Thursday, November 5, 2015

Professor S Mahalingam's memories - Part II

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Read: Part I - The New Faculty

Part II - Our First Home

All our work was done at the Ceylon Technical College in Maradana for the first two and half years. Like most Technical Colleges in Britain, it was located in the heart of the city, close to the centres of transport and commerce, within easy reach of the part-time students enrolled in its numerous Day and Evening, sub-professional courses.

Its main division, its flagship and pride had been the full-time, four-year degree course leading to the external degree of the University of London. As it happened I had the dubious, distinction of being in the last batch of students to complete the course before disaster overtook the institution.

The college was situated in a triangular block of land bounded by busy roads on two sides, and by a canal with stagnant water and a lock-gate on the third. Its front entrance lay on the main highway which carried tram and bus services. On the other side of this road there was a busy railway yard in which rolling stock rattled incessantly.

In consequence, a high level of noise prevailed right through the day, pierced at frequent intervals by the shrieking whistles of the exuberant steam locomotives going about their shunting in the yard.

The total absence of floral vegetation added to the general bleakness of the place. It was a cheerless industrial environment and not an academic one. But I had got used to it during my four-years as an undergraduate.

The college had its origins in a Government Technical School founded in 1893 for the training of sub-professional grades, and had gone through many vicissitudes some of which had threatened its very existence. Its growth had been haphazard, and buildings had been constructed or modified as and when land was acquired and money was available. Some of the laboratory buildings, for instance, had been garages used by the CGR to park its lorries, and continued to retain their functional appearance. Not visible, however, was the insidious red tape in which the administration of the College was totally enmeshed.

Engineering education began to spread in the Western universities about 150 years ago, but it was only in 1942 that it arrived in Ceylon when the CTC obtained "provisional recognition" for preparing students for the external degree of the University of London. But the College did not have the human and material resources for this undertaking, and the recognition faced a breakdown in December 1949.

The Ministry of Education was deeply concerned at these distressing developments and, there being no viable alternative solution, decided to close down the degree programme at the ailing CTC and ask the University of Ceylon to set up its Faculty of Engineering, which had been on the cards for some years. This decision led to the four-month frantic activity to meet the deadline of 1 July 1950.

Read Part III:
Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

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