Reverend Sir, the Outgoing Vice Chancellor, Council Members, the Directors of the PG Institutes, the Registrar, the Bursar, the Librarian, Heads and other Academic staff, Executive officers, all non-academic staff, students, invitees, media personnel and those joining on zoom
A very good day to all of you!
First of all let me thank the Council, the UGC and HE the President for appointing me to lead this great institution and I submit myself totally to shoulder this responsibility with humbleness and service orientation.
It is with great pride and pleasure that I return to this blessed premises which gave me so much of opportunities to develop my career as an academic, surgeon and a professional. I am aware that I undertake to lead a university of a global standing but nevertheless, it is my belief that the university can progress even further in leaps and bounds if its’ fullest potential is utilized systematically in the coming years. I have pledged to the council that during the next three years I would mobilize all available means and resources to lay the foundation for accelerated growth of this esteemed and resilient organization.
I appreciate the efforts of the DVC, Registrar and their teams for organizing this event at short notice under challenging conditions to health at the expense of their comfort.
Prof Upul Dissanayake, outgoing vice chancellor I appreciate your commitment to the University. Six years at the helm is a quite a good share of your Professional life, and six years is also a considerable period of the comparatively short history of this university. A dean who worked more closely with you during the recent years will expand further on your tenure.
Challenges faced by the university
As the main function of the university, the society expects us to produce competent graduates. Of course, it is our primary duty to ensure that our products are not only competent, but also well rounded professionals who contribute to the national development and advancement of global society, by finding solutions to the problems that we face today as well as tomorrow.
In this regard, pandemic Covid 19 has presented us with a historical opportunity and demand to show our resilience and response. We all can be proud that the University of Peradeniya has responded positively to this challenge through sheer commitment, innovation and creativity. The novel face mask is one leading example. Further, the university has been in the forefront in adapting to ‘Emergency remote teaching’ and now has moved in to one of the most challenging arena-online assessments. Anecdotal evidence from student assessments suggest that theory learning through online means may have even improved the grades. Such are the benefits you have derived by considering the challenges as opportunities. As one said If it does not challenge you, It does not change you.
Serious challenges posed to the university functions by the Pandemic include, Prolonged closures which have delayed number of essential elements for the universities’ growth such as recruitments and promotions; Student admissions, graduation and convocation have been delayed and work restrictions have slowed down routine functions. The psychological stressors that students and staff go through may not have received due attention. These prevailing conditions have created new work norms, but efforts are needed to improve efficiency while we are coming out of the current work norms, rather than allowing to create a ‘new abnormal’. As a resilient organization I am optimistic of UoP’s ability to find positive solutions to these problems.
Let me briefly outline today to a wider audience what I pledged in before august council of this university a few weeks ago. I pledged for reforms and interventions in 6 key areas.
Academic and Research Activities
D. Satisfaction and wellbeing of key stakeholders
Natural and built environment
Outreach and External Relations
Strengthening the institutional mechanisms through implementing policies and procedures has been a successful leadership strategy I have used to achieve institutional goals. I understand that the Professional behavior improves morale of workers, enhance the reputation of the institution and minimizes the partisan behavior. Accountability needs to echo in all corners of the university, including in the VC’s office.
In line with the university’s vision and strategic directions, action plans are required to be developed for all divisions- faculties, Institutes, departments, centers, units and committees. Inherent defect of poor dialog and coordination between the council and those divisions will be addressed through a council subcommittee whose membership could be expanded to will include non-council academics.
For sustainability, optimal management of the university should not be top-down, command or control type, but rather bottom up and autocatalytic with enablement of peripheral divisions. However, I, on behalf of the council, will not hesitate to maintain some degree of command and control in the initial phase where required, to establish the governance structure and the best optimum practices.
The backbone of the University is its academic and nonacademic administrators. Grooming them and ensuring minimum leadership and management skills is a priority. Financial transparency and management can be optimized to facilitate growth of the institution. In-depth analysis of financial management under the guidance of a powerful council subcommittee is an urgent need. New projects, consultation services and academic programs with high national and international flavor can be initiated to attract additional funding. The university is not spared from the global economic downturn due to the pandemic. Finding alternatives to mitigate the effects of economic hardships is a responsibility bestowed upon us.
It is with evidence that I believe, human resource development alone can improve institutional outcomes by about 30%. The development of a master plan for human resource management is a timely need. A minimum profile for each category of staff need to be defined. Academics may wish to seek assistance to broaden their profile by acquiring additional skills, especially unrelated to the main subject.
Some staff development programs can be upgraded to certificate and diploma programs. I request that the departments and the Deans nominate to academic administrative positions those who have acquired additional management/leadership skills. This is particularly highlighted as well-groomed Heads/department is an absolute necessity to push the university in it’s desired direction. Lack of adequate time for academic administration is a common complaint, but at the same time some academics may not be comfortable in surrendering the work that they are used to! A policy of reserving adequate time for academic administration is a need.
