Nestled in the hillocks of rural Mahenwatta off Pitipana Homagama, is the NSBM Green University Town, considered the first green university in South Asia.
Greening does not mean you have to have trees around buildings. Green building concept includes aspects such as energy conservation and proper garbage disposal mechanism, which will be incorporated into the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development Green Building policy.
At first glance, one wonders why it is referred to as a ‘green university’. From the main entrance, a cleared area consisting of parking spaces and a road system is visible, with a modern looking building and no sign of trees. It’s only when one peers around the corner from this building, towards the cluster of buildings beyond, that the landscaped garden with rocks jutting out and newly and strategically planted trees are visible. However, it would take roughly about a year or two to fully appreciate the greenness of the green university.
The 26-acre, green university town currently has two canteens, a library, student centre, dormitories, auditorium, recreational centre consisting of a swimming pool, indoor basketball and badminton courts, gym with modern equipment, ground and a mini outdoor theatre. The campus also holds fully furnished staff accommodation, administration costs of which are charged from the resident.
In front of the administration building is a sizeable pond. Vegetation is visible on the pavements and also in the form of creepers that hang from balconies and concrete boxes. There are many flowering herbaceous borders all around. But the best view of the extent of vegetation at NSBM is from a top of a building, where a bird’s eye view highlights the many layered gardens not only on ground level, but also on rooftops and balconies of the buildings.
Another aspect of the whole green concept is the glass forming the outer wall of the building, maximizing sunlight penetration. The naturally hilly landscape has been well utilized in the construction of the building, maximizing space. Some buildings were constructed preserving the naturally occurring rock outcrops within the building.
Dormitories within the university town is a definite plus for the student population. There are two separate dorms housing male students and female students. The canteen within the dorm, which provides seating for some 200 students, proved unable to cater to the need of the students during meal times, since the area was overflowing with students in need of seating. There were snacks, soft drinks, short eats as well as rice and curry served at lunch time. On the whole, it was a buzzing beehive of activity. Students were having meals, working on laptops, playing cards or relaxing.
Tourism and Hospitality Management student, Dimuth Gamage said that lectures at campus are quite good. “The LMS online platforms provide lecture notes beforehand, so that we could prepare and attend the lectures. We don’t receive paper based tutes due to the green concept. Students can be preferential and either print or carry them in an electronic device,” he says.
He also said that dorm rooms are quite up to standard with the necessary facilities such as WiFi and an attached bathroom to each room.
“There are two students in each room, but the room is spacious enough,” he said. The hostel costs 10,000 rupees per student, per month inclusive of electricity, water and internet. However, food has to be bought separately.
Dimuth is a member of the NSBM rugger team. “Just one month after opening the university, we played in the Mora Sevens organized by the University of Katubedda. We became runners-up,” he boasts.
He said that there is maximum promotion of sports through the Recreation Centre.
According to him, under the green concept, solar powered lights are being used, in addition to electrical lights. “Also, the trees are planted to a new strategy, along lines. It would look beautiful when these trees grow”, he said.
Software Engineering student, Pasan Hansika said that the hostel is good, but be more worthy of the price if it includes food. “Currently I buy food from canteen or from somewhere outside the university town. It would be better if the canteen varies their menu from time to time,” he said. According to him, the green concept is attractive and would bring more students into the university. He also said that it is tranquil and provides excellent conditions for studying and that there is a computer lab with up-to-date facilities for students.
NSBM Green University, Director Operations and Senior Lecturer, Chaminda Ratnayake disclosed that the on-campus capacity is 30,000 students. “Currently there are 9000 students and we have a systematic plan to go up to 30,000 by 2024. One of our targets is to get foreign students to the campus and there are some hundred odd dorm rooms to cater to the need of foreign students.”
According to Ratnayake, the green concept has two phases. Phase one involves a technical aspect such as aligning buildings to receive maximum sunlight and areas built to function without air-conditioning. “We have already received gold certificates for the green building practices,” he declared. At the same time modules on sustainability is embedded to the course curriculum so that the students end up being environmentally friendly graduates.
The second phase involves embedding the green practices in to operations. “It’s an expensive process where solar power devices have to be built in. Already our sewerage water is being recycled. We try to make less use of air-conditioning and get all the energy sources from within the green university. We are also trying to recycle garbage and use it to produce something else and are currently under consultancy on this”, said Ratnayake.
