Academic Discreditation vs. Political Power: The Dilemma of Sri Lanka’s South Eastern University

Can Political Willpower or the Lack of It Sustain an Academically Discredited Individual in Power at a Sri Lankan State University? – The case of Rameez Aboobacker, the current Vice Chancellor of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka

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The South Eastern University of Sri Lanka is a public university in Oluvil in Sri Lanka. Established in 1995 as a university college, it became a full-fledged university in 1996. However, the reputation of this higher education institute is systematically decaying due to various reasons [ Photo: South Eastern University of Sri Lanka]

 “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity”


  • On 21 December 2022 the UGC informed Minister of Education in writing on the course of action to be taken for SEUSL in terms of powers vested upon the Minister by the Universities Act.
  • As of today, Rameez Aboobacker, a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud, continues to remain the chief executive officer and a professor at SEUSL, a national university run by the government of Sri Lanka at the expense of public funds.

A letter from UGC Chairman Senior Professor Sampath Amaratunga to the Ministry of Education officials has recently surfaced making note of the fact that the UGC had informed Minister of Education Hon. Dr. Susil Premajayantha on 21 December 2022 on the course of action to be taken with regard to the situation at SEUSL following their own attention to the matters related to academic and administrative affairs at SEUSL while it is headed by Rameez Aboobacker. Details on the academic and research fraudulences committed by Rameez Aboobacker were brought to light by several articles on various national news media including Sri Lanka Guardian, Daily Mirror, Lankadeepa and TamilMirror. An ultimate summary of the said course of action is widely understood to have been concisely phrased as “a competent authority would be appointed for the Southeastern [sic] University soon” in the minutes of a meeting held between the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) and the UGC held on 27 January 2023 – a statement to have been made by the UGC Chairman Senior Professor Sampath Amaratunga, the top-most academic administrative official in the hierarchy of Sri Lankan higher education. As a side note, FUTA should be commended for taking such an uncompromising firm stand on matters of academic fraud in such simple cases of right vs wrong. For the layperson the above information from UGC means that the topmost academics of the Sri Lankan higher education establishment have already decided that Rameez Aboobacker is not fit for the job while there is need for further investigation into what appears to be just the tip of an iceberg for an academic scam at scale – more on that in future expositions.

What remains then?

As is indicated in the letter by the UGC Chairman, the power to remove the vice chancellor of a state university lies in the hands of the minister at the least, as per the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. In other words, the UGC cannot directly execute the removal of a Vice Chancellor from position. The execution of the recommendation by UGC has to be performed by an elected Peoples’ representative or any other Parliamentarian serving as the Minister of Education, or the Minister of Higher Education, if officially vested with power.

In this account, we point out to the mere fact that despite the written information provided to the Minister of Education, no action has been seen on the matter of Rameez Aboobacker. What lacks? Or better put, what works to safeguard outright corrupt individuals like Rameez Aboobacker while the Sri Lankan academia has decided to no longer leave him with credentials and power that he is no more fit to be entrusted with? We ask this question because the resolution for the matter is well established among the academic community and that the ball is now in the courts of those who deal with ordinary national politics – perhaps we have too many wildly behaving variables at action now than when the matter was under academic and administrative investigation/ scrutiny by the UGC.

The Ministry of Education, has all the authoritative rights to take the necessary actions against Rameez Aboobacker, the current vice chancellor of SEUSL. But the delay shown by The Ministry of Education raises several questions. The biggest one is whether the autonomy of the Sri Lankan Education System is practically superseded by the political willpower. If that is the fact, which is in direct contradiction to the status quo of all places advanced and developed among all of the democratic nations in the world, then it would be an alarming sign for systematic impedance to the maintenance of the quality of the education provided in this country. The influence of politics and politicians in determining the fate of a higher education institution, practically neglecting and eventually contradicting the national expert decisions and even tolerating obvious cases of globally-unacceptable absolute academic wrongdoing, can demolish the opportunity for a higher education of quality that future generations of this beautiful nation can continue to take pride in. The situation worsens even further at a time when the country has come under the watch of many international bodies including IMF – especially when we as a nation demonstrate that we are not even capable of properly handling academic corruption at a state-run university sitting at some periphery of our national higher education system. This issue has the potential to get itself evolve into a national crisis that can have a much greater impact on the course of economic recovery and overall development anticipated by both the government and IMF, at least for the sake of argument.

