Sunday, October 1, 2023

SLIIT NORTHERN UNI set to transform educational landscape and become a change-agent for the nation

An exclusive interview with Prof. Nagalingam Nagendrakumar, Dean of NORTHERN UNI

In an era where education plays a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of the nation, SLIIT newly inaugurated NORTHERN UNI forges in the forefront of transforming the educational landscape of Sri Lanka with innovative approaches and a bold vision. Prof. Nagalingam Nagendrakumar, Dean of NORTHERN UNI discusses the ambitious plans that lay ahead, and how the institution is poised to reshape Sri Lanka’s educational paradigm and contribute significantly to the nation’s progress.

Q: As the Dean of NORTHERN UNI, what are your aspirations for the institution in terms of its impact on the local community and the broader field of higher education?

A: I believe the NORTHERN UNI is a valuable gift to the northern community. We have already created a well-established presence. SLIIT proudly holds the position of being the number one non-state university in Sri Lanka. Now through a partnership with the renowned multinational company, Magick Group we have established the NORTHERN UNI, in Kantharmadam, Jaffna, to usher in a new era of excellence in education.

This establishment of NORTHERN UNI addresses a long-awaited need in the northern part of the country. Earlier SLIIT was operating from the Jaffna Centre. We engaged in numerous discussions with parents and students and there was an overwhelming request for us to establish a more permanent presence here. Previously, students enrolled for their first year of study and attended the Jaffna Centre. For subsequent academic years they were required to travel to Colombo or Malabe to complete their degree programmes.

The new institute was not only driven by the requests of parents and students but also aligned with SLIIT’s broader expansion plans. The aspirations of parents and students to locate here permanently were a guiding factor. Our primary goal is to fulfill their needs, and we have already begun doing so. In fact, our first batch comprises nearly 100 students, marking a significant success.

Looking to the future, we are in the process of establishing a substantial campus in Kankesanthurai (KKS) that will house a large tech park. Within the next decade, our aspiration is to enroll 15,000 students. Furthermore, we are committed to generating 25,000 employment opportunities in the northern region, as part of our efforts to contribute to the development of the area.

One key aspect that emerged from conversations with parents and students was their desire to maintain their cultural roots and traditions while pursuing education. We are pleased to note that we have succeeded in creating an environment where students can live with their families and maintain their cultural heritage.

Lastly, an important goal for us was to bring the SLIIT experience to the northern part of Sri Lanka. We’ve achieved that by offering the same high-quality degree programmes that SLIIT is renowned for. Our commitment remains unwavering in delivering the same caliber of education and quality that SLIIT is known for, through the NORTHERN UNI.

Q: Could you highlight some of the innovative teaching methods or practices that are to be used by NORTHERN UNI’s faculty members to ensure a transformative educational journey for the students?

A:  Our teaching methods align closely with SLIIT’s curriculum and standards. We ensure that there is no deviation from SLIIT quality control, delivery, and technological aspects. The same cutting-edge technology used at SLIIT is also integrated into our delivery process. Currently, in our Kantharmadam campus premises, we have three well-equipped computer labs and one smart classroom.

Our module leaders are drawn from SLIIT, and they provide guidance to our own lecturers. Although we have our dedicated lecturers, they receive guidance from the professors at SLIIT. This ensures that the delivery of education remains consistent. Everything we do here perfectly mirrors SLIIT’s curriculum, delivery methods, and overall approach.

Q: How does the collaboration between the MAGICK Group and SLIIT contribute to the unique educational landscape that NORTHERN UNI offers?

A: The Chairman Magick Group, Indrakumar Padmanathan, a successful businessman based in Canada with operations in over 10 countries, hails from Jaffna himself. He shared a strong desire to give back to his community and contribute positively to his homeland. His financial stability and deep connection to Jaffna laid the foundation for this collaboration. He expressed his willingness to collaborate with SLIIT and invest in the Northern part of Sri Lanka.

The collaboration led to the birth of NORTHERN UNI, which is now operational and making positive strides. We offer IT and business management degree programmes, aligned with SLIIT curriculum. We have also launched the University of Bedfordshire (UOB) program, and the orientation programs are ongoing. We have also begun short programs such as Professional Development Programs (PDPs) in English, IT, and business management. These are all steps towards our expansion plans.

Prof. Nagalingam Nagendrakumar, Dean of NORTHERN UNI

We are planning to introduce new degree programmes based on SLIIT curriculum, as well as explore foreign degree programmes such as the University of Queensland and Curtin University. Our ultimate goal is to provide ample employment opportunities for our graduates. We have already seen the effectiveness of this approach at SLIIT, where graduates are employed right after the convocation.

Q: How does the new campus’s cutting-edge facilities contributes to a vibrant student community and enhance the overall learning environment?

