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Professor P.W. Epasinghe

By the Department of Mathematics of the University of Colombo


Prof. P.W. Epasinghe retired on 30th September 2001 after continuous service as a University teacher for 44 years.  

After joining the faculty of engineering of the University of Ceylon, the only University in Sri Lanka in that time, in 1954 as a freshman having won an Exhibition at the university Scholarship Examination, he won the First in Engineering Scholarship awarded to the best Engineering student in 1955 and opted to switch over to the Faculty of Science to read for a Special Degree in Mathematics lasting three further years. However, he completed the course and all examinations in two years and passed the Final Examination in 1957 obtaining a First Class at the Special Science Degree (Mathematics). He was awarded a Special Science Scholarship on the results of this Examination and was placed first in order of merit in the entire Faculty of Science at this Special Science Degree Examination

Prof.P.W. Epasinghe

Soon thereafter, in July 1957, he was appointed as a temporary tutor in Mathematics and was promoted as a temporary Assistant Lecturer on the 1st of February 1958. On the 1st of June 1958, he was appointed to the permanent staff of the University as a Probationary Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics.

He proceeded to the then Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, in 1961 for Post-Graduate studies and was the first Sri Lankan student to join the Department of Theoretical Physics headed at the time by Prof. Abdus Salam F.R.S., who was subsequently, awarded the Nobel Prize for Theoretical Physics. In 1962, he completed the D.I.C. Examination and shared the first place in order of merit with one other student, and was registered to read for the Ph.D. Degree of the University of London as a student of Imperial College. After spending one year back in the University of Ceylon, he returned to Imperial college in 1963 and obtained his Ph.D. degree in 1965 having written his thesis entitled “On the Formulation of Anti-Linear Quantized Fields” He was also awarded the D.I.C. by the Imperial College in 1965.

On his return to Ceylon in 1965, he was confirmed and promoted as a lecturer in Mathematics which position he held until 1967 when he was appointed as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics of the then Vidyodaya University of Ceylon, where he also served as the Dean of the Faculty of Science in 1977/78 and also as the acting Head of the Institution on several occasions before returning in 1978 to the University of Colombo which was the successor to the earlier University of Ceylon, a part of which was in Peradeniya at the time he joined the academic staff in 1957.

In 1967 itself, he set up the First ever Post-Graduate Diploma programme on a self-paying basis in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) with the introduction of the one year Post-Graduate Diploma Course in Statistics, and in 1968, he not only introduced for the first time in this country, Statistics as a discipline upto the First Degree level in a Faculty of Science, but also developed and delivered a compulsory Mathematics programme with a heavy bias towards Statistics for the Bio-Science students up to the first Degree level. In1973/74, he proceeded to the Florida State University as a visiting Professor in Statistics on a Fullbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship and was also a Visiting Scientist on the invitation of Prof. Salam at the then International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste.

On his return in 1978 to the University of Colombo he was appointed as the Head of the Department of Mathematics, which also had a Statistical Unit, attached to it. During this time his expertise was sought by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka, which appointed him as a visiting Professor to design and deliver a Post-Graduate Course in “Quantitative Techniques in Decision Making”. In 1987/88, he introduced Mathematical modelling into the University system in Sri Lanka when he served the Open University of Sri Lanka as a U.N.D.P. consultant while on sabbatical leave. During this period, he also authored two books one on “Classical Mechanics” for the 3rd year students and the other on “Mathematical Modelling- Miscellaneous Models” for the first year students of the Open University.

 On his return after sabbatical leave, he was instrumental in introducing several courses in Mathematical Modelling at the University of Colombo. He also pioneered the introduction of Actuarial Mathematics to Sri Lankan Graduates and was able to get the Department recognised as a centre for examinations of the Society of Actuaries of U.S.A. in Illinois. He also promoted the young staff in the department to gain exposure to several areas of Mathematical Modelling in foreign Universities. In 1985, he was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka, and also to its Council as the Honorary Treasurer.

        He was the Dean of the Faculty of Science in 1983 and served as the acting Vice-Chancellor on several occasions. He served again as the Dean in 1994 and 1995 and before he began his term of office, he introduced the Faculty Calendar of Dates covering the period 10.05.93 to 27.10.97 by which time, the backlog of student intakes created by the closure of all Universities for over two years in 1988, 1989 and 1990 would have got cleared with the 1997/98 intake coming on 27.10.97. This was the only Calendar of Dates of this type in any Faculty in any University in Sri Lanka and also provided the students with information on the duration of Academic terms and vacations, study leave periods, examination periods as well as the examination time tables covering a period of four years ahead. At the time he left office of Dean at the end of 1994, the Calendar had been revised twice due to various disruptions and the backlog clearance moved to 18.10.99 with the 1999/2000 intake.

        His services were made available in an honorary capacity to a large number of ad- hoc committees of the University as well to the Faculty Board of the Faculty, Senate of the University and also its Council. He has also served the University as acting Director of the Institute of Workers' Education and on a later occasion as the Director of the Institute of Computer Technology. His services have been made available to the University Grants Commission as a member of three standing committees. His service were obtained by the Government of Sri Lanka, while he was working for the University, in several capacities, the most noteworthy being, once in 1969-70 when he was appointed by the Hon Minister for Scientific Research and Housing as one of twelve to a committee to examine the proposal for the establishment of Physics –Mathematics Institute or Institute of Technology studies, then in late 1994, when he was appointed by Her Excellency the President of Sri-Lanka as Chairman of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission and then in late 1997 when he was appointed by the Hon Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development as the Chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency for a third term ending in October 2002 . His contribution was not confined to academic activities alone in the University but his colleagues elected him unanimously as the President of the University Teachers' Association on several occasions.

        His entire working life has thus been spent working for the University System as well as the Government of Sri Lanka.  

        He has a number of Research Publications on a wide variety of fields connected with Mathematics and Mathematics Education in Universities.