SAITM Predicament and Redress of Education
Posted on February 8th, 2017

Dr. Chandana Jayalath

With the court’s decision assenting what the SAITM demands, I see a novel educational model that can kick start. I strongly believe it is high time we re-modeled the educational structures as a whole. This is possible, provided a holistic view is honored by all corners of the society, politicians, professionals and the public. Conflicts are not always bad.

It is a known fact that only 3 per cent of the Advanced Level student population gains an opportunity to enter a Sri Lankan university. Sadly, we have been far behind times warranting speedy answers. It needs rational and radical changes as long as free education policies are upheld and secured. Unless, we resolve this educational gap, we are to see more and more youngsters protesting in roads demanding justice.

However, there shall never be sufficient funding for this noble cause. The context is such that heavy national debt persists, thanks to our own people who have been voting for nonsense for the last 68 years. Free education is not sufficiently competitive to promote educational advances if we all agree that competitive education is the biggest impetus for development.

One can argue, 97 per cent of students who lost university entrance not only have to self-fund their tertiary education but also pay taxes to fund the 3 per cent. Some argue that this 3 per cent, who are now securely placed in state universities block opportunities for the others. They interpret it as an inverted model of capitalism. In contrast, however, I believe it a question of standard than barricade. Students rally round and raise concerns, and if not listened, they come down and shout for justice.

Basically, the problem with the SAITM is its lack of transparency in the student selection and the delivery of clinical training. This is what we have heard so far on the side of its opponents, in addition to its own inception issues, of course. At the outset, it is important that SAITM simply follows UGC procedure as for any other university study program in the country. Therefore, the current nationally accepted selection process must prevail in student selection to SAITM, unconditionally. Next, the UGC Quality Assurance Council if existent, and the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) should consider at least provisional approval with the relevant improvements without relaxing relevant specifications as any other medical faculty operates.Advanced level students can select their choices upon their merit and include the SAITM also if they so wish. However, it essentially warrants a public private modality in the overall conduct, I believe.

It is also imperative that SAITM preserves its automaticity while keeping with rapidly evolving medical knowledge. It should also preserve the right to select a small proportion of exceptional students, including foreign students in keeping with UGC policy. This is to ensure that these institutions are not ‘locked’ onto outdated national models and improve the quality of their programs to maintain student demand and become financially self-sufficient. It is also a model that can attract foreign students, which will indeed be a major influx of foreign money. This will resolve the biggest issue of funds to keep the existing university system running, at least a portion in the long run and will give a much needed boost to education in our country and also stop the brain drain of educators, on the other hand.

Let us now look at the role of the Sri Lanka Medical Council. Existing since 1924, despite the name it had, the SLMC is a statutory body established for the purpose of protecting health care seekers by ensuring the maintenance of academic and professional standards, discipline and ethical practice by health professionals who are registered with it.  As presently constituted the Council has a public liability; that is to ensure publicly reliable doctors and other medical allied professionals are serving in the medical sector. Public reliance is what makes the SLMC liable. However, there is no known recorded court cases so far filed against SLMC for bad quality delivery of medical services.

Further, the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) is a campus established in 2011 in Colombo to provide tertiary education for self-funding students. It acquired degree awarding status for the MBBS medical undergraduate degree in 2013. Since the course was fee levying, it was affordable only to a fraction of our community. Though this created a sense of a ‘class’ divide, I would say, it is inevitable. I also see that the protests were similar to those that were staged against the North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) two decades ago, the first privately funded medical school in Sri Lanka started in 1980. I was one of those who were behind the struggle by writing leaflets on behalf of then the medical students against the setup of NCMC. As a result of prolonged struggle, the NCMC was abolished and absorbed into the state sector, and renamed Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya.

Essentially, Government approved councils such as SLMC serve as the ultimate gateways for medical profession in each country. Chartered associations are those given a mandate by government to represent a particular profession. A charter signifies that an individual has the knowledge and the experience to practice as a full-fledged professional. The linkage between professional associations and the emerging public private mix of university education institutions in Sri Lanka has proceeded more or less smoothly. In all these fields, the professional associations have facilitated the transition from academic to the professional domain or have provided paths parallel to and independent from universities.

Clinical practice is more crucial in medicine than in any other profession and SLMC is correct in its focus on the lack of facilities for clinical training at SAITM. However, as the Council responsible for the overall quality of medical practice in Sri Lanka, SLMC should also consider whether a monopoly by the State sector will best serve the profession. While acting as guardian of quality they have a responsibility to create more competition and room for innovation in the professional training of doctors. Hope, SLMC will not necessarily act as gatekeepers, instead, act with forethought in regard to both quality and access.

As exactly seen, if the medical colleges affiliated to the present universities are unable to provide the facilities for the students, let the government formulate a system to open private medical, engineering and other universities and save the deflated foreign currency reserve in Sri Lanka. We know that in western countries, a MBBS program costs around US $ 225,000 to US $ 300,000. As a matter of urgency, the government should look into the mushrooming of foreign technical institutions and other education providers as the country should clear this hurdle of providing good education. Indeed, success in medicine requires application and hard work, while studying and in practice. However, it brings great rewards in terms of job satisfaction, involving as it does a combination of science and human interactions, and numerous career opportunities.

