REINVESTMENT IN HUMAN RESOURCES, INFASTRUCTURE REASON FOR RAPID GROWTH
By Kavina Dias
Dr. Malitha Wijesundara, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, SLIIT spoke about the institute’s newly formed faculty and the reasons behind SLIIT’s rapid growth.
Excerpts from the interview are below:
How would you describe the SLIIT Faculty of Humanities and Sciences?
It is the youngest faculty of SLIIT. This is quite different from other faculties purely because of the range of programmes offered. These range from highly science-oriented programmes to humanities-oriented programmes. It is a vastly different alternative from other faculties because, in Sri Lanka, most of the humanities faculties are limited to social sciences, so none of them can provide programmes regarding pure sciences. Therefore, the uniqueness of this faculty is its ability to provide degrees ranging from pure sciences to social sciences.
What was the greatest challenge in setting this faculty up?
I think the greatest challenge that we faced was that SLIIT was recognised mainly for certain disciplines, especially computing, engineering, and business. These three were the main disciplines that we had been known for over many years. So, when you try to expand to a new field, the challenge is to create a name for yourself in the new area and attract staff and students. We were able to face this challenge successfully and establish ourselves firmly and students have started to choose SLIIT as a viable option to study in the new disciplines we offer.
How did SLIIT face this challenge successfully?
We took multiple approaches to face this challenge. One was, before the pandemic, we were the only faculties offering lectures delivered by foreign lecturers. That added a lot of value, as they were highly experienced within their respective fields. This helped us to quickly gain momentum. We also heavily invested in facilities such as laboratories, which helped programmes such as biotechnology, chemistry, biology, physics, and even nursing. We also managed to secure a very eminent panel of lecturers from the state sector. They were willing to join and assist us to start the faculty, and especially helped us with starting the new programmes in which we were lacking experience.
How did you fare in a situation like Covid-19?
We were already using platforms for online teaching, so it was a natural progression for the entirety of SLIIT to convert from the usual lectures to the virtual platform. The entire SLIIT body benefited from this conversion. On a daily basis, about 10,000 students access these facilities not only to attend live lectures but to also go through previous lectures and revise their previous lessons. Later, we introduced Zoom and Microsoft Teams to present live lectures and to create recordings which would then be uploaded to the platform. Through the platform we monitor the students’ engagement on an individual basis. This was done not only to monitor the students but also to improve our own content.
What are your fondest memories at SLIIT and in setting up the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences?
Well, we were successful in launching our first research conference, named the SLIIT International Conference on Advancements in Sciences and Humanities (SICASH). This was held in March 2021. This was a great achievement for a faculty which was only three years old – being able to hold a research conference with international researchers as well. At SLIIT, I started different competitions such as Robofest and CodeFest and other events when I was the Dean of Computing. Those competitions created a good reputation for SLIIT amongst schoolchildren. Therefore, I believe that this research conference will also create a good name for our faculty among the academic community.
What are the programmes offered by the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences and what are the career opportunities available?
We have seven disciplines under this faculty. The latest discipline introduced for mathematics is Financial Mathematics and Applied Statistics. These are areas that are in high demand across the world, especially for those engaged in risk analysis and risk calculation, for example, in the banking field, insurance, etc. This is also known as actuarial science and it is the highest paid undergraduate degree in the world.
Then in terms of education, we have the Bachelor of Education programme in physical sciences, biological sciences, and English. To that we also added the Postgraduate Diploma in Education very recently for those who are in the government teaching profession.
Then, we have the Bachelor of Law programme which can be used to be a lawyer in both Sri Lanka and the UK. But in Sri Lanka, of course, you have to sit for the Law College examination but in the UK, you can automatically become a barrister.
We also offer the psychology programme for anyone wanting to be a psychologist and this is also another field in high demand, especially during this period in which people ae feeling stressed.
Also, there is the Nursing Programme, which is already in high demand because the healthcare sector is an essential sector.
Additionally, I need to specially mention that the biotechnology programme, which is a BSc Honours in Biotechnology, is in high demand right now among students. This is a four-year degree which students from the Advanced Level (A/L) Biology stream can enter. Right now, we have more than 200 students per year in this programme and it is currently the most popular programme at the faculty. So, in a nutshell, these are the programmes that we offer.
How do these degrees differ from the rest of similar degree programmes offered by other institutes?
One aspect is that we have a full-time staff who are extremely well qualified, and although we have a young faculty, there are 10 staff members out of 30 with PHDs and six of them are professors. Also, we have a very healthy staff-to-student ratio and the campus environment is another benefit of our campus, as not many other non-state universities have the infrastructure that we possess.
SLIIT is also not a profit-oriented university unlike other non-state universities, because all the profits we have produced were reinvested into human resources, infrastructure and research, which was the reason for the rapid development of our university and gain recognition as the best non-state university in Sri Lanka.
What are you most happy about the way the faculty has grown?
I think it is a challenging time for a faculty to be introduced. So, I am very happy about the fact that we have a very good team, so that we can work together to achieve the common goals of the faculty, which has also helped us reach where we are.
What do you envision in terms of growth for the faculty during the next five years? What I feel is that we will continue to explore potential areas to expand. We are already in discussions with partner universities for new postgraduate programmes in physiotherapy, nursing, biomedical sciences, and even a Master’s in Law. Also, we will move into most of the postgraduate programmes and research programmes such as Master’s in Education, and probably a PhD in Education as well. So, we will be introducing these new programmes over the next five years.