A pillar of success of Sri Jayewardenepura University | Sunday Observer
Prof. Sudantha Liyanage

A pillar of success of Sri Jayewardenepura University

30 July, 2023
Prof. Sudantha Liyanage
Prof. Sudantha Liyanage

On a frequent note, the title or position of a Vice-Chancellor (VC) is always attached to qualities like leadership, vision, academic excellence, integrity, and the ability to inspire and motivate, the list is endless.

When observing the Sri Lankan education culture and its norms, a position like a Vice-Chancellor is said to be portrayed as unreachable to the students and often comes across as a dictator. Well, there might be exceptional characters like Senior Professor Sudantha Liyanage, who is not running for the Vice-Chancellor post for a second term; instead he opted to take his sabbatical leave. It was heart-breaking news for the entire University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ) family.

He is closely knit with his sons and daughters and frequently aspires to move his closely knit community to greater heights on par with international students. Therefore, students used to call him as “Hadawathe Upakulapathi” (VC in the Heart). During the past three years, he changed the entire landscape of the University. Moreover, he brought the standard of the university to one of the top ranking universities in Sri Lanka. He initiated the beautification and upgrading of student facilities of the university and now USJ may be the most environmentally friendly university in Sri Lanka.

The modest man inside of him was reluctant to speak much, but after being persuaded, he momentarily opened up. Regarding his undergraduate studies, he said, “I was a product of USJ. I graduated from the University with a major in Chemistry. I completed my doctoral studies under the Association of Commonwealth Universities scholarship program at Cardiff University in Wales, in the United Kingdom.”

His areas of expertise include inorganic chemistry, inorganic synthesis, rubber chemistry, and water quality—and he has worked as a postdoctoral scholar at several reputed foreign universities. In 2010, he was appointed as the first alumni Dean of the USJ Faculty of Applied Science (FAS), a position he held until March 2019, when he transitioned to the new Faculty of Technology as its Dean.

“I was the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences from 2010 – 2019 for three consecutive three-year terms because I was unanimously backed, which added to the history of university education in Sri Lanka. I received my appointment in 2020 as the first Science Alumni Vice-Chancellor in the 65 year historyof USJ. I have completed three years in the post of VC. As a policy, I believe that a VC must only serve for three years and let another face replace the existing one, which can look at the university with a different eye and a heart. Moreover, one must not hold on to positions longer than their service is necessary. The greediness in human hearts drives us to certain ends where we lose our humanity.”

“When I first stepped into FAS as the Dean, the faculty was not recognised not just outside the university but also within it. Therefore, I took steps to add more departments within the faculty. The departments of Sports Science, Computer Science, Statistics, and Polymer Science were added to the system, which highly contributed to the academic level within the faculty. The faculty became one of the top three Science faculties and became the largest science faculty in Sri Lanka. In addition, I completed the multi-storied new faculty building and increased the academic cadre from 80 to 160, and the student numbers from 280 to 700 per batch.” The FAS is one of the few faculties in Sri Lanka where more than 75 percent of the staff have PhD qualifications.

Prof. Liyanage completed the state-of-the-art new Technology faculty at Pitipana, Homagama in 2020. Three new faculties: the Faculty of Computing, the Faculty of Dental Sciences, and the Faculty of Urban Science and Aquatic Bioresources were also set up in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura under the guidance of Vice-Chancellor Senior Prof. Liyanage.

The “Sri Wimaladarma Mansion,” the newly constructed building for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University, was also an initiative by Prof. Liyanage.

The University of Sri Jayewardenepura also has the distinction of being the first university in South Asia to report its Carbon Footprint according to the “ISO 14064-1:2018” standard during the tenure of Prof. Liyanage.

Prof. Liyanage has held numerous positions during his tenure as VC, as well as before that. He has always had a tightly packed schedule, as visible by the electronic daily planner displayed in his office. He has had numerous events to grace, documents to sign, speeches to give, and meetings to hold. An average human being is likely to go mad performing the duties he has performed. Yet Prof. Liyanage, while signing documents, wearing a bright, cheeky smile, talks to students, and never forgets to hug students who come to sign an application for a scholarship or a tournament as their successes and endeavours drive him every day.

Senior Prof. Liyanage, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, was also appointed to the Council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) representing Constituency II (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) for three years from August 1, 2022. It was a historic moment since Prof. Liyanage is the first Sri Lankan to serve in ACU’s history.

A few of his other affiliations are the Current Chairman of Academic Affairs Board / NIE, Commission Member of the TVEC, Member of the SCAQA 2015 to 2022, President, Institute of Chemistry, Ceylon in 2018/ 2019,Chairman of the Royal Society of Chemistry UK Sri Lanka Section, 2013/ 2014; Coordinator of IBG, Student Learning Environment –IRQUE Project – 2005 August – 2009 September; and IPCU Coordinator/ SJP – ADB, Personnel Development Project under the Ministry for Economics Reforms and Science and Technology, from 2002 July – 2004 August. Also he is closely working with the Department of Examinations and Publication Department of the Ministry of Education.

One of the most beloved statements of Prof. Liyanage that went viral on social media and is popular among students is his “partner statements.” A string of Prof. Liyanage’s famous words is “You are not here just to shape your career, but to shape your personal lives too. Make sure that you find a partner before you step out of the university.” It is testament to his belief that the university is not just a centre for academics, but for self-awareness and discovery.

Prof. Liyanage’s outstanding character was once again highlighted during the Covid-19 graduation ceremonies. “I knew it was extremely risky for me not to wear a mask while I had to shake hands with thousands of students. But I did not want to ruin an important juncture in their lives. So I wanted to pose for their graduation pictures without a mask. It was not a decision taken by the head, but by the heart on behalf of my students,“ he said.

Prof. Liyanage and his 3H formula are very famous among the student community. ‘Head, Heart, and Hand’ is the 3H formula, which consists of the three key ingredients for a successful life, according to Prof. Liyanage.

Finally I believe once he completes his sabbatical leave, he will continue his academic work at USJ.