Bimal Rathnayeke Srilanka
Peoples' Struggle against Privatization and Militarization of Education in Srilanka

Peoples' Struggle against Privatization and Militarization of Education in Srilanka

Bimal Rathnayeke Srilanka//8:28pm, Aug 18th '21

The following Political Analysis is intended to explain the ongoing attempt of privatization and militarization of education in Sri Lanka using Kotalawala Defence University Amendment Bill and also regarding the struggle of the public against it. Within this document it will also be explained about the historic trade union action, strike and struggle of the teachers currently continuing in Sri Lanka.


On the 8th of July Kotelawala Defence University Amendment Bill was brought to Parliament. Debate was held but the voting had not taken place due to the public pressure. On 8th as well as after there are ongoing demonstrations around the country organized by Sri Lankan Student Movement, progressive Trade Unions and Community Organizations to show opposition to this Bill. Police forces upon the instructions of the Government suppressed the activists in demonstrations by using quarantine regulations. Simultaneously, government and thereby the Police turns blind eye to the gatherings and celebrations violating quarantine regulations organized by the henchmen and close affiliates of the government.

John Kotelawala was a former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and he made a Last Will donating his all movable and immovable properties to build an Academy to educate personnel in Armed forces i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force. In 1981 Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy Act was presented to the Parliament establishing this academy. According to the Last Will of Sir John Kotelawala and as per the very Act it is clear with what purpose this institution was created. From the inception this institution was meant to give education to the persons in Armed Forces.

Object of the Initial Act is as Follows:

3. The objects of the Academy Shall be

  • To provide facilities for and instruction in academic studies in such subjects as would be relevant to pre- officer cadet training;
  • To provide a basic service training to pre-officer cadets;
  • To foster a spirit of comradeship and goodwill and promote understanding among pre-officer cadets for the purposes of developing their character, self confidence and qualities of leadership; and
  • To exercise such other functions as the Academy may consider necessary for the achievement of its objects.
  • Image

    In 1988 by an Act there was an amendment to make this academy a University. However, it was failed. In 2007, within the time of previous Rajapakshe government an Amendment Act was passed and made this Defence Academy a University.

    In 2018 the same Bill which is now being disputed was introduced by the last regime 2015-2019 regime in order to enhance the education privatization. However it was withdrawn due to the pressure came from the public against it. Now the current Rajapakshe regime has bring out the same amendment bill to be passed and presented to the parliament on 8th of July. Later in this document we will discuss the downside of this bill and public struggle against it.

  • Necessity of the rulers to privatize the education and indomitable struggle of the people against it
  • Governments who have been appointed after 1977 and as they were working in neoliberal principles and on imperialist agendas, the curtailments of education and privatizing attempts took place. Currently, private institutions have been established in an alarming rate to sell the education from preschool to the university level. Currently, in the state institutions which provide free education programs has also started to sell degrees and it has grown to a phase that the government itself establishes institutions to sell degrees.

    To show a clear example in 1981 North Colombo Medical College was established by the funding of the government to sell Degree of Medicine for money. J.R. Jayawardene regime also made amendment to the Universities Act in order to remove obstacles to establish the private Medical College.However, the student movement of Sri Lanka and progressive political parties including JVP struggled continuously against this step of the government and faced a huge suppression waged by the government. Regardless, the intense and truthful struggle of the Student Movement and progressive people in public compelled government to withdraw government’s education privatization plan and nationalized the North Colombo Medical College as a State Medical Faculty.

    However, the capitalist governments so far appointed which have been worshiping Neo Liberalism never gave up on their mission to privatize education. Specially, the Medical Education and several other professional educational streams. Every president appointed in the country after 1977 and every government for that matter attempted to implement major plans to privatize education. At every such attempt Sri Lankan Student Movement progressive people of Sri Lanka demonstrated and voiced up against those attempts.

    Few years back (2012 to 2018) there was a huge struggle in Sri Lanka against a private institution which was selling degree of Medicine named SAITM. The struggle against this illegal institution prolonged for several years. Previous Rajapakshe regime as well as the Ranil - Maithree regime (2015 to 2019) made several attempts to legalize this illegal and private Medical degree boutique. However, student movement as well as the progressive political Parties including JVP and other progressive organizations did not rest their struggle until government abolishes the illegal institution named SAITM. With the same intensity now students, progressive public and we, the JVP fight against Kotelawala Defence University Amendment Bill.

    1) Why say NO to the Amendment Bill to Kotelawala Defence University Act

    Section 4 (b) of this disputed Bill state as follows.

