Sept 28, Colombo: The protest marches launched by the union of striking university academics and the student union on Monday urging the government to save the state education have reached the Sri Lankan capital this evening.
The trade union of Sri Lankan university academics, Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) launched its protest from Galle on September 24 and the Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna affiliated student union, Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) started the march on the same day from Peradeniya in Kandy.
Both protest marches have reached the Hyde Park in Colombo snarling traffic in the city as the daily commuters were heading home and police closed all major roads at Lipton Circle leading to the Town Hall.
Many civil society movements, opposition political parties and student groups have joined the protest march.
Opposition political leaders including UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Harsha De Silva, JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, NSSP leader Wickramabahu Karunaratne have also joined the protest marches converged on the Hyde Park, the Daily Mirror reported.
The academics who are on strike for nearly three months were marching under the theme "Let's protect State Education" while the IUSF marched under the slogan "Save Free Education".
Both organizations demand the government to guarantee education rights of the people and allocate more funds for education.
The academics' union has been on work strike since July 04 demanding the government to raise their salaries and allocate 6 percent of GDP for education.
The government says both demands are unreasonable since the salaries of the university lecturers have been increased three times since January of this year. However the government announced yesterday that they would be granted another pay raise from 1st of October although the latest increment would cause a severe imbalance in the national salary structure.
According to the government, the current national income is only 14 percent and therefore, the proposal to allocate 6 percent of the income on education, is unreasonable.
Meanwhile, the FUTA is also not clear about the demand for 6 percent GDP. When asked in an interview with Ground Views as to why six percent, FUTA President Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri has said that "It was mainly symbolic".
The government as well as many political observers believes FUTA's demands are politically motivated as several discussions FUTA had with various government authorities have failed to reach a compromise to their unyielding demands.
Sri Lanka, which has a high literacy rate thanks to the free education system from grade school through universities, has spent less than 2 percent of GDP for education in recent years and the sector is in a dire state with lack of facilities at all levels.
However, many agree that a 6 percent of GDP allocation is not possible at this juncture, only three years after the country is reeling from a 30-year conflict and focused on developing the destroyed infrastructure.