The following is a transcript of the Chancellor's Address and the Convocation Addresses delivered at the Convocation of the University of Moratuwa held on Friday 11th March 2005.


Chancellor's Address at the Convocation on 11th March 2005

Honoured Vice Chancellor,

Learned Dons and Colleagues,

Young Ladies and Gentlemen of our university

Your Parents and Guests on this important occasion.

My first duty today, and pleasure, is to thank our Vice Chancellor, and both his administrative as well as academic teams, for yet another remarkably peaceful academic year at Moratuwa; and which has enabled us all to get on with our principal task of teaching and training young minds to face the world outside. This achievement is all the more significant when one looks out at the social upheavals in society around us; in Sri Lanka as also in the world outside.

During my occasional travels around this country, as well as to the extremes of our globe, I have become increasingly aware of how well our graduates from Moratuwa are performing, … Both in the universities wherever they seek advanced degrees… and also in industry here and overseas. I’ve been extremely proud of them all.

Many of them are in very senior positions here in Sri Lanka, - technical as well as administrative - and return to this university, with their Company’s blessings, to study for even higher qualifications with which to be of still greater benefit to their employers. I meet them occasionally in the lecture-halls…. and then again in their industrial positions. And I never fail to be impressed with their confidence, their poise, their technical as well as corporate leadership….. All of which reflects, most favourably, upon the quality of their training at Moratuwa.

Some, quite a few, of our students make the grade to Universities abroad, as wide spread as Kobe in the Far-East and Cambridge in the West. And invariably I am impressed, again, with the high quality of the Moratuwa education, and training which is reflected in their confidence;…. and in their ability to compete – on very equal footing – with their counterparts;… their peers, …who have been educated in other fine Universities of the world.

Once again this reflects, not only the depth and technical capacities of their training here, but also in the quality of the Moratuwa University education. And here I have again to thank, our academic staff and administration for a truly remarkable achievement against tremendous odds.

The training of each student at Moratuwa costs over a hundred-thousand rupees… a thousand dollars… every year. Yet, invariably the funds, finally allocated by Government for this aspect of ‘free-education’, fall far short of the sums required and budgeted in order to maintain the world standards which are here achieved… And to which we must continuingly aspire….. It also falls way short of what other universities abroad are able to spend for each student’s education…. And yet our students… our graduates have eventually to compete with the best in the world.

And while our staff endeavour hard to ensure continuingly higher and higher levels in academic and technical training, the severely limited financial allocations could well reflect, in the future, in the quality of the training that must also be afforded. And this would be a tragedy. For whereas much of Sri Lankan output and achievement is still, sadly, ‘third world’- such description has not, so far, been applicable to our Moratuwa University education,… Which still aspires to, and achieves, world-class standards. Sadly, again, such is not understood, nor appreciated by the limited acumen of many of our country’s administrators and legislators.

I have been privileged, on occasion, to observe the selfless endeavours of our academia to, themselves personally, provide our students that bit, extra, of quality in the education and in the training of their students,…. to equip them better to compete with the formidable world outside our sheltered precincts. … I thank them all, very sincerely. Thereby,… not only are our students trained to compete successfully with the increased, - and desirably increasing - levels of technological competition within our country… But as also prevails in the outside world in which, I am proud to see, our students competing so well….and with confidence.

That dedication to quality is also expressed in the increasing number of short-courses, seminars, consultancies and workshops which have been conducted throughout this year, too…. and with the active participation of industry… The industry which we continually aspire to serve, both with technical expertise as well as with that extra of quality in the personnel they engage from the University of Moratuwa.

Among the physical developments which have taken place during the year, - and corresponding to undergraduate numbers increasing from 500 to 600,- is the opening of a new hostel stage for 164 male students. While our academic facilities are co-educational, I don’t believe this extends, yet, to the hostels! …..

I am also very proud to report how magnificently our university – both students in their hundreds as well as the lecturing staff,- responded to the recent tragedy along our coasts. You all know that the possibility of an outbreak of disease was very real. But this was largely averted due to prompt and far-seeing action by our students, who attended urgently to help the restoration of hygienic facilities with detergents and disinfectants. Urgent communication and logistic facilities were also provided and restored throughout the affected areas with every department and faculty rising to the sudden and urgent need of the nation. I thank our colleagues very, very much for this impromptu, yet truly noble endeavour to help their beleaguered countrymen. I am sure that the many thousands of those who were affected are most grateful to them all….

