Preserving Professionalism

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021
Echo Preserving Professionalism

Part II 

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

“Unemployment is bigger than a political party. It is a national danger and a national scandal.” 

– Ellen Wilkinson 

Among the many chaos Sri Lanka’s archaeology and heritage management sector is facing, the problem of archaeology graduate unemployment seems to be a boiling issue. This is not the sole responsibility of the current authorities, but also of those who were in power and position for the past decade. In our previous article, we discussed this issue from the perspective of archaeology undergraduates who conducted a survey on the issue. 

Today, as a continuation of our timely discussion, we will be discussing the problem with a senior professional of the heritage sector. Joining us today is the former Director-General of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) and a wellknown Sri Lankan archaeologist who has worked nationally as well as internationally, Senior Professor Prishantha Gunawardena from the Department of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya. 

The job market should be expanded

“The unemployment of archaeology graduates is actually a notable issue,” started the professor. “The students’ survey clearly showed that a large number of archaeology graduates remain unemployed.” The professor said that the main reason for this is that there is no match between the number of graduates that pass out each year and the number of jobs available for them. Many students enrol in the archaeology degree programme and the country’s job market cannot sustain it. The job market for archaeology graduates in Sri Lanka has currently a very small scope. Hence archaeology-related jobs should be generated. 

He further said that in recent times, a large number of universities established archaeology departments and are offering archaeology degrees and this is also a cause for this issue. This resulted in the increase of producing archaeology graduates, but the job market did not expand parallel to it. “Till around 2000, we only enrolled less than 15 students for the archaeology degree programme and there was a mechanism by which they were directed and then recruited into archaeology-related jobs in the public sector. This coordination collapsed over a period of time”, he said. 

“When we were studying our professors had a policy and a vision; they were concerned about what will happen to archaeology graduates after graduation. They communicated with the State and professional paths were opened up for fresh archaeology graduates,” the professor expressed his concern. According to Prof. Gunawardena, the solution is not to restrict students from studying archaeology. “If students want to study, we should allow them to.” As he explained, there should be a national programme to generate archaeology-related jobs. Unfortunately, the National Policy is not being implemented although we have one. 

Permanent archaeologyrelated jobs needed 

“After the graduates are trained in archaeology they should not be sent to do other jobs,” said the professor. If that is happening, that indicates a downfall of the discipline. He also said that as students are trained and then there is no place where they can permanently be employed in the field of archaeology, many leave the subject and join other Government jobs as Development Officers (DO). When graduates are given jobs, their education, training, and professional qualifications should be considered and prioritised. “Although many archaeology graduates joined the CCF, they left as they were not made permanent.” Especially the archaeology graduates in the Jaffna project went through this tragedy. Those who were working temporarily for the Jaffna project have left for permanent jobs, but they are not archaeology-related. 

“I founded the Jaffna project to create a community connection, to give those archaeology graduates of the Jaffna University a path to work with us together, as a bridge between the two communities.” As prof. Gunawardena further explained, at Jaffna University, archaeology and tourism are taught. But where do they go to get the practical training? “The mechanism we made is now collapsed,” he expressed his concern. Jaffna Fort has a great demand from foreign tourists. Therefore, cultural tourism can be greatly developed in Jaffna. Hence there is a potential for a great job market in Jaffna. 

Everything is politicised 

Political influences act as another hindrance in implementing these policies. “We enrolled 95 graduates (archaeology and tourism) to the CCF and tried hard to recruit them through the recruitment procedure. Unfortunately, the carder committee, nor the politicians understood this. Therefore, many of these graduates left the CCF as they were not made permanent.” He added that what we should do is to implement the National Policy and that the subject minister, the Department of Archaeology, the CCF, and universities should be the parties implementing the policy. “We also started a large number of projects in the CCF, all over the island. But now many are sabotaged. These projects generated a large number of jobs and training programmes.”

 No longer a ‘rich man’s hobby’ 

When asked, Prof. Gunawardena explained to us, studying archaeology for a degree is not a hobby. This is a profession. We need to expand the horizons of this profession. Archaeology is no longer a rich man’s hobby. Archaeology graduates need to be financially stable. And for that, they need to have a path to establish themselves as professional archaeologists. Students follow a professional degree programme with the intention of getting a job in the relevant field. “Archaeology graduates have got to have a path to be established within the profession of archaeology.” 