Literally, Rameez Aboobacker has been identified ineligible to serve as the chief academic and administrative officer at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka since 21st December 2022. But Rameez Aboobacker is still holding the position of Vice Chancellor of SEUSL to date and this is bringing to light an obvious dilemma whether the UGC has its autonomy and power in deciding the quality of higher education in this country; or is it the political system that has the ultimate power, making UGC a mere instrument that’s used as an excuse for bureaucratic time delays, in matters as serious as this? This imbalance in power can be witnessed at the moment through what’s happening in the case of Rameez Aboobacker. A public-funded institution is still being run by a fraud – a failed vice chancellor, whilst UGC has identified serious impact on the academic and administrative affairs at this institute. Another rational question is whether those in power within the government are purposefully destroying the fate of this university. But it should be emphasized that there are more than 6000 students from all parts of the Island and this is a national university – no profiling, be it region-based, ethnic or otherwise, is practically valid considering the actual student demography that is currently benefitting at this university. The government is demolishing the future of these students by maintaining such an undecipherable silence in this issue. His Excellency the President Ranil Wickremesinghe made some strong remarks about SEUSL in his speech a few months back and it is surprising to see his lack of interest in maintaining the quality of this Higher Educational Institute by practically exercising his powers to do what’s right in this crisis of absolute right vs absolute wrong.

Rameez Aboobacker is preparing to hold the Annual General Convocation of this institute in the near future. While UGC considers him ineligible to hold the position of Vice Chancellor, it only makes sense to question whether he will be seen academically and morally eligible to confer degrees to graduates at this moment. He is an academic fraud and conferring degrees under his chairmanship will perhaps be an unpreceded joke in this country since the dawn of Sri Lankan university education system. An ineligible, shameless Vice Chancellor is chairing a convocation to grace the occasion of some of the most precious moments in the life of a graduate – a shame and a humiliating situation brought upon the Sri Lankan higher education system by the political leadership within the Ministry.

In a parliamentary note on 04th April 2023, Hon. Susil Premajayantha stated that the Minister has no power in removing a vice chancellor as he is not the appointing authority. He made this statement in the context of the ongoing conflict regarding the Vice Chancellor of the Ruhuna University. But there is precedence in this country where the Ministers of Higher Education have removed vice chancellors and appointed Competent Authorities. UGC’s letter (Dated 16th March 2023) states that it has informed the Hon. Minister of Education through a letter dated 21.12.2022 regarding the course of action which could be taken in terms of the powers vested in him under the provisions of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. The Minister and the Ministry of Education have not acted for more than 04 months since the recommendations were given by the UGC. It is then apparent that it is the political power that decides the nature of the Education in this country and not the top-most academic hierarchy such as UGC nor the academic unions such as FUTA. This is a clear case for an education system that’s gone corrupt by means of political power, either by exercising of it or by exercising negligence with authority. Rameez Aboobacker is a practical demonstration for the fact that one may easily become a vice chancellor and a professor (19 of 23 sociology journal articles within almost a year, all except for 3 articles in journals of questionable quality and a sociological recommendation for free medicine for elderly people in Sri Lanka in the year 2015) in this system with fake and fraudulent academic track records. A shame for the whole academic community! If this was a case in other countries, the Vice Chancellors who were found guilty would have resigned themselves or would be removed from their positions by the relevant authorities and their whole academic careers would be in trouble. On the contrary today in Sri Lanka, where we proudly boast about our free education system and the higher literacy rate, we are gradually losing the grip of the integrity and quality of our education system by politically letting fraudulent academics like Rameez Aboobacker go scot-free.