Our students will have appreciated the transparency in release of exam results early, to enable them the opportunity to review with their examiners any concerns they might have, prior to their submission before the Board of Examiners. It is important to us all that the students themselves feel, - with their lecturers, - that their grades have been fair and transparent.

The gradual introduction of the semester-system into the university curriculum has, I believe, proven very advantageous. Some may feel concern that this earlier exposure to, and involvement with, industry did not apply to them too. It is still a welcome sign of progress and continuing development in the system of training.

And some of you may feel not so happy about the positions you have secured in the search for an ‘isthira rakshava’… ‘permanent employment’…. First, may I remind you, that ‘nothing in this world is permanent’. Change is inevitable. And you will all surely make several changes in your years ahead….Changes in experience during which you may better clarify and consolidate your thinking towards your eventual career.

How many of you have a clear idea as to what you intend to be doing, say ten or twenty years in the future. Very few, perhaps!…. And yet if you do not know where you are going,….You’re not likely to get there, are you?

So look upon the next few years as a period to plan your goal in life… And to plan your career to reach those goals…. To achieve those dreams towards which, I am sure, you must have aspired while at university. Without doubt, you will find the experience gained during these coming years most valuable.

The message which I wish to share with you ladies and gentlemen of Moratuwa, is Never Give Up…and …Never Lose Your Dreams. They are a great possession in the changing fortunes of life.

And now, if I may, I wish to address your parents who are here, proudly, to share with you this moment when you take your degrees and awards, for your endeavours over the past several years with us.

A great many of you, I know, are teachers. You sent your children to university as culmination of your dream for them….. Earlier through school as little children in blue shorts and white dresses. And having sent them into that very new – and in many cases, distant, - world of the campus…. were you still there to help guide them through the challenging problems, doubts and difficulties of that new world they were entering….. Were you there with love,… guidance,…. and understanding when they needed it most?…. Or did you leave them to search out that love and guidance in a completely new arena where they would inevitably meet a dangerous few who would seek to misguide them for their own ends….Perhaps even disruptive elements from outside the campus…. The world is full of such disruptive elements … But were you available to them then, with loving guidance and understanding?

Perhaps you say to your self, ‘It is now too late for such thoughts’… But maybe you have other children about to enter university… Or being teachers you know of other parents in your gama who will soon send their children to the campus?… Please help and guide them to assure their children always of their guidance,… understanding… and support….. Of their love when they need it most…. And never be cynical about love.. ‘for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial and precious as the grass’ which returns after the drought has passed.

And now back to our young students…. Remember that soon you too will be parents. Perhaps your partners will also be employed,… both busy earning a living. You too will have children away at the university….And will do well to remember your own traumatic experiences when entering and experiencing that tremendous change in your lives of the campus. Please never fail to ensure for your children that parental love and guidance when they will need it most… Will you be there for them?

For all the sham and drudgery of the new world into which you now step, it is still a beautiful world and we are,… all of us,… truly blessed to be living in Sri Lanka.

Never Give Up…. and …Never Lose Your Dreams… They are precious as life.

 

Vidya Jyothi Dr. Ray Wijewardene
Chancellor
11th March 2005


Convocation Address
delivered by the UN/ILO International Engineers 
on Cost Effective Rehabilitation Solutions using Local Resources and Appropriate Technologies

Ms Jane Tournee (morning session)and Mr David Salter (afternoon session).

Perspectives of International Challenges

It is a privilege to have this opportunity to be at this renowned and esteemed institution of learning. This is a moment of shared joy not only for the students but also for the many people who have contributed to the success of this graduating class. Let us pay tribute to, and celebrate all of those who have made this achievement possible.

Students, you have worked hard during your time at this university, as have many others in support of you. Your success is a great accomplishment. This day belongs to all of you!

Here in this University you have been provided with many of the tools you will need for your future careers, but more than that, I hope with a thirst for further knowledge and imagination in finding creative solutions to the many and varied problems that you will face as you begin your professional life.

