Court orders admission of extra students after exam fiasco

The shattered hopes of thousands of Sri Lankan students whose university entrance marks were miscalculated could be restored after the Supreme Court ordered public institutions to admit extra students in the new academic year.

After hearing a petition filed by students, the court directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to admit additional students to local universities. Accordingly, an extra 5,609 students will be admitted – a 25% increase over the normal intake.

This means that a total of around 27,000 students will secure a place in Sri Lankan universities next month, against some 22,000 enrolled last year.

Student unions welcomed the court decision and said officials should admit students without delay.

“I am really happy about the judgment. Now I can go to the university. My parents’ dreams have come true. I know definitely lots of students are overjoyed,” said Nisansala Madubashini, a school-leaver from Matara.

Thousands of students who thought they had qualified for university found that their results – the ‘Z score’ – from university entrance exams sat late last year had been miscalculated and that, when these were corrected, they no longer made the grade.

The release of the ‘corrected’ results triggered a public outcry and thousands of students and their parents took to the streets, protesting against the mess-up education officials had made, despite the exams being held many times before.

Doctors reported that the ‘Z score’ crisis had caused mental stress to students and parents.

A court petition was filed by the Ceylon Teachers' Union and 16 students who had sat the entrance exam, asking for the results to be cancelled.

The UGC made four proposals to resolve the dispute. It suggested admitting to universities an extra 3,675 students under the first proposal, 3,048 students under the second proposal, 4,928 under the third proposal and 4,475 under the fourth proposal.

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike found the third proposal to be appropriate; it would achieve justice for a majority of affected students. She said a similar situation had arisen in 1991, and pointed out that it had been resolved by upping the intake of students to universities.

The court also ordered a recalculation of district rankings, to be released before 12 September.

The Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) – the most influential student union in the university system – said it was happy with the Supreme Court verdict but that a solution was needed for all students affected.

IUSF Convener Sanjeewa Bandara told University World News: “There are two education ministers in the country and a lot of education officials but they couldn’t solve this crisis. They had to go before court. Judicial decisions take a long time.”

He also said: “This solution is short term. We can’t guarantee that every student will be happy with this solution. There may be thousands who have lost their dreams."

The problem could arise again, he added. “A comprehensive review has to be conducted and action taken to prevent this type of situation in the future” he said.

Meanwhile, Federation of University Teachers' Association President Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri warned the authorities not to admit students to universities while academics remained on strike.