed their University studies.

Q. One of the major challenges that our state-own education is facing is that inability to cater the global needs. Consequently, considerable numbers of our degree holders were unable to find suitable employment. You have expressed your concern to change this. Tell us how you think we should overcome this? 

A.  The priority actions have been designed within the ambit of the Global Trends in Higher Education. Let me explain the context of Global Trends in Higher Education.

The impact of market forces on higher education is through employment. The private sector, considered to be the engine of growth, is the major employer. The relevance of some courses of study to the world of work and the quality of the recent graduates has been less than optimal. Their generic skills such as communication, teamwork, computer literacy and, their work ethic and mindset have been found wanting. These have many implications for quality conscious academics and administrators.

Producing a twenty first century graduate requires a shift towards Outcome-Based Education (OBE) and Student-Centered Learning (SCL). The curriculum design process should incorporate the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and mindset that a graduate needs into the curriculum, which is delivered using teaching and learning methods towards facilitating student centered learning. Assessment and evaluation should ensure that the graduate has achieved the intended learning outcomes. A continuous process of quality improvement has to be sustained through monitoring and feedback from employers and other stakeholders.

The impact of Science, Technology and Innovation in all aspects of life has increased globally. Achieving a better quality of life for the people in developing countries needs the collaboration of Universities with industry in generating new knowledge and, in transmitting and adapting existing knowledge to suit local needs. The demand for non-formal education is increasing. Adults who are in work wish to enhance their skills and competencies, which enhance their value in a knowledge economy. The concept of lifelong education is gaining popularity. Universities and HEIs which usually provide full time degree courses to young students directly from secondary school by the face to face mode, are now beginning to offer more extension courses to mature students, often by the open and distance mode.

There is a movement towards a ‘global’ benchmark in education, a standard of excellence that all could aspire to. There is a developing concept of ‘World Class Universities’ as centers of excellence, which all countries would aspire to have. Paradoxically this has led to a market driven expansion of Higher Education across borders, which in the absence of regulation has led to a wide variation in the quality of courses being offered and create concern for quality assurance more than ever before. Being aware of this trend is important to respond to societal needs.

Q. What are your Strategic objectives?

A.  I have identified four strategic objectives. How to transform student life through learning.

The ultimate purpose of learning is character formation. I aim to provide students with a supportive and a challenging learning environment in which they can develop their academic, personal capabilities and skills, and thereby become effective, educated and ethical graduates.

I will enable the University to provide opportunities for students to develop the English language and interpersonal skills, and knowledge to operate effectively in a global environment, particularly through industrial/community study experiences and to facilitate interactions between industrial partners and communities to enhance intercultural understanding.

Second, to create new and useful knowledge.  To focus on improving the University of Jaffna’s international and national performance, and ranking in both fundamental and in applied research. I encourage our research effort and resources on areas of demonstrable research strength, and to cultivate new research interests. Collaboration with communities and industries will be encouraged in knowledge exchange. Focus my efforts to increase quantity and quality of research, develop knowledge exchange programmes with industry and professional partners to support development through University Business Linkage (UBL) programmes. 

Third, to support and reward staff excellence. To achieve the vision of the University of Jaffna “to be a leading center of excellence in teaching, learning and scholarship.” Realizing this vision requires us to attract, retain, develop, recognize and reward the best staff. Supporting our staff and ensuring their time is allocated productively and efficiently is a foundation for our teaching and research efforts. The University will need to plan for the development, growth and renewal of its workforce, and be responsive to the interests of the staff and to changing labor market conditions. Actions will be undertaken to develop and implement a transparent and equitable academic workload management system, develop and implement a strategic and well understood system for setting and reviewing accountability of performance goals for every member of staff annually.

Fourth, how to strengthen Institutional Governance. The term “governance” is used to describe all those structures, processes and activities that are involved in the planning and direction of the institutions and people working there. Good governance is critical to the effective operation of the University and to its ability to make a full contribution towards its mission. Every system is capable of further enhancement and good governance should continuously evolve. In line with the key principle of academic autonomy – I will lead the Council and the Senate of the University, as far as possible, as critical forums of discussion, debate and decision-making where academics of the university can together evolve the functioning of the university to attain the objectives detailed above. I will do my utmost best to make sure that the interests of the university as understood and interpreted by its academic community, guide all decisions I take as their peer-leader and will not allow extraneous elements who have other extraneous goals to impede the governance of the university. Since Higher education is fundamental to the knowledge creation and the social, economic and cultural health of the nation, I will promote the values that characterize higher education: respect for evidence; respect for individuals and their views; the search for truth; and care for the wellbeing of democratic civilization.

Q.  After speaking to students and  staffers in the University we came to know that you have introduced best practices to strengthen the management and improve the environment for students. Tell us more.