You will be asking yourself, how you can use your knowledge, how will you keep learning and extending it, so that your work benefits Sri Lanka or any society where you find yourself

Unfortunately it is a very sad event that has brought many people, including me to Sri Lanka at this time. As we all know, the start of year has been overshadowed by the tsunami disaster. The effects of the tsunami were devastating, and has triggered sympathy from every comer of the world. The students of this university offered their services and are supporting the tsunami response. I am sure you are successful, despite the difficulties, and that all your efforts are appreciated.

I would like to share with you one certainty that I have gained as an engineer over the past 25 years. Your technical skills, no matter how good they are, will only be one of many ingredients necessary for your success. Your character and interpersonal skills, the way you help and deal with people, are every bit as important. You do have important social responsibilities as a professional.

Today, I wish to relate to you the notion that your skills are needed not only in domestic industry but also in a wide variety of international situations that you may not have considered. If you work internationally, these situations can range from emergency humanitarian relief to assisting a Government Ministry to elaborate national sector policies and strategies. You may often find yourself working in extreme environments. In some cases there may be very limited human, physical and financial resources, and at the same time it will be necessary to produce technical solutions that are not found in any text book. In other cases it may be that you find yourself working along side a national colleague who has a higher education and achieved a noted level of professional distinction, in such a case your contribution may be to bring international perspectives and experiences.

For most of your career you will be concerned in some way with infrastructure. When a disaster occurs, such as the recent tsunami, the reconstruction of the infrastructure often represents the largest cost. You know this from first hand experience. When a ceasefire is finally reached after a conflict, it is often the infrastructure that is in ruins and needs to be rebuilt in order for the conflict affected country to get back on its feet. Poor transport infrastructure can often retard the economic growth of a developing or emerging country because of the higher transport costs that in turn makes its products less competitive on the world market. Poor access to social and economic opportunities is often due to the underdeveloped rural infrastructure and heavily contributes to keep many rural people in poverty. In all of these cases your decisions can have far reaching impacts on the effectiveness of interventions. They are about technology and about people. They will affect real people.

There are a large number of international organizations that have mandates for working in the different fields where international assistance can contribute to the survival or the development of people in different countries. Most of them need your skills to carry out their mandates.

I am now employed by the International Labour Organization, or as it is commonly known, the ILO. The ILO was formed in 1919, and is the only remaining member of agencies that formed the League of Nations, which is the predecessor of the United Nations. Sri Lanka has been a member of the ILO since 1948.

It was interesting to learn that the ELO and your University have some shared history. In the early 1970s the ILO assisted the then Ceylon College of Technology to become the Katubedda Campus of the University of Ceylon.

The ILO has the unique international mandate for employment related issues. In this context the ILO has developed a number of technical cooperation programs that improve and increase employment in member states. Generating employment through the improvement of infrastructure by means of labour﷓based appropriate technologies is one area where the ILO has assisted many countries around the world.

These kinds of technologies continue to have great potential, on the one hand to improve certain kinds of infrastructure such as rural roads and irrigation schemes to appropriate engineering standards, and on the other hand to generate employment for local people through actual work on the site and through the supplying of locally prepared building materials. A large percentage of the world's population is living at or below the poverty level. Directly related to this problem is the prevailing high levels of un﷓ and under﷓ employment experienced by many countries. Labour﷓based appropriate technologies offer a means of addressing this kind of problem.

When we study engineering, architecture or planning nowadays we are often trained to follow established guidelines and proceed with certain assumptions that are inherent in the technologies that we are trained to use. Understandably the technologies that we become familiar with in Universities are often at the cutting edge and are associated with, and appropriate to, advanced industrial economies, where labour wages are relatively higher, and the costs of capital equipment is relatively lower to that experienced in other countries with different kinds of economies. In much of the world though, the appropriateness and blind application of these capital intensive technologies is highly questionable.

Your challenge will often be to find the most cost effective way to produce or maintain an asset. This involves examining all aspects of the production cycle, and considering whether more or less labour should be used or equipment. This is real engineering and takes real engineering skills. It is not as simple as it sounds.

Let us consider the example of the construction of a rural road. One may clear the right of way using a bulldozer or by using a large group of labourers. The assumption that only a bulldozer can be use should be challenged if there are workers available and their unit productivity costs are competitive with that of the machine. When excavating the road drainage ditches, again a cost comparison should be made between the full costs of a digging machine and that of labour. Etcetera, etcetera. Your career will surely evolve around taking what you have learned here, remembering the core principles and adapting them to the reality that you will face.

