No Light at End of Tunnel for Graduates?
By Nabiya Vaffoor
The pinnacle of every undergraduate’s university life is the Convocation – the day the academic Degree they have arduously completed after years of hard work and dedication is conferred on them with academic staff, peers and parents as witnesses. For many, it is a rite of passage to their future.
Unfortunately, many of those who completed their degrees at State universities last year might not walk this passage at all!
Many universities around the country had to cancel Convocations last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the effective management of the spread of the pandemic and the ongoing vaccination drive, health authorities now permit gatherings subject to strict adherence to social distancing and wearing masks.
While weddings and other parties are being permitted with strict adherence to health guidelines, graduates are at a loss to understand why Universities are reluctant to go ahead with holding Convocations.
A recently passed out graduate from the University of Peradeniya explained how the University administration has failed to reschedule the Convocation that was cancelled in December 2020, and the plan to send Degree certificates via mail shattering a graduate’s dream of taking part in the traditional Convocation ceremony.
“Every year, when the general Convocation of the University of Peradeniya is to take place, undergraduates make a bee line to see the parade, which makes its way through lanes paved on either side with flowers to the gymnasium, knowing that one day they too would walk the same path donning the graduate’s cloak. I would say this dream stands true for every graduate. After a hectic four years of study filled with lectures sometimes all day, practicals, field visits, examinations and for most of us even staying away from home, every undergraduate looks forward to that proud moment of being garlanded with the faculty garland at the Convocation.
“Unfortunately, the class of 14/15 is about to miss out on their Convocation, since the authorities have failed to even mention the event after cancelling it in December 2020. Graduates have even paid the fee requested and were still awaiting the rescheduled date. Observing major events taking place under COVID restrictions, Graduates in this batch are a trifle disappointed that the authorities have missed the bus and were not keen to hold Convocations. Observing Convocations being held in other State Universities, have left them bewildered and are disappointed with the stand taken by the University of Peradeniya authorities. Unofficially, faculty level administration have communicated that the Degree certificates will be mailed to graduates soon, ruining the much long-awaited day for the class of 14/15,” he said.
“The delay in holding the Convocation and handing over degree certificates has also affected the process of applying for foreign scholarships for some graduates, as some foreign Universities request the Degree certificate along with academic transcripts,” he added.
Meanwhile, another graduate who recently passed out from the University of Colombo said the University administration has been pushing back the Convocation citing many reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic just being one of the issues.
“The highlight of the year at any University is its Convocation. For the majority of undergraduates who pass out each year, it is the highest academic achievement of their lives. It takes many struggles for them to complete the three or four years and they have to continue with the struggle ahead.
There are students coming from various backgrounds and take different paths. Some complete their studies while doing a job, some make a fortune by giving tuition, some take the lead and go for higher studies, some do private studies along with their Degree, while there are others who struggle with understanding the language and the University concept amidst financial difficulties. Some are boarded and are away from their homes or are in hostels and finding it difficult to pay for food and stationery but they cope with all these difficulties looking forward to the big day when they will be conferred with the Degree certificate at a traditional Convocation ceremony! This is the long-awaited dream of every graduate, is an unforgettable day in his or her life, and is a time for celebration.
Unfortunately, the top administration seems to have forgotten this. They’ve had their day many decades ago or maybe they missed out on their Convocations for some reason or other and that might be the reason they are not keen on going ahead with holding a Convocation for us and maybe of the view, ‘why should they have one’.
“Several universities have already held their Convocations on schedule, despite the COVID-19 pandemic while others haven’t. In the case in point, no plans whatsoever h been made to hold the Convocation.
“Another point of contention was the venue. At one point the authorities said, “We’ll hold the Convocation at the University grounds and not at the BMICH as usual, because it’ll cut costs and be unique. In fact, it was to be many times as costly as having the function at the BMICH, which is just a few steps away from the main campus. Certain other universities hold the Convocation in their premises because they can and have enough space to do so, while the University of Colombo doesn’t even have enough hostels for undergraduates!
In response to student protests, the administration has given many excuses and now the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be their cover.
It is true, the pandemic is an issue, but the inability to hold the Convocation on schedule is a failure on the administrations’ part. It is not the fault of the undergrads,” he said.
“The top Chairs need to understand that they are not just accountable to Ministers, the Treasury and the Government, they are ultimately accountable to undergraduates under their wing, their parents and other citizens of this country, whose tax money goes into public education.”
Another graduate, Subha* who completed her External Degree in the Arts at the University of Kelaniya said they were informed that there will be an online Convocation and had to pay Rs 2,000 together with two photographs but that too has been postponed indefinitely.
“We will have to pay an extra
Rs 240 for the result sheet. I have no idea why we should pay this. It’s not our fault that they couldn’t hold the Convocation. Many private universities have held their Convocations after taking PCR tests on students. That might be hard and cost a fortune to do that for all students in a State university but a Convocation is a vital cog-in-the-wheel in our lives. The Government’s inability to provide vaccines or conduct enough PCR tests is crippling our life opportunities,” she charged.
A final year undergraduate at the University of Kelaniya explained how the delay in holding the convocation can affect their expectations to pursue a career.
“The authorities claim that the result sheet will be enough to get a job or apply to foreign universities but unfortunately some job opportunities for particular posts and many foreign universities reject our applications since we were officially not graduates as yet. We applied with the results sheet and though we were suitably qualified we were rejected. The Convocation is the dream of every graduate but we understand that they can’t hold it because of the pandemic situation but why not hold it online and send our Certificates via registered post. At least we can work towards our future plans,” he added.
He was rather disappointed over political meetings being held while the pandemic was on and at that stage, no following health guidelines were raised, in fact, they were observed in the breach with more than the advised number being present at these political meetings.
“Our future plans were blocked because of the delay in holding the Convocation but the authorities are stressing on the importance of following the health guidelines but this was not so when political meetings were being held,” he added.
We spoke to a parent of a final year undergrad about her sentiments regarding the delay in holding the Convocation, De Silva, a mother of two said her older son graduated from the University three years ago and that was the happiest moment in her life.
“I was delighted when my son graduated three years ago. That is an important moment in a parent’s life to see their child succeed in life. My second daughter who was supposed to graduate is still waiting for the Convocation to be held. Her friends who went to private universities graduated amidst this pandemic and got their Certificates,” she added.
She also said though the UGC says the result sheet was a proof till they get their Certificates and that the Government will employ them taking into consideration the result sheet.
Meanwhile, Prof. Sampath Amarathunga, Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), said although private universities can hold Convocations amidst the pandemic, it is complex to do so in State universities because of the large number of students.
“Universities such as the Kotelawala Defence University held their Convocation after conducting PCR tests for each individual who attended the ceremony and the number of graduates was restricted to 100 - 300,” he added.
He said graduates need not worry about the Degree Certificate because even foreign universities accept the Vice Chancellor’s letter, Dean’s letter and the examination letter issued by the UGC because of the prevailing pandemic situation. “Graduates could submit these letters to be enrolled in higher education programmes. Meanwhile, even State Universities could hold Convocations but should strictly adhere to COVID-19 health guidelines issued by the Health Ministry,” said Prof. Amarathunga.