Culture of long procedures adopted in routine activities such as staff recruitments, promotion of staff, processing PF should be put to the history.
Academic and Research Activities
Improvement of Academic and Research Activities requires staff development, support for educational research, sharing best practices and establishment of quality assurance as a living culture. The University has already adopted the 2019/09 circular on strengthening quality assurance mechanisms. I consider this as a valuable opportunity to ensure QA a living culture rather than a time consuming endeavor to achieve a grade on paper.
The university has already highlighted its presence in combating the Covid 19 pandemic through innovative diagnostic and preventive strategies. But it needs to ensure that such isolated triumphs are more widespread and common. Identifying at least one major research area for each department, Interdisciplinary research, especially combining natural and social sciences will be beneficial.
Satisfaction and wellbeing of key stakeholders
Ensuring wellbeing and satisfaction of both students and staff is a key responsibility of the university administration. Student services cannot be delivered by sitting in a central room. Therefore, senior management will be expected to engage with students and physically observe the service delivery points. Student surveys, timely provision of students need such as transportation and sports facilities are basic requisites. Upgrading curative and preventive health facilities, automating accommodation division, revision of Canteen system are some key considerations to improve student wellbeing. Provision of correct information on all matters, adherence to the schedules and time tables, academic mentoring and professional counseling service are priority areas.
A comprehensive program needs to be enacted to prevent all forms of violence, harassment at student and staff level. Measures to increase the awareness on psychology behind harassment, dangers of such acts and existing law, among all stakeholders, is an absolute necessity. Undivided commitment of academic staff is essential for elimination of all forms of harassment and ragging.
Natural and built environment.
Natural and built environment of the university of Peradeniya has made us proud inhabitants for generations. The Maintenance division which look after the natural and built environs of the university has to be revamped after a scientific evaluation. Some weak aspects such as poor human resource management, lack of professionalism and skills, absence of culture of preventive maintenance (vs reactive maintenance) are pretty obvious.
The Landscape division is often criticized for lack of vision, training, and poor work commitment. Efforts will be taken to make the Landscape Division a Professional outfit. Landscape Master Plan needs revision taking into consideration forest conservation, agro-forestry and the academic requirements of the university in areas such as sustainability, forestry, zoology and environmental studies.
Greening of the University can become a service component of the Center for Environmental Studies.
Outreach and External Relations
From a more local perspective, UoP has the capacity to interact with the community entities of full range. Social Responsiveness through provision of intellectual leadership in areas of community interests will create opportunities for research, extra funding and prospect for students to engage in externships and co-curricular activities. A ‘Community Relations Center (CRC)’ is a concept that is worth exploring and all faculties could establish at least one major community relations/outreach program. Establishing an International Center for Studies on Kandyan Heritage and Culture will also be considered.
Steps such as establishing an Alumni-Ambassador program, giving back to Alumni in all possible ways-for examples offering to stay in University Bungalows, establishing an Alumni Centre, seeking their input for all functions of the university including strategic planning, and assistance to establish Endowment Chairs are some forward looking steps.
In summary, establishing a professional workforce, efficient administration system, improved welfare and wellbeing facilities, strong community and Alumni relations with improved external funding are some strategies I could offer to positively take forward the university in absolute terms.
Staff Commitment expected
The support that I expect will come from your approach to work ethic. Commitment, honesty, professionalism and accountability are the qualities that matter. Each one of us are a part of a chain of responsibility. We all have a responsibility in fulfilling our obligations as expected by our superordinate and we also have a responsibility of ensuring the best and monitoring our subordinates for better institutional performance. As the institutional leader you can expect me to be your guardian provided you fulfill the duties expected from you.
For any delay or poor outcome in the university happenings, there has to be a reason. It is either due to a system failure or related to personal failure. I am fully aware of the need to address any system failures as well as pinning down those who may behave irresponsibly.
Who am I?
Prof Karunaratne stated a few things about me that you are already familiar with. However, as far as I have been made to understand, two types of questions have been raised by some staff and students about me viz-a-viz as how I might function as the VC. One high order question is- what plans and interventions that I would envisage to uplift the standards of the university. This is most encouraging and can lead to a whole heap of constructive ideas and conversations.
A lower order question like how strict that the new VC will be, still I suppose, needs some answers. As far as I know to date, your new VC is strict on himself, demanding more and more from him and of course from others around as well-but a team player, deeply committed to the institutions that he serves and has demonstrated intense desire to ensure progressive growth in them. I sincerely hope those characteristics in him will remain unchanged-I don’t know whether this is what's meant by strictness or discipline!
Finally, most respected reverend Sir, Council members and dear university community, I do not hope to find excuses for myself to deviate from my vision to “Make the University of Peradeniya the most sought after and a world-renowned University in Sri Lanka” for which you can expect me to face challenges with optimism, take progressive and positive rather than negative decisions, all of course with the assistance and cooperation of you all.
Thank you very much indeed