Cutting-Edge Education, Research, and Vocational Training

There is an urgent need to enhance the standards of our university system and research centres. It’s also needed to expand the opportunities to enrol many students as possible by increasing the number of both undergraduate and postgraduate courses available. Many subjects that lead to lucrative careers should be taught especially related to STEM disciplines such as machine learning, data science, robotics, and mechatronics to exploit the highly-sought job market in the world. Also, new courses related to tourism, sports, holistic medicine, and event management should be introduced to produce graduates who are immensely helpful in managing and organising world’s famous tourist, sports, cultural, and entertainment events.

To initiate new technology- driven businesses, there should be a strong collaboration between academia, industry and the government. Apart from strengthening the research institutes like SLINTEC, NIFS, it’s better to empower the engineering teams of the military while forming a research wing like DARPA in US (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) to develop emerging technologies, to fund and co-ordinate the research projects in collaboration with the academia.

University departments related to STEM disciplines should be equipped with cutting-edge research equipment and with highly-qualified researchers. That would lay a solid foundation for a plethora of tech startups to thrive with the influx of highly-skilled graduates. This would eventually help our universities to secure higher ranks in world university rankings such as QS, when compared with other high ranking Asian universities like National University Singapore(NUS), Nanyang Technological University. That would also lessen the escalating trend of brain-drain by which the country is losing the most brightest minds to developed countries.

As there are many talented Sri Lankans around the globe, we can get their assistance to accomplish this goal. Professors who work on the world’s most prestigious universities like Rohan Aberathna (Department of Mechanics, MIT), Saman Amarasinghe(CSAIL, MIT), Hemamala Karunadasa (Department of Chemistry, Stanford), Gehan Amaratunga (Department of Engineering, Cambridge), Kumar Wickramasinghe (UC Irvine), Asantha Cooray (UC Irvine), Ananda Gunawardena (CMU/Princeton), Suran Goonathilake (Department of Computer Science, UCL), Mohan Edirisinghe (Department of Engineering, UCL), Hiranya Peiris (Department of Physics, UCL), and Yashantha Rajakarunanayake, are a few to name who can be assimilated to play a key role in achieving this venture. The expertise of our engineers and scientists who work on world’s biggest tech companies like Google, Intel, and research centres should be absorbed to flourish the country’s tech industry.

It’s also brilliant if we can form research collaborations with the world’s leading universities. For an example, we can look at SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance on Research and Technology) once headed by Professor Rohan Aberathne. Our Defense colleges and universities should also be developed with the best training facilities and latest technologies.

We should have programmes to enhance the entrepreneurial skills of our students. Funding schemes should be initiated to invest on great, commercially profitable ideas after reviewed by a panel of tech and business experts. For an example, we can look at Chamath Palihapitiya, a prominent Silicon Valley figure who is the CEO of Social Capital, a former venture fund and now a technology holding company who helped successful tech companies like Slack and also investing in companies like Virgin Galactic.

Major attention should be paid to take on the market of technological products related to renewables (photovoltaic/ solar cells etc.), quantum technologies, and nanotechnologies rather than only focusing on already established markets like IT/apparel.

Finally, the programmes should be developed to improve the knowledge of young Buddhist monks. As Buddhism has found a new ground in the West, our Buddhist monks should be well-trained to disseminate Buddhist teachings to the rest of world. Currently, that space is filled by Tibetan and Zen monks. Our country had great Buddhist figures both lay people and priests in the past such as Ven. Walpola Rahula thero (Professor of Philosophy, Northwestern University, Chicago), David Kalupahana (Professor, University of Hawaii). Hence, programmes should be developed to provide the knowledge in English/IT, Buddhist philosophy, Eastern Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience. With the growing mental health issues, many westerners including famous celebrities have found a relief in Buddhist practices like mindfulness. Even stress reducing therapies such as MBSR and MBCT which are endorsed by psychiatrists and psychologists are actually developed based on Buddhist contemplative traditions such as Satipattana (Mindfulness) and Vipassana (Insight Meditation). They have also become some serious scientific research interests among psychologists and neuroscientists such as Richard J. Davidson (University of Wisconsin), and in events such as Mind and Life. So, there must be programmes to encourage such coordination among western scientists, scholars, centres (such as Oxford Centre of Buddhist Studies) and our buddhist monks.

~ LM Pathirana

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