A Pali Student's Thoughts

Thoughts of a fish out of water, er, no, rather in new and alien waters --- the reflections of a Buddhist monk surviving in the modern academic atmosphere

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Why Should We Pay?

Place: Makutarama Burmese Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Time: In the first week of January, 200 --

Two Burmese monks were talking. To be more specific, a new-comer was listening to the lecture of an old hand. He was trying to assimilate some knowledge to help him survive in a foreign land and achieve his academic objectives.

". . . MA course fee is US$ 500. And you must pay the library fee too, but only in Rupees (Sri Lanka currency)"

At this point, the new comer was no longer able to contain himself, and blurted out, " US$ 500! What an enormous sum! The course fees alone would cost my master a small fortune. If they demand so much, I presume they would take care of food and lodging as well for me"

"Food and lodging is your own problem, not theirs. Their responsibility is to employ teachers for giving lectures, to keep the library running and to hold examinations in due course"

"Then why do they ask for so much money? This is not education but only doing unfair business in its name"

The old hand smiled and replied, "Universities are non-profit organizations, not businesses as you think. But, you see, the professors must be paid by hourly rates for their lectures, these payments must be at our expense. But you needn't gripe so much. You have to pay only 500 because you are a member of the clergy. If you were a layman, you would have to give more than 700 and, if you were from a developed country, more than 1000"

"I won't mind if I were a layman. If I can hope to get a decent job after graduation so that I can live in comfort ever after, I can pay even more than 1000, really. But I am only a monk. I can't recover even a cent that I give away as fees. Why don't they know it if this is a Buddhist country? If universities are non-profit organizations as you said, I think these professors are doing a very good business by charging so much money from students. They will get rich in no time"

"You should remember that they are only laymen, not monks like us. For laymen, you know, business is business. As for getting rich, I think they are already rich. Man, they drive their own cars!"

"Well, perhaps the very fact of being a layman is the greatest evil. How different from my master! He has taught myself and other students for years, providing in the meantime food, lodging and other necessities for us. Now he has given me a scholarship to study abroad because I am the brightest among his students.Yet I am under no sort of obligation to do anything in return; monetary repayment is out of the question"

"You shouldn't compare very different things"

The dialog above is purely fictitious. But it still serves to show the overview of modern universities, in the eyes of Burmese monks, of course.

Before going on, I should remark, for the sake of those who do not know yet, that the fees charged to foreign students in Sri Lankan universities are not really expensive; in fact they are really a bargain when compared to their western counterparts. When you find that there is a very good academic atmosphere generally prevalent on campuses, the fee you have to give is worth its every cent --- well, in the field of Buddhist studies at least. Sri Lanka is very strong in the field of Buddhist studies because she has been able to recruit local professors well-grounded in the traditional mode of learning as well as seasoned in the atmosphere of western academia (most of them have doctorates from well-known universities in the west)

On the other hand, it is true that fees are dauntingly high for Burmese monks. They have come from a very poor country and their supporters are generally only pious devotees, no blood relations of them. Some of monks are supported by the contributions collected from their native villages or towns, which is usually a one-time matter; they cannot hope for more. After paying fees and keeping aside some amount for the return plane ticket, a typical Burmese monk would stay and study in Sri Lanka with monthly expenses as little as US$ 30. They usually manage to stay at local monasteries where food and lodging is generally free and they abstain from non-academic expenses as much as possible.

However, the main source of confusion for Burmese monks, as far as modern universities are concerned, is not so much high tuition fees but the very fact of having to pay for their education. Before hurrying to tell them that there is no such thing as a free lunch, you'd better try to understand why they tend to think in this way, which I would present in detail in the next post.

with metta