The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) observes with dismay that the Kotelawala Defense University (KDU) is continuing to illegally admit civilian students and has recently published advertisements in newspapers and social media to recruit students to a broad range of undergraduate study programs. In addition, the government is deceitfully supporting this continuing illegality by directing a batch of approximately 100 students, currently following various programs of study in biology-related streams in the state university system, to the KDU medical faculty. These students were unfairly denied an opportunity to enter medical education due to a monumental blunder caused by the University Grants Commission in 2019. Unfortunately, rather than redressing this injustice by broadening access in the state medical faculties, the government and top officials invested in promoting the KDU agenda at all costs are channeling these students to the KDU which has no legal provision for civilian education. These moves also demonstrate an astounding degree of arrogance and an utter disregard towards public opinion and due process at a time when the proposed Kotelawala National Defense University (KNDU) bill has been temporarily withdrawn from parliament due to the massive national protest campaign against it. This is a government that appears to work with a singular-minded self-destructive attitude regardless of the consequences of its actions.
The KNDU bill was supposed to provide the legal framework for KDU to admit civilian students. However, FUTA and a broad range of professional organizations, civil society organizations, trade unions, religious bodies and the public in general unequivocally pointed out the dangers of mixing civilian and military education. Political parties and politicians within the government also acknowledged the dangers of the proposed bill and it is the weight of this combined public opinion that forced the government to reconsider its position. However, we observe with alarm that there appears to be a influential bloc within the government that seems to be determined to legitimize the KDU at any cost. What is also deeply problematic is that the University Grants Commission – a administrative body that is expected to play an independent role in managing the state university system – is colluding in this process. The students selected for medical education at KDU under this new scheme are already registered in non-medical faculties within the state university system and have already begun their study programs. The government is ‘sponsoring’ these students, who were unfairly excluded from medical education due to the UGC’s flawed selection system, to follow medical education at the KDU – in effect subsidizing the KDU with state funds that can be used to broaden access to medical education in the state system. The solution to broadening medical education opportunities in the country is not to deceitfully legitimize a military institution that has no legal or ethical right to provide civilian education but to broaden the opportunities available at state universities by channeling the funds allocated for these students to the state university medical faculties.
We stress to the government that admitting civilian students to KDU is illegal, unethical and enormously short-sighted. FUTA is well aware that many civilian students have already graduated from KDU from various study programs and many others are currently receiving education. We look at these students with empathy and will support a reasonable solution for them on humanitarian grounds. However, this illegality cannot continue and be allowed to expand even further, potentially jeopardizing the futures of more and more youth. If the government persists with this illegal project of promoting the ad-hoc mixing of civilian and military education the entire education system in this country will be endangered. The full spectrum of educators representing secondary to tertiary sectors will rise up against this deceitful and illegal action. The eventual outcome of this arrogant and deceitful project is that the education sector in this country will descend into further crisis. We remind the government that this is the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka – a country with a democratic system that requires that rules, regulations and procedures and more importantly the democratic spirit of inclusive decision making is respected. We urge extreme caution to the government and demand that it abstains from causing further damage to the higher education system of this country.