Newton's laws hold true whether you are working during peace time or otherwise. Consider the conflict situation when civilians are often trapped in the crossfire. You engineers may be called upon'to construct an access road to enable the civilians to move out of danger. You may need at the same time to find a source of water for the refugees in an area that is probably already short of water. You planners may be asked to design and construct a refugee camp that will afford the refugees a temporary safe haven, and will have a layout that reduces the spread of disease or fire. You architects may be asked to design shelters that makes use of local materials, costs little, and ensures family unity. In these situations you often have to make decisions quickly and find alternative ways to accomplish these tasks. One thing is for sure you will not have enough resources or enough time, but you will have your brain.

In a post conflict situation, your skills are needed more than ever to assist with the reintegration and resettlement of refugee and displaced populations and for the general reconstruction of the war affected infrastructure. The end of a conflict is often accompanied by large population movements. Refugees and displaced people return to their fon﷓ner homes. Family members travel far and wide to seek other family members. No one has money, it was exhausted in the effort to survive. Not only private assets, but much of the public infrastructure is in ruins. The economy is in shambles and there is little employment and work for anyone. There are land and property disputes. Out of this frustration, there is the danger of a return to violent means to deal with these problems.

In these situations, massive public works schemes are often launched. People are employed fixing the infrastructure that leads to cash being injected into local communities through wages. Here you need to have both impartiality and sensitivity in designing the appropriate program of public works. Your skills are needed to ensure that the resources that come available are used on the right infrastructure built in the right way and delivered in a transparent manner. In the case of a civil war, the worksite provides an opportunity for people from different sides of the conflict to work together towards the common good and to start the reintegration process. Your job will be to maintain complete fairness in all aspects of the scheme. You need to ensure equality of opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and at the same time achieve appropriate engineering standards. You may not be able to end the war but failure in these regards could inflame the embers.

As recovery continues, attention turns to resuming the normal progress of development. Infrastructure improvements are an essential component for social and economic development. It alone cannot achieve advancement, but without adequate infrastructure, development, particularly in rural areas, will be very greatly hampered.

Poor people spend a large proportion of their time and resources accessing their basic needs such as water, food, employment, health care, education, and other social services. Isolation sustains poverty, services do not reach people, and they are unable to access income generating activities. Taken on a community﷓by﷓community basis this may seem to have little to do with overall national development, but this has a large effect when considered cumulatively.

There are tools that you can use at the community level such as Integrated Accessibility Planning to address the problems of limited access. By using this tool, you will ensure that the needs of households with different levels of income from the well off to the poorest are accounted into the process. This tool requires both the application of sophisticated GPS and GIS technology as well as direct face to face consultations with the local people. You will need both technical and interpersonal skills.

Sri Lanka has been at the forefront of developing Community Action Planning leading to community contracts, especially in unplanned areas of towns and cities. Community involvement need not be restricted to planning only. Community﷓based development recognizes the capacities that exist within communities and the ability of communities to drive their own development. What they often lack is additional financial and material resources and most importantly expertise such as technical skills. This is where you can come in.

Having selected the type of infrastructure to be provided the next consideration is the precise needs of the end users. What architect would design a building without asking the future owner what he or she wants and without a discussion on what the users ﷓ office management, shop owners, public ﷓ will want. Similarly there is little point in designing, water supplies, irrigation schemes, roads, schools etcetera if they do not address the specific needs of the target group.

Having designed the infrastructure with the community you will need to make other choices on how to implement the works. Depending on the complexity of the infrastructure, community contracting is one way of involving the community in the actual construction works. Where labour﷓based methods can be applied, or simple buildings are required, experience shows that the works can be carried out by communities. The community will need considerable support to understand the responsibilities they are accepting and to set out and implement the work to the correct standard and quality.

Why should you go to all this effort? Community contracts create work for the community members and the wages are often spent locally thus having a multiplier effect for the local economy including small businesses in the area. There is also an element of pride in an achievement and a building of confidence to tackle other problems facing the community.

What do you gain by using these approaches? You gain a chance to show your real skills and ability to innovate and motivate, and the satisfaction of having clients who will really appreciate and respect your work.

It is a big world out there and you are needed.

In closing, I wish all of you the very best of luck in your future. It is up to you now.