    4. The objects of the University shall be to–

    (b) provide for such courses of study and instruction in such branches of learning for officer cadets, officers of the armed forces, public servants and other persons leading to the award of such degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions;

    According to this section this Bill allows the Kotelawala Defence University to admit nonmembers of armed forces which means civilians. This shows that this Bill deviate the Defence Academy from its initial purpose to educate persons of armed forces and allow it to admit civilians and grant degrees. It can be understood that there is a Defence Acedemy to grant educations, degrees, diplomas to military service personnel. However, if a Defence Academy through its Military mechanisms gives education to civilians that should be taken in to highest concern as there threats of militarizing education as well as in long term providing citizens who submit to authority without question.

    Universities Act which had been passed in Sri Lanka in 1978 has regulations obstructing private degree offering institutions which can be appreciated as a provision to stop anarchy of selling degrees without assuring quality. This is why governments make attempts to amend the provisions in the Universities Act as well. This Act made a regulating authority named University Grants Commission.

    Section 3 of the Universities Act states as follows

    The objects of the Commission shall be -

  • The planning and co-ordination of university education so as to conform to national policy;
  • the apportionment to Higher Educational Institutions, of the funds voted by Parliament in respect of university education, and the control of expenditure by each such Higher Educational Institution;
  • The maintenance of academic standards in Higher Educational Institutions;
  • The regulation of the administration of Higher Educational Institutions;
  • The regulation of the admission of students to each Higher Educational Institution; and
  • The exercise, performance and discharge of such powers, duties and functions as are conferred, or imposed on, or assigned to, the Commission by or under this Act.
  • According to the power granted by this Act to this Commission it can work as an umbrella institution regulating University and higher national education in Sri Lanka. Every government wanted to make a parallel authority which can exceed the powers of this University Grants Commission. One of the major purposes of this disputed Kotelawala Defence University Amendment Bill is to create an authority which has parallel powers as the University Grants Commission in order to regulate and allow offering of degrees establishing private universities using military mechanisms.

    Moreover, Section 128 of the Universities Act states as follows:

    128. (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other written law, no person, institution, corporation, or professional or other body, other than a University, Open University, Centre for Higher Learning, Degree Awarding Institute or the Buddha Sravaka Dharmapithaya established under Act, No. 16 of 1968, shall grant or confer on any person or persons any degree or other academic distinction whatsoever:

    According to this provision within Sri Lanka no any person or no any institution can grant degrees as they wish. However, this disputed Act by Sections 2 and 5 expressly disregards the Universities Act and specifically Section 128 of the Universities Act.

    Section 2. (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of the Universities Act, No. 16 of 1978, there shall be established a University called “the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University’’(hereinafter referred to as “the University”).

    Section 5 of this Bill provides wide range of powers to this Defence Academy and among other things some of such powers expressly disregarding the Section 128 of the Universities Act. Among these powers there are powers

  • To admit officer cadets and officers of the Armed Forces, public officers and other persons to follow such courses of study and instructions,
  • To provide for courses of study, training and instructions leading to the grant of degrees, diplomas, certificates and other academic distinctions,
  • To recognize courses conducted by military training institutes or other academic institutes established under this Act, under the supervision of, and in accordance with the criteria stipulated by the University, and to award degrees for such courses,
  • To grant and confer notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the provisions of section 128 of the Universities Act, No.16 of 1978, degrees, diplomas, certificates and other academic distinctions on officer cadets, officers of the armed forces, public officers and other persons who have followed courses of study in such branches of learning at the University and passed such examinations inconformity with any Statute made for such purpose.
  • *To erect, equip and maintain for the purposes of the University, teaching hospitals, libraries, medical and other laboratories and other buildings and facilities according to law;


    Having looked at these provisions only it is understandable the purpose of this Bill and what powers this Academy will get if this Bill is allowed to be passed. As previously mentioned in this document Sri Lankan Student Movement immensely fought in our country to keep the monopoly of the Higher Education in the hands of State for the sake of ensuring quality and tight regulation. We can observe this Bill is also providing as fraudulent way using military mechanisms to privatize higher education as well.

    By Section 19of this Act a regulating body named the Board has been established with powers and functions over to regulate academic and non - academic staffs and also having powers to establish campuses, colleges, faculties and departments, centers and any other institutes, schools and divisions as may be determined.

    By reading through these few provisions only anyone can understand how dangerously it allow the powers to start any higher education institution to sell degrees in any steam of education including Medical education establishing own teaching hospitals as well. If this Act allowed to be passed it will be a major blow to the free education as well as the quality of the education.

    When this Bill is further analyzed it is observable that it further includes dangerous sections which are not suitable for the environment of a University of Higher Educational Institution.

