On Thursday, university students discussed with Higher Education authorities the issues of the Mahapola scholarships, at the Presidential secretariat, sans the tear gas and baton charges that happen during protests. Hundreds of students marched to the Presidential Secretariat over six demands including an increase in Mahapola scholarship grants. The student representatives were called for discussions, but they were skeptical of the outcome as they feared the authorities were buying time instead of solving the issues. “We will take to the streets if the issues are not resolved," said Inter-university Students’ Federation (IUSF) student representative, Gihan Weerasekara.
After receiving information about the protest, the President told security officials to allow the students into the premises without any hindrance, the President's office said. “As the President and the President Secretary were engaged in an official duty, the Additional President Secretary and Higher Education Ministry officials were instructed to hold discussions," the President’s office said. The officials conveyed the students' demands to the President Secretary and received instructions. It was decided the outstanding Mahapola scholarships and bursary money for November and December should be paid by Monday (January 13). Attention was also given to the possibility of immediately solving other demands related to the Mahapola scholarship scheme.
This includes granting scholarship money to students who have not met the requirement of 80 percent attendance, bringing Mahapola and bursary allowances to an equal level, solving issues in the Sabaragamuwa University, increasing the income ceiling of parents to Rs. 700,000 when considering scholarship applications and increasing working peoples' salaries. The President's Office said officials agreed to provide a written document with the matters discussed. A meeting held once a month or every fortnight to discuss issues affecting the students was also proposed. The student representatives said they will speak with the student unions and come to an agreement about this.
The President's Additional Secretary Rohana Abeyratne, Higher Education Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake, University Grants Commission Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunga and other officials participated. In a Facebook post, President Rajapaksa said he allowed the student representatives into the Presidential Secretariat for a discussion, contrary to the usual tear gas and baton charges that greeted student protesters before. He said urgent measures to resolve the issues were being taken. The President also mentioned the follow-up meetings that were proposed to discuss the students' issues.
Sandun Jayawardena Pix by Amila Gamage