The cost of a degree varies from around 1.2 million to 1.6 million rupees, depending on the course provider university, in addition to the course selected. According to BSc Software Engineering student, Shenal Megawarna the lectures are good and his favourite so far is C language lecture. “The university has eco friendly practices and the use of white colours in the building makes it look pure. There are plants installed at places on the ground, where water springs from as well as drains to the ground. The open auditorium would look more attractive once the trees are grown”, said Megawarna. He also said that facilities like a supermarket and a salon are anticipated.
Ratnayake says that the concept of green university began in 2010 with financial gains from the NIBM. “The nation needed students to enjoy fully- fledged higher education, to study in an environment of their own, than like in a tuition class”, he said.
He elaborated that a relatively remote area is used so that students can be disconnected from parents and learn their own life as well as take part in aesthetic activities as well as sports.
“Now we can groom a graduate compatible for global environment,” said Ratnayake.
Over 9000 students studying at the NSBM City University in Nugegoda were transferred to the Green University upon its opening. “We studied Universities such as MIT and Harvard and wanted to bring the same technology and infrastructure here so that students don’t leave the country for higher education.
Instead, they can complete undergraduate level here for about 1/10th the cost. We are a University Grants Commission Approved university body. We are a 100 percent government organization, under Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training since we don’t depend on treasury for development. This project is funded by NSBM money,” added Ratnayake.
He further stated that first class and second class graduates from government, as well as private universities, who have studied as full time students and experienced university life, are employed as lecturers, in order to maximize the university experience of the students. NSBM green university already has business and computing faculties and would be commencing the science and engineering faculty soon.
The major disadvantage of the university town is its location, at least to the daily travelling students. This has been provided by a shuttle service at scheduled times from Kadawatha to NSBM via the highway and from Kottawa to NSBM. Government and private buses are also in operation to NSBM. The universities’ most notable aspect is the rambling ground and buildings, which provide a peaceful and relaxed environment necessary for higher education, with almost all facilities in reach, within the university town. The washrooms are clean with the only hitch being no soap, a necessity in hygiene practices.
Altogether, there was a high degree of reluctance among the students to comment on the student life, within the university town, most answered that they cannot say anything on the matter. Also, they did not seem to be fully aware of the green concept, though most had a vague idea. All in all, there seems to be the need to improve the students’ awareness of their immediate environment.
The NSBM Green University Town is part of a plan to incorporate green building standards into the government’s Megapolis concept which is expected to get off the ground this year.
The importance of constructing environment-friendly buildings has been discussed in recent times and the launch of a policy for the construction industry has been in the pipeline for many years. The government has introduced a Green Building Code and Evaluation System for the country’s construction industry. Accordingly, the government intends to construct State buildings that are environment-friendly from this year.
However, the government said that the existing State sector buildings cannot be converted to environment friendly constructions as the process needed to incorporate several minute aspects starting from the time the building is being constructed.
Secretary to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Nihal Rupasinghe speaking to Weekend Nation on the issue said that the Green Building Code would be applicable to buildings that are being built in the future and not to those that have been constructed.
“The greening process has to look at several aspects. Even the quality of the sand that is used for the construction has to be taken into consideration. Therefore, we cannot do this on the existing buildings,” he said.
However, several government buildings have already started to go environmental friendly by making subtle changes such as opting to go for solar power in order to save more energy.
The inaugural ceremony of the national project to convert State sector buildings into solar power generating centres was held at the Ministry of Finance with the patronage of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake on January 9.
The national programme aims to convert all State sector buildings as solar power generating centres within two years.
The project was launched following a proposal of the Budget 2017. The project will be implemented under the initiative of President Maithripala Sirisena’s “Beginning of 3rd Year of a Sustainable Era”, and the Prime Minister’s concept to build a powerful Sri Lanka under his “Economic Policy Statement”. The first solar power generating scheme under this project was fixed on the Finance Ministry building. It was commissioned by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
“Greening does not mean you have to have trees around buildings. It includes several aspects such as energy conservation, garbage disposal systems and so on,” Rupasinghe said.
Since the greening process would focus on State buildings, the government has entrusted the monitoring process to the Urban Development Authority (UDA). Rupasinghe pointed out that the UDA would oversee the process for the moment but added that it would join with other stakeholders in the industry in the future as the project expands to the private sector.
“We hope to work with the Engineering faculties of the local universities and also get the support of architects, engineers and town planners in order to ensure this process is followed according to standard,” Rupasinghe added.