Plan to recruit 50,000 unemployed graduates by March
The initiative will be Sri Lanka’s biggest unemployed graduate recruitment programme for the state sector, surpassing the recruitment of 48,000 unemployed graduates in 2012 under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
The aim is to help reduce the unemployment rate to below 4%. Currently, the overall unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is 5.1% and the youth unemployment rate (age 15-24 years) is 23.3%, according to the Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey.
Following the surprise change of government in mid-November last year, the new government is gradually making changes to the entire education system. The new unemployed graduate recruiting programme, ordered by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (the brother of Mahinda, who is the current prime minister), will be one of the main challenges for the government ahead of a crucial general election expected this April.
In the presidential election in mid-November last year, students and lecturers seeking better security and radical changes in education voted against the Unity Government after it failed in nearly five years to introduce promised educational reforms and also failed to prevent the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.
Students and lecturers played a key role behind the scenes in the defeat of the previous government. Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the election, securing 52.25% of the vote. The election turnout was 83.72%, the highest for a Sri Lankan presidential vote, reflecting a strong turnout from new young voters desiring change. Students were an active part of the election campaign, especially via online and social media.
According to the official figures, in Sri Lanka there are about 45,000-50,000 unemployed graduates.
Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, addressing the media in Colombo, said that preliminary work has already commenced to recruit 50,000 unemployed university graduates. On the directive of President Rajapaksa, a separate institute will be established to look into the vacancies available in government institutions. A cabinet paper will also be presented to the cabinet in the coming days.
According to the minister, recruited undergraduates have to undergo six months of special training before being appointed.
The government is hoping to recruit most of the graduates as school teachers to fill vacant positions in the areas of mathematics, science and English language. Those recruited for teaching will be specially trained prior to their appointments. According to reports, there is a shortage of about 20,000 teachers in Sri Lanka.
“The president has instructed to keep politics aside and follow a transparent process to recruit all graduates,” the minister said. “Age, race and religion will not be an issue and whether they obtained the degree as an internal student or not will also not be considered for the recruitment process.”
However, Convener of the Combined Association of Unemployed Graduates (CAUG) Venerable Thenne Gnanananda Thero, speaking to University World News, said there are doubts about government’s commitment as the promise was only made verbally.
“Government is dragging out the unemployed graduates issue: First they promised to give jobs on 1 January, then postponed it to 15 January, now they have dragged it out to 1 March,” Thero said.
“We do not believe their lies; we will come to Colombo and launch a protest and will get a written promise from government.”
CAUG has planned a massive protest march in Colombo on 22 January.
“The previous government cheated us and it seems the new government also wants to do it. We are warning this government that if it fails [to deliver] as promised, we will fight and topple the government as we did last time,” Thero said.
Parallel to the recruitment of graduates, the government has decided to provide 100,000 jobs to low-income young people who have completed school studies up to Grade Eight – which is a junior secondary grade for 13-year-olds. Those recruits will also undergo special training before the appointments.