    Section 7 of the disputed Bill state as follows

    Section 7. Where the Minister is of the view that any situation prevailing in the University is likely to endanger national security or is detrimental or prejudicial to national policy or is likely to disrupt the smooth functioning of the University, he may direct the Board of Governors to take all such steps as he may deem necessary, to bring such situation under control.

    Simultaneously, the Section 20 of the Act introduces the Functional Organs of this Academy. Accordingly, Head Quarters, Council, Senate and Faculty Boards are the functional organs of the institution. When the composition of these bodies considered those comprised majorly of influential military personnel.

    Therefore, this Academy will be pretty much a military base rather than a Higher Educational Institution. In an educational institution, especially a higher education institution Academic Freedom and Autonomy must be guaranteed. Purpose of it should be to produce independent, inquisitive, free thing and forward men and women. However the environment provided by this Bill has obstruct Academic Freedom and Autonomy using arbitrary military mechanisms. This is no way a suitable to educate civilian people. In the long term it can have worst effects on the mindset of Sri Lankan people. This Bill clearly paves the way for militarization of the higher education sector threatening free education. It also destroys the free, fearless and progressive culture that a University should have by providing significant discretionary powers to the Minister and military officials.

    In summery this disputed Bill among other things will,

  • Create a parallel authority which can challenge the powers of University Grants Commission that regulates the quality of the higher education of Sri Lanka.
  • Give power to establish educational institutions naming those as Universities around the country using military mechanisms.
  • Allow such institutions to charge money from students and there by violate free education granted in the State Universities.
  • Violate academic autonomy and freedom that is vital to a University.
  • Obstruct students from having criticizing and contradictory ideas and most especially from forming student unions.
  • Create in the long term persons who are trained to adhere hierarchy and follow orders without condition.
  • Therefore, it is essential to struggle until this bill is completely withdrawn.

    2) Militarization Continuing as Trend in Sri Lanka

    In a civilized society military intervention in civilian affairs should not be justified. There are some tasks that military will have power and those must be only related to national security. In a country a democratic government rules there will not be blanket regulations to relate every internal affairs to national security and to relate military to civil administration.

    However, in Sri Lanka we observe a trend of appointing military officials for Ministries and Departments which are meant to manage civil affairs. These officers are being appointed to the higher positions of administration such as secretaries of Ministries and heads of Departments. Current President who is also an ex-military official was the Secretary of Defence within previous Rajapakshe regime. From the beginning of COVID 19 outbreak he has given priority over medical personnel to the military to manage the situation. Currently also the head of the COVID 19 task force is the Major Genaral Shavendra Silva who is the Head of the Defence Staff and Commander of the Army. To consider few examples of other appointments Secretary to the Health Ministry, Secretary to the Ministry of Industries, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Secretary to the Ministry of Public Security are retired high ranking military officials. Secretaries of some State Ministries are also retired military officials. The president has appointed 25 military officials in charge of the COVID related duties in whole 25 districts as well and it has created parallel military administration on COVID issues with the health mechanism. There are already functioning task forces on several subjects appointed by the President which exceed authority of Civil Administration.

    The argument bringing out to justify these appointments military officials is that they are personnel of high discipline, efficiency and non-corrupted. However, this very Rajapakshes once took the initiative to privatize national security sectors, especially related to naval security operations claiming that Sri Lanka Navy is inefficient and corrupted. It is amply clear that no way these appointments of military officials in civilian administration are done in good faith on behalf of general public.

    What we observe is that these appointments are made to manipulate military mechanisms in succeeding neo liberal economic policies and agendas of the government and to suppress public opposition if and when necessary. Militarization is a threat that people of every capitalist country meant to encounter as governments intensifying anti-democratic neo liberal economic policies.

    Attempt to pass this Defence University Amendment Bill is also an extension of the militarization project of the government. Should this Act pass the Civilians graduate from this institution as well as other institutions it get power to establish around the county will be the people who have been educated under a militarized structure which train them to respect hierarchy and obey orders without question. This may be expected from military officials but never should be a quality expected from civilians in a democratic society. Civil administration must not be function merely by orders. It is a process of mutual respect, mutual understanding, discussions and two way communication.

    This militarization project of the President and the government must be defeated unconditionally to safeguard at least the prevailing freedom and democracy. General society or members should not be trained to adhere but must be allowed to question, criticize, rectify and grow.

    3) Struggle of the Public against the militarization and privatization of education and using Quarantine laws as a tool of suppression.