Currently, our existing campus features a four-storey building, with the upper section dedicated to student amenities such as the canteen and recreational spaces. Within this campus setup, we are proud to have established three well-equipped laboratories, each equipped with a substantial number of computers. The first two labs are equipped with 30 computers each, while the third lab boasts 60 computers, resulting in a collective total of 120 computers at our disposal. Additionally, we have a modern smart classroom that enhances our teaching methodologies and overall learning environment.

Our team of lecturers consists of highly qualified professionals, including renowned figures and even distinguished individuals from other local universities, who has joined our ranks to further enrich the educational experience for our students.

Beyond academics, we are equally dedicated to fostering a comprehensive campus experience. Even within our current limited premises, we have invested in providing a range of facilities. These include sports facilities that encourage physical well-being and a holistic approach to student life. Our commitment to maximizing the student experience is unwavering, and we strive to offer the best possible resources and opportunities to our students. I am extremely pleased to note that within a short span our students are even excelling in sports having competed against other SLIIT regional teams.

Q: Can you elaborate more on the ‘Magick Tech Park’ which will be located at the new KKS campus premises?

The KKS campus premises is set to be a substantial establishment in the Northern region, spanning over 30 acres of land. The plan entails constructing academic buildings, a hostel complex, a hotel complex to accommodate the growing tourism sector, a sports complex, a tech park, and an administrative building. This ambitious endeavor is poised to create a sprawling and comprehensive university setup in KKS.

We are partnering with the Magick Group to establish the ‘Magick Tech Park’ at the new KKS campus premises. This initiative aims to generate a mammoth 25,000 employment opportunities in the tech industry. After 3-4 years, when our students graduate, a significant portion of them will have the opportunity to step into employment within the Magick Tech Park. This collaboration ensures that our students will have a high employability rate, with the goal of achieving a remarkable 98% employment rate upon graduation.

As for the development timeline, a strategic decision has been made to have the major campus in operation within the next 2 years. This approach stems from the anticipated increase in student enrollment. The current 4-storey building in Kantharmadam can only accommodate up to 400 students, while our target is 15,000 students within the next decade. Thus, the aim is to have the infrastructure in KKS ready to fulfill this goal within the specified timeframe.

Q: What are the NORTHERN UNI expansion plans?

The Magic Group currently stands as the primary investor. However, recent discussions have been held with potential investors, including members of the diaspora community. A recent dialogue with an interested investor has shown promising signs of additional support. Our vision is not confined to just the North-East region; we aim to attract students from across Sri Lanka. Affordability is a significant factor in this approach, as the tuition fee at SLIIT NORTHERN UNI is considerably lower than that of the main campus. This differential cost presents an opportunity for students to pursue quality education without restrictions based on geographical location.

Moreover, our aspiration extends to attracting students from India, particularly Tamil Nadu. Collaborations are already underway to recruit students from Tamil Nadu, facilitated by the local airport and shipping routes. The familiarity of culture, tradition, and religious background between Tamil Nadu and the Northern region adds to the appeal of students joining the SLIIT NORTHERN UNI. This expansion aligns with our commitment to fostering a diverse and enriching learning environment that transcends borders.

Q: Can you elaborate on NORTHERN UNI’s initiatives in supporting financially underprivileged students through various loan schemes and how it aligns with the Institution’s mission?

When a student enrolls at SLIIT NORTHERN UNI, they immediately receive a remarkable advantage as they extend a substantial fee reduction, which is essentially a scholarship granted to every student. This noteworthy initiative can be seen as a gift to the aspiring students of the North and East. This reduction in fees is our commitment to fostering accessibility and making quality education more attainable.

In terms of further financial assistance, we have taken strategic steps to facilitate the education journey for our students. We have presented our proposal to the Ministry of Higher Education for center validation. This validation process is anticipated to conclude within a month’s time. Once achieved, we will be eligible to offer government-backed loans to students through the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund. This is particularly significant for students from the North and East, who have historically faced challenges in accessing such schemes due to geographical and logistical barriers. Now, with the barriers removed, they can seamlessly apply for these schemes and access the financial support they need to pursue their education.

Another remarkable facet is the establishment of a trust fund initiated by the Chairman of Magick Group. This trust fund is set to be established in Sri Lanka, with the Chairman personally contributing his funds to it. Additionally, he envisions involving other members of the diaspora to invest in the fund as well. The trust fund will serve as a guarantee, enabling students to secure loans from banks to finance their education. This proactive approach ensures that students have a secure financial pathway to pursue their studies. After graduation, students will gradually repay the trust fund, effectively replenishing the funds for future generations of students. This innovative approach creates a sustainable cycle of support, empowering students to confidently pursue their academic goals without financial constraints.

These initiatives underscore our commitment to equitable education opportunities. We believe in the potential of each student and are dedicated to ensuring that finances do not hinder their educational aspirations. Through these multifaceted efforts, we are shaping a brighter future for students from all walks of life, transcending barriers and making education a reality for all.

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