Over the years many students have benefitted from the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme. The Sunday Observer spoke to some recipients, beneficiaries and educationists to get their opinion on the scheme.
Pamali Mithunika, a Law student from the University of Peradeniya said, “My hometown is Colombo and I studied at Musaeus College, Colombo. I am a first year Law student at the University of Peradeniya. I am very happy because I am entitled to receive the Mahapola funds. It would be very useful to me.”
“We are supposed to get Rs. 5,000 and I have applied and registered online as well as at the university office. It will help me to cover my day to day expenses. As I have to stay in a boarding house in Kandy, this money will help me to pay my boarding fees, as well as my transport costs. It is a great concept which has been introduced by the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali,” she added with a smile.
Chamika Ishan Sudusingha, an Engineering student at the University of Moratuwa also spoke about the benefits of the Mahapola. He said, “My hometown is Matara and I studied at Rahula College, Matara. I am happy that under the new government the Mahapola amount has been increased from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,500. For us students, it is very useful. Up to the A/L Examination, our parents spend on our education. Once we enter university, we get the Mahapola which is a relief to our parents. I am able to pay my boarding fee and buy my meals for a month with this money.
Mohammed Imran, a graduate at the University of Sabaragamuwa says, this scholarship helps a student to learn how to manage money. “I completed my degree in Information Technology and graduated in 2013. We received Rs. 2,500 as Mahapola those days and it was very useful. I stayed at the university hostel as my hometown is Welimada. At the end of the month, I was able to save some of the money. Sometimes, I go out with friends to enjoy and have a special meal, then we make use of this money. I do not like to trouble my parents, so I manage the expenses of the month with this money. Some students are under financial pressure, and send a portion of the money home. It also helps the students to buy the necessary equipment, devices and instruments related to their degree,” he said.
Radhini Gawarammana, a first year Arts student at the University of Peradeniya says, she refused to apply for the Mahapola because her parents had a good income and they supported her. “I did not apply for the Mahapola as I thought I could give this opportunity to a more deserving student,” she said.
Educationist, Dr. Sujata Gamage who has served as a Consultant at the University Grants Commission, and Director General of the Tertiary and Vocational Commission of Sri Lanka, also commented about the Mahapola. She said, the Mahapola Scholarship is really a good thing for the undergraduates but many things have to be re-framed, considering the future generation. A loan scheme which applies to all above 16 years should be introduced in future. “There is a critical shortage of skilled workers in Sri Lanka. We need to think about all the youth in the country and not only the university qualified youth. We need to reframe the Mahapola and try to introduce a loan scheme which would benefit the youth to start some work,” she said. Dr. Gamage questions, ‘’How many youth leave school after 16 years, and say that they need money to start their own businesses.”?
The Minister of Education implemented a pilot project to continue the 13 years of education by introducing some vocational subjects, but still there are many problems. The 16+ UK concept where the government is committed to give money to all youth aged 16 to 18 should be introduced in Sri Lanka as well. SLIIT in Malabe was constructed using the funds of the Mahapola Trust Fund and later SLIIT repaid it with interest.”
Mahapola Trade Fair
Lawyer, President’s Counsel, Former Chairman of the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment and Agricultural Development Authority under Athulathmudali, Razik Zorook said, “It all started when we organized a Fair at the Ratmalana Foundation. The late Athulathmudali, when he was Trade Minister, initiated a Trade Fair in his electorate, Ratmalana, called Ratmalana Pola. There was no liquor or gambling stalls at the fair, so everyone said it would not be a success, but it turned out to be an enormous success. This was to introduce the open market economy and support the traders in the area. This in fact became the forerunner to the Mahapola Trade Fair. These trade fairs were held in rural schools and at the end of the fair a percentage of the income was given to that school for infrastructure development. Soon these trade fairs became popular and an event took place every month in some part of the country.”
“Athulathmudali never forgot the assistance he received from the Government of Sri Lanka when he was studying at Oxford. He was given a full scholarship during S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s reign. He proposed to the Cabinet and set up a Fund to provide scholarships to needy undergraduates and fund it through a lottery.
Thus using his personal funds the Mahapola Trust Fund was established. Dr. Wickrama Weerasooria, Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation made a proposal to the Government for initial capital to introduce a scratch lottery. Athulathmudali agreed to invest 50% of the capital from Mahapola Funds. Thus, the Development Lottery came into existence under the Ministry of Plan Implementation,” he said.
He said, the scratch and win lottery provided 50% of its profits to the President’s Fund and 50% to the Mahapola Trust Fund. “Eventually, Athulathmudali suspended the Mahapola Lottery as the Trust Fund received funds from the scratch and win lottery and other sources. To this day, the Mahapola Higher Education Trust Fund holds the licence to this lottery. The implementation of the scholarship is a boon to a student.”