    Even when this Bill was brought up by previous Ranil-Maithree regime there was a pressure from the Student Movement, University Lecturers and community organizations to withdraw it. On 8th of July when this government tabled this Amendment bill, Sri Lankan Student Movement along with Teachers Associations and progressive people of General Public held demonstrations against it. Police forces with the instructions of the government ruthlessly and inhumanly dragged demonstrators to police buses claiming that they had been arrested for breaking COVID 19 quarantine law. However, demonstrating people were wearing masks and were only exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression. Not stopping at arresting, even after protesters were bailed out by the Magistrate police without allowing them to go free by force took them to a faraway air force camp telling that they were being quarantined. This act of police and government clearly manifested governments’ intention to suppress rising opposition by using police forces and quarantine regulations. And also the attempt to discourage people not to participate in protests.


    What President Gotabhaya Rajapakshe and his government forgot was that the Sri Lanka has a tempered social movement of students, trade unions, progressive political parties including JVP and community organizations which cannot be frightened by mere arrests and quarantine. Since these protesters were kidnapped by the police there were more protests in order to demand the release of the protesters as well as to demand the withdrawal of Kotelawala Defence University Amendment Bill.

    Since then number of fighting forces against this Bill has been collectively organizing several kinds of protests, marches and demonstrations, banner and poster movements, Joint Press Conferences, seminars and acknowledging of public regarding the threats of education privatization and threats of militarization. University lecturers also started a strike action withdrawing from online lecturing demanding the government to withdraw the disputed Amendment Bill and demanding to stop militarizing higher education. Among these fighting forces there are students, teachers, university lecturers, parents, and trade unions, progressive political parties including JVP, community organizations, professionals, artists, writers, intellectuals and progressive people of public. Due to the unprecedented opposition from the public government temporality postponed the bill and it proved the fighting capacity of the general public against a 2/3 majority government.

    4) Historic Class action of the Teachers

    As referred to in the beginning Sri Lanka there is an ongoing collective strike action being continued by the teachers. This struggle has been continued for more than a month now. This can be the biggest Teachers' strike action we have observed in the post-independence history of Sri Lanka. School teachers in Sri Lanka are doing immense service at their jobs while receiving considerably less salary. Major purpose of this struggle is not even to request a pay raise. School teacher of Sri Lanka are demanding to resolve their salary disparity which is a problem that has not been resolved for the past 24 years. They are demanding what they are legitimately entitled to. More than 50 unions have joined hands in this struggle and it is being supported by the parents, students, trade unions and general public as well. Several massive demonstrations, sathyagraha and marches following COVID 19 prevention measures have been organized around the country. This struggle of teachers also affiliated the demand to withdraw Kotalawala Defence Academy Amendment Bill and it provides strength to the struggle against the Bill as well.

    Government tries to implicate teachers saying that teachers are trying to pressure government in a critical pandemic situation while breaching quarantine regulations. However, it is the governments which use this critical pandemic situation to get pass all laws which are favorable to them without allowing the opposition or public opinion. It is the Rajapakshes’ who use this critical pandemic period to get dismiss all court cases against their henchmen. It is the government which cast blind eye to the celebrations, parties and funerals of the buddies and henchmen while arresting the teachers who demand their legitimate rights while adhering to COVID 19 safety precautions. Government still had not responded reasonably to the demands. Teachers are determined not to step back from the struggle this time until and unless government provide a solution. Government using police forces continued to arresting teachers using COVID prevention regulations. Regardless, teachers continue the struggle. There is a continued support from the progressive people of the public in social media and internet platforms as well to demand government to give solution to the teachers’ demands immediately.

    5) Necessity of continuous and restless struggle

    So far within this document it has been discussed the threats of education privatization as well as militarization referring to the immediate issue in Sri Lanka which is the Kotelawala Defence Academy Amendment Bill. Though this However, due to the public pressure process of passing this Bill has now been postponed indefinitely but not withdrawn yet. Therefore, the struggle must continue until this Bill is completely withdrawn and against any future attempts to bring such legislations.

    We know that the capitalist rulers within this system who are following neo liberal economic principles will frequently attempt to make education a profit making business. It is more than evident even from the brief introduction to the history of Sri Lanka that has been discussed in this document. Providing free thinking men and women and providing quality education to people has never been a concern of profit oriented capitalism. However, there are certain rights, liberties and cultures that we have won and have been fighting to safeguard. Betraying them or allowing capitalist governments to snatch those will be the greatest harm we do for the future of the society as well as to the generations yet to be born. Therefore, we have a responsibility to be vigilant to such moves and to prevent those by taking all means necessary.

    Rather than privatizing or militarizing education public must intensely pressure governments to bring out real solutions that needs to be made such as improving the facilities of State Universities, widening the intake and increasing government funding for the Public Education.

    The student movement, teachers unions, Progressive people JVP also will continuously and restlessly fight against any and every education privatization and militarization attempts of the capitalist rulers.

    Introduction of writer – Bimal Rathnayeke, Former Member of Parliament, Sri Lanka, International Representative of JVPImage

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