“Professor Ariadurai currently serves as the Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) and is one of the youngest academics to become the Vice Chancellor of the university. He is a product of St Anthony’s College, Kandy. Having received his higher education overseas, he is both a Charted Engineer and Charted textile Technologist. Prior to the present position, he has served as the Head of the Department of Textile and Apparel Technology and the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at the OUSL. Prof Ariadurai is a versatile academic with a friendly, down-to-earth attitude towards people. He is a balanced personality with a sense of humour.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. What are your plans for the 40th anniversary of OUSL?
A. This University has lasted for 40 years. I would say it has done a tremendous service. Through our regional network, we have reached every part of the country. In January, we have opened our study centre in Matale district. With that, all the districts are covered.
The OUSL has played a significant role in taking higher education to the doorstep of SriLankan citizens. That is a significant achievement as far as the university’s achievements are concerned.
We have planned activities to celebrate the 40th year. We have a committee working on that. The iconic event would the hosting of the Asian Association for Open Universities Annual Conference in SriLanka.
That is the largest body of Distance Education Institutes in the world. They have an annual conference every year. As it’s our 40th anniversary, we decided to host it in Sri Lanka. It will be held from October 21 to 23 2020. The other events we have planned include University day on July 22. We will launch a CSR project to mark the event.
Q. What is the difference between the other universities and the Open University?
A. Basically there are three differences. The first one is in our name. We are Open. We are open to everyone. Anybody over 18 years of age can join our university. They can enter the university at various levels depending on their prior qualifications. They can start right from the foundation level and climb up to the PhD level. If they do not have the basic qualifications to enter the degree program, they can complete the foundation program and proceed with the rest of the program.
When the students have a diploma or any other similar prior qualification, they can join the Open University in the third year of the degree program and finish the degree in two years.
We have this system of multiple entry and multiple exit. This is a significant difference between the OUSL and other universities.
The second difference is our mode of teaching.
All other universities conduct the conventional face-to-face teaching methodology. But we use the distance learning mode. We do have limited number of face-to-face sessions, but we have other modes, such as printed materials, online portal, audio-video visuals and others to impart knowledge. However, for science and engineering programs, students are required to attend compulsory laboratory classes.
The third major difference is that we are a fee levying institute. Our fees are very nominal. As we are a state university, of the toatla budget of the university, the state continues to fund about 60 to 65 percent. The students pay only about one third of the expenditure of the course.
Another difference is that we take students directly by advertising the program unlike the other 14 conventional universities where the students are selected to them by the UGC.
Q. What is your contribution to the development of the country?
A. The University started in 1980. The main purpose of the university was to provide higher educational opportunities to those who have missed their chances of higher education for various reasons.
At the Open University, students can pursue their higher education while working.
The university provides a means for the employed to get formal qualifications to advance in the career. This is the primary goal of the university.
Most programs are geared for the employed students. Almost hundred percent of our students in the Education and Health Sciences, faculties are employed and substantial numbers in the Humanities and Mangement Sciences too are employed. Based on the tracer studies we conduct annually we know that by the time of graduation, more than 85% of the students are gainfully employed.
We encourage our students to practise lifelong learning. People have to learn. The world is changing rapidly. What you learn today can be obsolete tomorrow. Hence, you have to keep updating your knowledge and your qualifications. The Open University of Sri Lanka provides an opportunity for this.
Q. What are the new disciplines that have been added to the syllabus during your tenure at the OUSL?
A. When I became the Vice-Chancellor in 2015, we had four faculties. Immediately after I became the Vice Chancellor, the Faculty of Health Sciences was inaugurated. Within that faculty, a new program in Bachelor of Psychology was started about two years ago. Recently we have launched our sixth faculty, the Faculty of Management Studies. We have also started a new degree program in Youth and Community Development and a program in Library and Information Sciences.
A number of new Master’s Programs has been launched, including the Master of Education, Master of Energy Engineering and Master of Structural Engineering.
We have also started new departments in Education Leadership and Management, Department. English Language Teaching and Department of Computer Science.
Q.academics and the younger generation?
A. As for academics, the profession of teaching is not a job. Education is a service. As academics, we should have to be service minded. We cannot calculate the time we spend or the money we earn. We have to cater for the needs of citizens. We should be compassionate and helpful.
As for the younger generation, they must give priority to education. Society can advance only through education. Education is the key to success as it is the only ladder which can take you to the zenith of success. It is not merely for your personal gain; it is for the whole nation as well.
As a country which prides itself on the achievements it has attained in health and education sectors, we must make use of the opportunities in education to reach higher levels.