A.  In line with Institutional Review guidelines, I have ensured that the following Best practices are adopted by the University:

The University complies with the national policy framework for higher education which includes standards and guidelines issued by the MoHE, UGC and QAAC and other professional bodies where applicable, e.g. Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) for Medicine. It will as far as possible also comply with other reference points such as the Sri Lanka Qualifications Framework (SLQF), Subject Benchmark Statements(SBS) and Codes of Practice.

Participatory management is promoted with a flexible mix of formal and informal mechanisms, which encourage teamwork in a transparent manner. Informal/ad-hoc committees complement the work of the statutory bodies. Monitoring and evaluation procedures are built into all departments and programmes.

Managing resources such as space, money, material and human resources form the crux of organizational management based on forecasting, planning, implementation, and monitoring. The Institution complies with national administrative and financial regulations as well its own pre-approved Manual of Procedures or Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs).

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is integrated into the system for teaching and learning, administration, research and community engagement. A user friendly Management Information System (MIS) will be in place for effective and efficient management of operations. This system allows information to be logically stored and easily retrieved for instant availability of information and swift execution of tasks in a cost effective and efficient manner.

Administration is receptive to the welfare of staff and students and adequate welfare measures are in place for staff and students to function optimally.

The University has a clearly defined code of conduct for all categories of staff emphasizing the maintenance of the highest moral and ethical standards. This is effectively communicated to all staff at the time of appointment to the institution.

The University strives to promote Gender Equity and Equality (GEE) and deter any form of sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) amongst all categories of staff and students by adopting an appropriate policy and strategy drawn up in line with the UGC prescribed policy and strategy (on GEE and SGBV) and it is spearheaded through a task force/coordinating body with necessary empowerments and resources for effective implementation.

Q. What are your priorities and how do you expect to accomplish them during your tenure?

A.  Build the physical facilities and human resources in the newly established Faculty of Technology as proposed in the project proposal.

Strengthen the Faculty of Engineering by enhancing Laboratory facilities and student numbers for obtaining the professional accreditation. Implementing the community engagement projects of the Faculty of agriculture by utilizing the facilities obtained with the funding from JICA project.

Complete the ongoing building projects of the Faculty of Management and Commerce and shift the Faculty from its temporary main premises to its new premises. Provide the necessary infrastructure and staff facilities to the Department of Law to conduct its academic programme in a conducive manner, and lay a foundation for it to become a faculty with different departments of specialization.

Initiate actions to revamp the curriculum of the Faculty of Arts to incorporate transferrable skills and interpersonal skills as sandwiched components of the curriculum to enable the Arts graduates to be readily employable.  Expediting the upgrading the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts as Faculty/Institute with good facilities. Completing the process of building for the Department of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science with the generous funding of AHEAD project.

Take steps to establish the Faculty of Marine Sciences and Aquatic Resources Technology. Complete the building for the Professorial Unit of the Faculty of Medicine.  Establish the Institute/Faculty of Siddha Medicine with improved facilities. Build more residential and recreational facilities at Ariviyal Nagar for students and staff.

Complete the ongoing infrastructure projects of the Vavuniya Campus in the Pambaimadu site and take steps to devolve the campus as a university. Complete and equip the Indoor Stadium cum Gymnasium of the University of Jaffna.  Build IT center and, enhance Broadband access and IT services.  Modernize Library with the state of art facilities and create more space
for it.

Q. We would like to have a brief introduction on the most recent initiative of establishing City University in which you also are playing a significant role. 

A.  City Universities are determined to cater the human resource needs of the identified regions (Hambantota, Kalutara, Matale, NuwaraEliya and Mullaitivu). In order to materialize the creation of such new entities, Professor Gamini Senanayake, Senior Professor in Agricultural Biology, University of Ruhuna appointed in June 2020, as the Lead Consultant for the project development of the City University in Sri Lanka by the UGC and the Ministry of Higher Education.

Professor. Gamini Senanayake has been entrusted to lead, advice and coordinate the proposal development of the establishment of initially, five City Universities in Sri Lanka. In this regard, I was appointed as the Senior Consultant and Professor B. Nimalathasan, Professor in Accounting, University of Jaffna was appointed as the Junior Consultant for the proposal development of Mullaitivu City University (MCU).

Mullaitivu was one of the hardest hit areas by the three decades of war. People suffered during the long years of this conflict, many continue to suffer its longer term impacts. Women and children with disabilities are also most vulnerable group in post-conflict situation,
experiencing the highest levels of gender-related violence, abject poverty, and exclusion.

Shortage of Knowledge and Technology based human resources in Mullaitivu caused adverse effects on the society. As at present, this gap is filled mostly by the Day Scholars from Jaffna district who travels 230kms every day. It is regretted to note that no vocational or higher educational institute is located in this region for tertiary education. Mullaitivu is a vast region sharing the boundaries with Pulmoddai in Trincomalee district in the east and with Mallavi in Mannar district in the west. Mullaitivu City University (MCU) will help to address this urgent requirement.  

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