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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reiterated that Sri Lanka must keep pace with transformative changes taking place globally.

His remarks came during the final session of 31st General Convocation of General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University held at the BMICH earlier today (February 16), the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

“We cannot afford to lag behind. Our higher education system must adapt swiftly. It has to offer our students an education that will remain relevant despite fast changing circumstances and help them find gainful employment in future. Unfortunately, this is an area in which our universities and other higher education institutions need considerable improvement” the President said, gracing the event as the chief guest.

Degrees were awarded to 1,379 graduands covering the fields of Defence Studies, Management, Business Management, Law, Medicine, Engineering, Promotional Management, Industrial Science and Sociology.

Among them were five doctoral students, 263 postgraduate and postgraduate diploma holders. The number of First Degree holders was 1,111.

The General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University was established in 1981 to meet the educational needs of the officers of the three Armed Forces. It was elevated into a fully-fledged University in 2009 by then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the PMD said. In 2009, civilian students were granted the opportunity to study there. At present, members of the three Armed Forces and local and foreign students can pursue doctoral, postgraduate and postgraduate diploma courses at the University.

The President commended General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University for becoming a fully- fledged University within a short span of time.

The President further stated that the University’s expansion was a great success due to its ability to produce outstanding graduates in fields as diverse as Medicine, Engineering and Law.

The private sector should have more opportunities to work with public universities and other institutions of higher education in finding solutions to current problems.

“At minimum, all graduates from our university system need to have some knowledge about new technologies and at least a functional familiarity with computers if they are to have a chance to build successful futures for themselves,” the President said.

He urged the Vice Chancellors of all universities to introduce information technology and computer science to all students, regardless of the field of study.

“Irrespective of their chosen field of study, all students selected for university education are intelligent. Any lack of exposure they have to these subjects when they enter university is due to a failure in the education system rather than due to their own weaknesses,” the President noted.

“Enhancing focus on research and development will also have a beneficial impact on the rankings of Sri Lankan universities internationally. Improving these rankings is important if we are to attract more foreign students as well as attract and retain talented faculty members at our universities.”

He noted that the governing body, Vice Chancellor, Faculties and staff of each university should have more freedom to determine, design, manage, and deliver their programmes of study. “They should also be able to select the students they feel are best suited to learn at their institutions. Talented students, too, should have more freedom to choose their universities. These changes will increase the competition that exists amongst the universities at every level, leading to significant overall improvements across the entire higher education system. Through this, it is also likely that the rankings of our national universities will improve,” President Rajapaksa said further.

He noted that the current university entrance system designed around resource limitations at university level must change as the capacities of the universities expand.

As outlined in the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour policy statement, enhancing the capacity of Sri Lankan higher education system through investment, infrastructure, technology and human resources is a key aim of the government, the President highlighted.

“By increasing the capacities of universities, there will be opportunities for more students to gain access to higher education.”

He stressed that students must be allowed to do so without having their future determined purely by the Z-score they obtain through their performance at the Advanced Level examination.

Members of the Parliament, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Major General (retired) Kamal Gunaratne, Secretaries to Ministries, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva, Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Commander of the Air Force Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, IGP C.D. Wickramaratne, Chancellor of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, General Gerard de Silva, Vice Chancellor Major General Milinda Pieris, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and academic and non- academic staff of Kotelawala Defence University and others participated in this occasion.

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