All over the world, archaeology has become commercial. We haven’t reached there yet. While preserving its professionalism, at the same time, we have to move forward and create economic benefits. We cannot say, “We do not have jobs” “We cannot say to them you don’t have jobs after doing a degree in archaeology,” said Prof. Gunawardena. This definitely reduces the number of graduates and the discipline will collapse. The subject was expanded during the 1980s when the job market was expanded when CCF was started by Dr. Roland Silva. 

Enhancing the quality of archaeology graduates 

Students should be trained in new technology 

“At the same time, it is important to enhance the quality of our graduates,” said the professor. Universities should do this. “We are planning to train to improve our graduates’ foreign language skills and English skills, as well as improving their personalities, leadership qualities, and so on. “When we were working with Prof. Robin Cunningham, we saw and experienced that our technology in archaeology was primitive,” explained Prof. Gunawardena. We don’t do Geophysical surveys in Sri Lanka (under this, there is no need to do excavations, we scan the earth and see what’s lying underground). 

The professor further said that we spend a large amount of money to bring experts and technology to Sri Lanka. “Why can’t we train our students to be experts in such new technology?” asked the professor. He also said that we must train archaeology graduates to a level which they can work outside Sri Lanka with other universities and projects. These are valuable experiences for these young archaeology graduates. If they are trained well, international projects invite them to work with them. As Prof. Gunawardena said such work provides part-time income for the graduates. 

Professional training needed 

There was a policy that the archaeology graduates were given practical training after graduating. This paid work helped them gain work experience and trained them in fieldwork. But now, these days due to the pandemic it has been stopped. “It is a very unfortunate situation and it has a negative impact on them improving their professionalism. It was a policy and practice since the times of Dr. Roland Silva.” 

What are the solutions? 

Prof. Gunawardena is of the view that by expanding tourism and conducting Archaeology Impact Assessments (AIA) programmes we can largely expand the job market for archaeology graduates. In this process, the CCF plays a vital role. 

The role of the CCF 

The CCF can play a significant role in providing solutions to this issue through cultural tourism development. CCF is the main institute when it comes to cultural tourism in Sri Lanka. There are six world heritage sites in Sri Lanka which generate a huge income. “When I was the Director General I remember the income per day at Sigirya was 12 million, Dambulla 8 million, and Polonnaruwa about 7 million.” Tourism in Sri Lanka is reviving and foreign tourists are coming to Sri Lanka again. He added that although talks are there to promote tourism, nothing is done to recruit professionals into these programmes. 

He also said that there is so much work that archaeology graduates can do if they are absorbed into promoting tourism. But the way the policymakers have understood this is not satisfactory. Archaeology graduates can come up with new plans and mechanisms to promote tourism, to guide and educate tourists. “Why can’t we recruit our archaeology graduates as tour guides? They can do the job perfectly. We still depend on national guides only. 

“I see a big gap between the CCF and the Tourism Board. There should be a good interaction.” He also said that there is no one to manage this work in the CCF and that he had established a commerce and management system during his time, but it seems that it is not functioning now. He also said that there should be a tourism management director in the CCF who is trained in archaeology as well as tourism. “The development director cannot do this. And there should be assistant managers to implement the plan through archaeology graduates”, he explained. He further said that the economic base of the CCF should be improved. 

AIAs and PPP programmes 

Although the archaeology-related jobs in Sri Lanka are still majorly in the public sector, the involvement of the private sector such as AIA projects can be beneficial and helps to expand job opportunities. “AIAs are conducted by archaeologists, and they are private agencies,” explained Prof. Gunawardana. There are many development projects that are happening all over the country now. Conducting an AIA is a must before permission is granted for such constructions. This is the law of the country. So accordingly, such AIA programmes will open up a large number of jobs for young archaeologists. 

He added that “Unfortunately, it seems that AIAs are not being conducted properly now. This is a great disadvantage for the heritage as well as to the graduates.” “We need to be more sensitive towards the economy. Archaeologists should have a greater sense of the economy.” The professor also said that we cannot manage our sites solely through the State sector and that needs public-private partnership (PPP) such as in providing media coverage, promotions, tourists facilities, and so on as well as the involvement of smallscale entrepreneurs. 

Tourism industry and the involvement of private sector 

There are approximately 200,000 monuments in Sri Lanka. While archaeology graduates are protecting and managing these sites, they can be working towards promoting the tourism industry. The tourism industry can play a major role in sustaining the country’s economy. “We implemented plans to expand the CCF projects and to recruit archaeology graduates. Unfortunately, this work has not continued. Tourism projects with PPPs have also not continued,” said the professor. “This is the problem with this country; when the governing parties change, so do their policies and plans,” prof. Gunawardena concluded.  

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021

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