Proposed KDU Bill will only govern KDU : Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris

June 30, 2021

By Kamanthi Wickramasinghe

  • Then we found the requirement of establishing the Faculty of Medicine because we didn’t have adequate number of doctors to serve even in the battlefield
  • Now we have nine faculties in operation along with Faculties of Technology and Criminal Justice which will be introduced soon
  • We have the highest number of foreign students in the medical faculty
  • At KDU all these degree programmes are designed to cater for military requirements
  • We also arrange bank loans for students who have financial difficulties and they can use these facilities to pay their fees

With a vision to educate males and females to be commissioned officers in the armed forces the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy was established in October 1980. In 1988 the educational establishment achieved university status thereby being able to confer degrees to its students. Renamed as the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University in 2007, the University has kept its doors opened for civil students (day scholars) since 2012 with the objective of enhancing the civil-military relationship. However the proposed General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (Special Provisions) Bill has been heavily criticised as many claim that it would bring about militarisation within the higher education sector. “The General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University Bill is only for KDU. With that you cannot govern any other institution in the country,” said Kotelawala Defence University Vice Chancellor Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris (RWP RSP VSV USP ndc psc MPhil (Ind)) in an interview with the . Following are excerpts of an interview done with Maj. Gen. Peiris: 

  Q    Tell us about KDU’s contribution to the higher education sector in Sri Lanka.

KDU commenced its degree programmes in 1981; hence we have been in existence for 40 years. Over the past four decades KDU has been training cadets. From 2012 on wards we have included day scholars as well. The purpose of establishing KDU was to have a close interaction within the triforces. Initially it was Kotelawala Defence Academy and it’s a concept established by other countries too.  Two models were taken by then General Dennis Perera and other commanders - one of them was the National Defence Academy model in India and the Australian Defence Academy Model. Both models were studied and the triforces academy was established. In 1988 the KDU was awarded the power to confer degrees by Parliament Act no. 27 of 1988. 

"In 2012 we included the day scholars because during the period of conflict, though the armed forces officers were having a closer corporation within the forces, there was a lacuna of corporation between the forces and civilians"

Even though the academy was elevated to university status the name didn’t change. The then officers wanted to continue with the same name.In 2007 it was renamed as General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University by General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy (Amendment) Act No. 50 of 2007. However the structure wasn’t changed till 2009. We continued as an academy till 2009 but after the end of the war we wanted to expand KDU as we only had 189 officer cadets at the time. We wanted to expand the numbers because although the war ended we wanted to strengthen military forces. In order to enhance national security of the country the forces have to be well trained. Then we found the requirement of establishing the Faculty of Medicine because we didn’t have adequate number of doctors to serve even in the battlefield. Therefore there was a dire need of having a medical faculty and it was established in 2009. It was the first faculty to be established at KDU. Now we have nine faculties in operation along with Faculties of Technology and Criminal Justice which will be introduced soon. In 1981 the first batch was taken and to date we have produced over 5000 Officer cadets to the armed forces in Sri Lanka. 

  Q    What was the objective of opening the university for civilians?

In 2012 we included the day scholars because during the period of conflict, though the armed forces officers were having a closer corporation within the forces, there was a lacuna of corporation between the forces and civilians. Western countries have a concept called Civil-Military Corporation to enhance corporation between civilians and the military. We also thought this is the right time to do that. Therefore we integrated the day scholars programme so that they study in the same lecture halls as the military officers. The only difference is that day scholars don’t undergo military training. But we do concentrate on developing soft skills, leadership skills and managerial skills and all that is required by a day scholar to serve the country better once they graduate. 

"What we are going to have is a board of governors. That is to govern the KDU and this model cannot be replicated in a state university. This is where people claim that it will overrule powers of the UGC. These are baseless allegations"

  Q    There are unemployed graduates in local universities. Are there job opportunities for every student that graduates from KDU?

KDU is a unique Defence University in the country. Unlike in other educational institutions, once an applicant registers as a student at KDU, he/she becomes a disciplined individual because they are with officer cadets. Day scholars also try to inculcate self discipline in themselves. With the environment they also become disciplined, patriotic students. We have a lot of programmes at KDU including clubs for dancing and music, photography etc. Then there are associations such as Rotaract clubs and various other activities take place. With that we mold them to be good citizens. So once they graduate and go to a government or private sector institution the feedback has always been very positive. 

  Q    Many students opt to go abroad for higher studies. How has KDU been able to retain such students?

Since we are taking a batch of almost 1000 students per year, if not for KDU most of them would have emigrated to other countries for higher studies. Parents like to send them here because they find that this university offers a secure environment. Therefore without sending their children abroad, their first choice is to send their children to KDU to do the first degree here and to send them overseas for postgraduate studies later on. Therefore we have been able to retain quite a number of students. 