Currently the Minister of Education Hon. Dr. Susil Premajayantha, having not brought into action what was recommended by UGC in December 2022, has handed over all the Duties, Institutes and Power related to higher education to Hon. Dr. Suren Raghavan (the State Minister of Higher Education) through a gazette notification on 27th April 2023. Currently the State Minister of Higher Education has the power to execute the Universities Act 16 of 1978. Hon. Minister Dr. Suren Raghavan must certainly be well aware of the seriousness of these absolute academic issues and we believe that he won’t tolerate the academic fraudulences and wrongdoings committed by Rameez Aboobacker and what appears to be a larger ring of academic underworld at SEUSL, of which Rameez Aboobacker just seems to be a prominent and popular figure. These are natural expectations and hopes one normally has on an academic with reputed scholarly track record turned politician. Quite interestingly, Rameez Aboobacker has also been found guilty of plagiarizing content from Hon. Dr. Suren Raghavan’s article (published in 2013; http://www.jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/45 ) and has published a full paper at SEUSL in 2014 while he was a PhD student at the National University of Singapore. This fraudulent article by Rameez Aboobacker was titled “The wave of Sinhala Buddhist Supremacism and Muslims of Sri Lanka” and it can be found in the proceedings of the 4th International Symposium of SEUSL in 2014, from page number 166 to 171. This paper is reportedly made up with nearly 80% of content stolen from the paper published by Hon. Dr. Suren Raghavan, the current Minister of Higher Education. What more the Minister needs to better understand this serial plagiarist! The details on this case of plagiarism by Rameez Aboobacker can be discussed in a separate article. The various cases of plagiarism and research fraudulence committed by Rameez Aboobacker and his associates can be made as reference materials for future researchers and academics; and Rameez Aboobacker, without doubt, can be considered the most prominent national case study example to quote when training the future academics and researchers on how not be a researcher. Not a single university Vice Chancellor, at present or in the past, in this country has been identified with this level of academic fraudulences and emergence of Rameez Aboobacker is a shame to the Higher Educational System in this country; the fall can only be our pride – and it’s not too late except for the fact that the SEUSL students who entered the university by the time Rameez Aboobacker took over, have already spent nearly half of their undergraduate life in an academic training under the leadership of an academically corrupt leadership. When the Rameez Aboobacker phenomenon was confined within the academic territory of SEUSL Arts and Humanities, it was one thing; spill over is much more likely and is even reportedly witnessed once the fraud is in power – more on this in a much more detailed coverage of systematic academic fraudulences at SEUSL later. It is surprising to see how the Vice Chancellors from other reputed universities of Sri Lanka allow someone like Rameez Aboobacker to sit next to them in an equal position at various occasions jointly making serious decisions that have impact on the whole of Sri Lankan academia, while being fully aware that Rameez Aboobacker is a demonstrated academic fraud and possibly even knowing that Rameez Aboobacker has been recommended by UGC to be ousted!

The powers from the Universities Act now lie in the hands of Hon. State Minister Dr. Raghavan and it is widely believed that Hon. Dr. Suren Raghavan will act promptly to implement the recommendations made by UGC in 21st December 2022 to the Minister of Education Hon. Susil Premajayantha.

Finally, some food for thought for our regular readership:

  1. If a research fraud can be a professor and a university vice chancellor in this country and then imagine the quality of Education provided at this institute under such leadership! No wonder SEUSL couldn’t recover from being the last preference of significant proportions of newcomer students from many streams.
  2. There must be individuals, politicians, authorities, power brokers, corrupt academics and various other influencing characters helping Rameez Aboobacker to hold on to the position of Vice Chancellor to date. These individuals, if any, certainly are a curse to the whole nation due to the fact they directly or indirectly contribute to the demolition of this institute and the future of generations of what could otherwise become invaluable human capital for this economically suffering nation!
  3. When UGC has already recommended to remove Rameez Aboobacker from his position after he has been demonstrated to be a plagiarist and a research fraud, is he still academically and morally (legality aside) eligible to serve as a Vice Chancellor and would the decisions made by him be respected by an academic community after the fact of 21 December 2022 UGC decisions is brought to light?
  4. A Vice Chancellor identified as incompetent in terms of academic integrity and administration and recommended to be ousted by UGC chairs a convocation at SEUSL!
  5. Is there an autonomy for the UGC in this country or can the Politicians simply overrule or neglect the decisions made by the topmost officials of higher education hierarchy even in such black and white matters of absolute academic fraudulence?
  6. Why Rameez Aboobacker is still kept in the position of vice chancellor despite the fact there is a severe impact on the academic and administrative activities at SEUSL?
  7. Does the Academic Community at SEUSL consider the seriousness of this issue and have they acted promptly in this matter?
  8. A Research fraud without any academic integrity is chairing the academic and administrative meetings, conferences and all the evets at SEUSL. But the majority of the SEUSL academic community is keeping quiet in the cases of research fraudulency and academic integrity. Does this allow and accept the wrongdoings of Rameez Aboobacker?
  9. The Universities Act 16 of 1978 gives power to the Minister to exercise all or any of the following matters (a-c) relating to such Higher Educational Institution and what are the recommendations made by the UGC in addition to appointing a Competent Authority at SEUSL among the course of actions a-c?
  10. The closure of such Higher Educational Institution;
  11. The appointment of any person by the name or by office, to be a competent authority for the purpose of exercising, performing or discharging, in lieu of any officer, Authority or other body of such Higher Educational Institution, any power, duty or function under this Act or any appropriate instrument, and
  12. Any other matter connected with or relating to any of the matters aforesaid. 


a. Parliamentary speech by Hon. Dr. Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebH_bHt-aBA from 11:42 to 11:56)

b. Gazette notification transferring powers to Hon. Dr. Suren Raghavan (link: http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2023/4/2329-44_E.pdf)

c. Speech by H.E. the President Ranil Wickramasinghe (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlbiRnnv08E from 10:13 to 11:17)

Abdul Raheem

Abdul Raheem is an investigative researcher based in Colombo

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