What lies behind the tension between National Diploma in Technology students and Engineering Faculty students? Charundi Panagoda speaks to parties from both sides of the divide to find out the reasons and seek solutions On Jan. 16, Engineering and National Diploma in Technology (NDT) students at the University of Moratuwa violently clashed, in the latest [...]


Major clash at Moratuwa Uni highlights long standing dispute


What lies behind the tension between National Diploma in Technology students and Engineering Faculty students? Charundi Panagoda speaks to parties from both sides of the divide to find out the reasons and seek solutions

On Jan. 16, Engineering and National Diploma in Technology (NDT) students at the University of Moratuwa violently clashed, in the latest episode of a series of disputes that have been around for some 14 years without an effective solution.

The exact nature of the clash depends on who’s telling the story. According to Maduka Sampath, the former president of the Engineering Students Union, NDT students violently ambushed unsuspecting Engineering seniors in a premeditated attack.

Engineering Faculty students say ‘no’ to NDT students at a protest held on Thursday. Pic by Reka Tharangani

Mr. Sampath, who was present at the scene when the incident happened, said on Jan. 16 around 10 p.m., “about 700 or 800 NDT students” jumped over campus walls armed with sticks, stones and swords, broke down doors of the Engineering students’ male dormitory and began to assault the students.

“They were carrying petrol bombs and firecrackers inside glass bottles,” he said. “When they attacked the Engineering students began running for their lives. They chased them, stripped them naked and made them beg for forgiveness.”

He added that the incident left six or seven students severely injured. One student, Roshan Seneviratne, was hospitalised with severe brain injuries.

By the time the Moratuwa police intervened, it was around 11.30 p.m. and the mob had caused an estimated Rs. 977, 225 worth of property damage, a Moratuwa police officer said. “For a while the police couldn’t enter the campus premises because all the gates were padlocked,” the officer added. “These people were armed with stones and bottles and even assaulted the police. No one could go near them.”

Police, academics and even students recalled this incident as the most violent in recent history. Dr. Rangika Umesh Halvatura, a civil engineering lecturer at the university and vice president of FUTA who’s seen his fair share of NDT/Engineering disputes, described the Jan. 16 incident as, “the most serious and critical” fight he’s seen so far.
Four suspects were identified as perpetrators after an identification parade by the Moratuwa Magistrate last week. The police said the suspects were identified based on witness accounts. Mr. Sampath said the Engineering students had identified about 40 NDT suspects, but most of them have gone into hiding. The police have not yet estimated the exact number of students involved in the incident and goes by witness claims that some 700 students were involved, police sources said.

On the other hand, members of the NDT student union claimed the fight was not premeditated, but escalated from an argument the students were having earlier that night. Buddhika Ariyaratne, member of the NDT Student Union, said some Engineering students had harassed the President of the NDT Union Jeevan Jayaratne earlier that night and the resulting argument escalated to the gang-style brawl.

“It is extremely unfair and biased how we are portrayed as the bad guys when the Engineering students began these fights by harassing our president, pasting defamatory posters all over campus, defacing our property and assaulting NDT students on Jan. 1,” he added.

The Jan.1 incident had begun as a minor argument between an Engineering student and an NDT student. According to Mr. Ariyaratne, and NDT student was riding his bike to his dormitory when an Engineering student talking on his cell phone blocked the way. The NDT student had made some disparaging comments at the Engineering student and had slapped him.

Later, the infuriated Engineering student and his friends had gone to the NDT student’s hostel demanding an apology. The situation soon escalated to a full-blown fight between the two factions, once more with bottles and stones and ending with the NDT student’s bike being completely destroyed causing about Rs. 200,000 of property damage.

Small incidents and minor private arguments between NDT and Engineering students have persistently been escalating into violent incidents over the years. University Vice Chancellor Ananda Jayawardena said university officials decided the “best course of action” was to separate the student factions. He said preliminary plans were underway to permanently relocate NDT students to a new facility in Diyagama, Homagama, a move that would cost the government about 89.5 million U.S. dollars.

The NDT/Engineering hostilities date back to the 1990s. A similar violent fight was reported in March 1999, when NDT and Engineering students fought with bicycle chains and tube lights injuring about 20 students and hospitalising five causing the campus to temporarily close.

Current and former students of Moratuwa University claim that the hostilities between the two groups have been around since the Ceylon Technical College (CTC) became a University. The NDT programme has its origins as Junior Technical Officers (JTO) programme conducted in the sixties. In 1972, CTC gained university status and new college degrees, including the Bachelor of Science in engineering subjects, were introduced. The NDT students, who are not students of the university and are separately administered, and Engineering students have to share educational facilities.

Former students say sharing resources and competing in the same field has led to long-standing tensions between the two groups. Some former students claimed that professional jealousy are also factors as some Engineering students feel that NDT diploma holders are taking their jobs. NDT students are qualified to serve as a” link between the professional Engineer or Manager and the workforce at the field level.”

However, former and current Engineering students claim that due to the prestige of the University for its technical education, companies give both the Bachelor’s degree and the Diploma equal merit. NDT students sometimes are hired as engineers, raising competition in the field leading to tension.

The idea to separate the NDT and Engineering students was a University Grants Commission recommendation in 2000 following the 1999 clashes. However, for 13 years the plans to move NDT students to Diyagama have been pending due to limited resources. While Engineering students insist that NDT students must be removed from campus grounds immediately, NDT students claimed they are only willing to move to a facility complete with all the necessary resources, such as labs, required to complete their studies.

Some critics claim relocating NDT students will not solve the problem as students could as easily find different groups on campus to fight with. The University has not been able to find any other solutions to relieve the tension so far. Prof. Jayawardena said measures such as disciplinary action and joint discussions to have the factions reconcile have not yielded any results.

Some former students claimed that student unions themselves were the problem. Some unions rile up students and pit them against each other into violent situations to “protect each others’ turfs,” one observer charged.  Dr. Halvatura claimed that the fights continue between the testosterone-charged factions because the university” lacks proper resources” to help students handle stress, that might cause fighting.

“We have high standards at the university and we prepare students academically but we also need to prepare them socially, as professionals,” he said. “These days all the lecturers are too busy with research and whatnot to listen to students and help them with their problems. The university system has failed in providing that support structure.”

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