"For certain degree programmes such as engineering and architecture (B Arch), any student who gets 1.8 points or more will get a 50% scholarship. If an applicant has a good Z-score plus national level achievements- be it a president’s scout, cadet sergeant or national level sports achievements- they get a 50% scholarship and then it becomes a 100% scholarship for such students"

  Q    Are there scholarships offered to students with outstanding achievements and for those who have financial difficulties?

There are many scholarship programmes for example the Ranaviru Scholarship programme, which is a 50% scholarship for a child of any soldier who has served over 20 years in the triforces or those who were wounded in action or killed in action. Once a student enrolls, either for the Ranaviru scheme or otherwise and if he or she gets into the VC’s list a student gets a 50% scholarship and if the individual gets into the Dean’s List he or she gets 25% scholarship. For certain degree programmes such as engineering and architecture (B Arch), any student who gets 1.8 points or more will get a 50% scholarship. If an applicant has a good Z-score plus national level achievements- be it a president’s scout, cadet sergeant or national level sports achievements- they get a 50% scholarship and then it becomes a 100% scholarship for such students. We also arrange bank loans for students who have financial difficulties and they can use these facilities to pay their fees. 

  Q    What about study opportunities for foreign students?

We have the highest number of foreign students in the medical faculty. They are from Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and we also have expatriate students from many countries for medical and engineering programmes. We have African students from Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia and once Rwanda sent 25 students to do aeronautical engineering at KDU. We have around 300 foreign students at any given time.

"We continued as an academy till 2009 but after the end of the war we wanted to expand KDU as we only had 189 officer cadets at the time. We wanted to expand the numbers because although the war ended we wanted to strengthen military forces"

  Q    There is a growing debate about the proposed Kotelawala Defence University Bill. Many claim that it would bring about militarisation of the higher education sector. What are your comments about such claims?

It’s not appropriate for them to think that way. The General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University Bill is only for KDU. With that you cannot govern any other institution in the country. All state universities will be governed by the Universities Act. KDU will be governed by the new Act. Why we need it is because in 1988 though the power was given for KDU to confer degrees the structure hasn’t changed. In 2007 even though KDU was renamed as a Defence University our structure wasn’t changed. But by the end of the war we thought there was a need to go for an Act. Things have changed from 1981 to 2009. For example in our Act we don’t have a facility to have a faculty board, senate or council. We have a board of management. If we are to follow other international unvierities we need a proper structure. The new Act facilitates to have a proper structure at KDU. All military institutions including Sri Lanka Military academy, Sri Lanka Naval academy, Air Force academy, Staff College, National Defence College are now affiliated to KDU and KDU confers their degrees. These things need to be incorporated in the Act. 

"The only difference is that day scholars don’t undergo military training. But we do concentrate on developing soft skills, leadership skills and managerial skills and all that is required by a day scholar to serve the country better once they graduate"

  Q    Does it mean that the KDU will not come under the purview of the University Grants Commission?

Educational institutions such as the Ocean University are established by different acts of Parliament. This is the same even in the case of the Buddhist and Pali university. Our Act specifically states it’s only for KDU. An act governs only that institution. What we are going to have is a board of governors. That is to govern the KDU and this model cannot be replicated in a state university. This is where people claim that it will overrule powers of the UGC. These are baseless allegations. 

  Q    Do these changes still comply with Sir John Kotelawala’s vision?

Sir John Kotelawala is the benefactor of KDU. He donated his movable and immovable property to KDU. The concept came from the then triforces commanders and we consider General Denis Perera as the founder of KDU. The initial Act states that apart from educating military personnel that public officers too can be trained. This is why even in earlier instances there were public officers who applied for our MSc programmes. In the medical faculty we have 10 MBBS undergraduates for the Police. We cater for anybody who wants to work for the betterment of the country. At KDU all these degree programmes are designed to cater for military requirements. This is why we don’t have agriculture or hotel management faculties. Armed forces need to be professionally qualified. It’s a professional outfit. It’s not only about the fighting soldier. To support them all other professionals need to be there. 

Q  There is much criticism about privatization of the higher education sector. What is your message to the public? 

Those who can pay for higher education should pay. Then we can afford more opportunities for those who cannot afford to pay and study. Those who have the wealth to pay should pay and learn. There are wealthy families, many bank loans are available and by doing so we can increase capacities as well. KDU charges a nominal amount and we offer scholarships as well. There are other universities offering degree programmes that charge a nominal fee from students. Those student don’t attend lectures everyday. At KDU we ensure that it is a proper degree and students need to be present every day. Students can use our facilities for extra curricular activities. The university needs funds for maintenance. The Treasury cannot provide funds for everything. We also need to do our part. All faculty buildings except for medical and engineering faculties have been established with our own funds. That way we don’t want to be a burden to the country. 

 

Courtesy www.dailymirror.lk