Professor Terrence Sisira Perera, born and educated in Sri Lanka, currently an Assistant Dean at Sheffield Hallam University (UK) tells the University's agent in Colombo, Vibhu Wickramasinghe, Managing Director of Phantomz Global (Pvt) Ltd, more about what the University has to offer and why Sri Lankan students should make the effort to go there.
|Prof Terrence Sisira Perera presents a simulation model of a new factory to the Duke of Kent, a cousin of the Queen, at the opening of £30M Furnvial Building.
Mr Wickramasinghe: Please tell me something of your background
I was born in Negombo and studied at various schools in Maristella College, Uhumiya Maha Vidayala, St Marys College and Ananda College. I graduated from the University of Moratuwa in Mechanical Engineering and also lectured there before taking up a PhD programme at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. In 1988, at the end of my PhD , I wanted to work in a British university for a couple of years and to return to Sri Lanka. So I joined Sheffield Hallam University on a two year contract, but I am still here!
Mr Wickramasinghe: Why have you stayed at Sheffield Hallam University?
I could have gone elsewhere, particularly when I was running several big research projects. The number one reason that I stayed at Sheffield Hallam is the work that we do with industry. In every aspect of our teaching and research programmes we work with industry. For example, we have Industry Advisory Boards to steer us in the development new courses. Working with industry gives a lot of job satisfaction and students benefit too as we share our experiences with them. In my school days in Sri Lanka, I remember learning about the steel industry in Sheffield and my mom used to say the best cutlery in the world made there. . Sheffield still has a very strong industrial base; not only that, many other businesses have also moved to Sheffield. For example, HSBC has its software development centre in Sheffield. So it is a thriving business city providing plenty of opportunities to work in a variety of industry sectors.
What do you teach?
My main area of expertise is computer simulation and my teaching, research and consultancy work is mainly around this area. In recent years, I have moved onto Business Process Management and Modelling. Remember, Vibhu, we ran the first ever Business Process Management seminar in Sri Lanka in 2008.It was a hit with nearly 80 participants including a big contingent from Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT)
Mr Wickramasinghe: What have you been doing in Sri Lanka?
Although, I have been away from Sri Lanka for more than 25 years, at every opportunity, I work with higher education institutes and businesses in Sri Lanka. For example, with financial support from the British Council, a team of academics from Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) laid the foundation for the MSc in IT & Management at the University of Kelaniya. We worked with colleagues from the University of Moratuwa, to integrate best process improvement techniques in the local garment sector; Hidaramni was a collaborator in that project. In 2005, I initiated the academic partnership between SHU and Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLLIT). To date, more than 300 students have gone through the programme. With you, Vibhu, we also developed academic relationship with Sri Lanka Telecom . One of my ambitions is to develop a scheme to bring academics and industrialists together to create opportunities for young graduates. We can use a very popular and established model in the UK, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, as the catalyst.
Mr Wickramasinghe: Why should students study at Sheffield Hallam?
Vibhu, I can talk about this for hours! If Sri Lankan students want to improve their employability skills, I have no doubt that one of the best places in the UK is Sheffield Hallam. Our courses focus on business and industrial needs, practical stuff backed up by relevant theories. Our staff share their industrial experience gained through research and consultancy with students. Facilities are fantastic and we have been voted as having the best IT and learning spaces in the UK in an international student survey. Improving the student experience and enhancing employability skills are our key priorities.
What can they expect to find there?
Students who come here have a very positive image of Sheffield Hallam University. One student here is writing a blog in Sinhala about his experiences and it's very good! Things like understanding the accent, how hard the work is to start with and the student experience is very different.
I've surveyed the students this year and it's been really positive. There are a number of things Sri Lankan students like here. One is the practical nature of the work. They also have full access to the well-equipped labs and they work until quite late.
They like the whole atmosphere and they love Sheffield. It's a nice city - not too big and not too small and they can experience any aspect they want during their stay here. There's also good access to any part of the country.
A few months ago we also had Buddhist monks visit and it went very well. The ceremony was well-attended and we gave alms to the monk. The students thought it was a really good thing to arrange and around 150 of them turned up for the visit.
It's not just about the education though is it?
No! It's also worth coming here to experience a totally different world in terms how we do things here and there are opportunities to get a job while you are here. Students will also see a different social structure - it's a whole package. There are some great opportunities for Sri Lankan students to work part time to add to their experience and get some money. We attract a lot of Phd students here and, don't forget, there are students from all around the world.