Despite arguments for and against, I am of the firm view that, courts should not have involved in issuing orders to SLMC, considering its autonomy granted in law. It is so traditional in Sri Lanka that courts operate one size fit all manner. Matter is seriously technical by nature. Courts should have given more prominence to public policy than the law itself and referred to court annexed mediation and oversee the conduct at arm’s length. A wrong precedence may mean to have serious repercussions.

7 Responses to “SAITM Predicament and Redress of Education”

  1. Premadasa Says:

    I have read the discussion on the recognition of the medical degree awarded by SAITM with some interest. The writer is correct that only a small percentage of students who pass the A/L exams get into state funded universities. In my view, those who don’t get admission are equally intelligent and given the opportunity, they can successfully complete a degree program. I don’t see anything wrong with privately funded institutions of higher learning as long as they meet the standards set by the governing bodies. In fact some of the leading universities in the world are privately funded. Stanford University in California, is an example. A number of companies in the Silicon Valley were started by Stanford graduates. Can we assume that Stanford graduates are less qualified because they paid for their education? If the graduates from private universities can pass standard examinations conducted by established entities (such as Charter), they should be allowed to practice their chosen profession. As the writer stated, the state does not have the financial resources to expand the university system to accommodate more students. Therefore, we should encourage more privately funded institutions of higher learning to Sri Lanka. The country needs more university graduates, especially in STEM areas.

  2. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    I REMEMBER, ONE OF MY FRIEND”S DAUGHTER ATTENDED A PRIVATE MEDICAL COLLEGE IN COLOMBO,POSSIBLY IN KELANIYA, OR RAGAMA, PASSED OUT AS A DOCTOR AND IS NOW WORKING IN USA. THEN THERE WAS NO OPPOSITION TO A PRIVATE MEDICAL COLLEGE. WHY ?

    ANY STUDENT SHOULD HAVE ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION, AND THOSE WHO OPPOSE THAT ARE EITHER JEALOUS, OR AFRAID OF MORE INTELLIGENT COMPETITION, AGAINST THEIR OWN PROFESSION.

    SAITM has come to stay. Leave your petty jealousies and go on with your life. Be HAPPY that someone is getting the chance to be educated.

    PLEASE STOP THIS SICK MANIA

  3. Dilrook Says:

    I disagree with the author on his final observations.

    This matter is now settled by the court and the court gave the correct verdict. SLMC is not above the law and the court giving it orders is much appreciated. Public policy is not within the purview of the court. It must strictly apply one size fits all (otherwise equality will be in jeopardy) law. That is the task of the court. Let the parliament decide public policy.

    Now all parties to the issue must accept it and get on with the court order. They have nothing else to do. The matter has been sorted.

    All this can be traced to petty jealousy and old fashioned ideas. This country needs as many private tertiary education institutions. Their standards must be compared against other local universities (most have a world rank of over 1940) in content and student discipline.

    The monopoly in tertiary medical, etc. education must be broken.

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    Our medical students need a intensive training in being courteous to patients and to treat them as clients, not peasants.
    At the moment doctors are generally a bunch of big headed egoistic lot who don’t know their origin, free education they received and who paid it.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    IF you study in bio in AL in Jaffna or a Tamil in Colombo you can easily get into MED FAC by CHEATING. Schools assist you to CHEAT in AL. These are the people that become MBBS from govt. medical college.

    What is wrong in allowing private education?

    Now JVP student unions are going to create VIOLENCE against SAITM.

    Their logic is IF a farmer has 2 cows, kill the farmer, divide the cows to poor butchers!! Revolution JVP style.

    MR counting GMOA help to make govt. UNPOPULAR. BAD decision.

  6. Christie Says:

    Christie Says:
    February 9th, 2017 at 2:56 am
    Christie Says:
    February 9th, 2017 at 2:42 am
    මේ දොස්තර ස්කෝලෙ ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිත ලනුවක් තිබුනනම් ඔය බෙරිහන්දෙන උන්ගෙ කටේ වඩේ පිරිල.

    දැන් මුන් ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයගෙන් සමාජ වඩේ කාල බෙරිහන් දෙනව.

    ඇද අන්තර ජාතික ඉන්ගිරිසියෙන් උගන්වන ස්කෝලවල මැදපෙරදිග වැඩකරන අයගෙ ලමයි කොච්චර ඉන්නවද?

    සයිටම් විරෝදීන්ගේ මොලයත් මුදලුත් යැපෙන්නෙ ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයගෙන්.

    ආ! ඔය පෙරටුගාමී කියන මිනීමරුව ඉන්දියානු අදිරදය වෙනුවෙන් විජේවීර බලාගත්ත ගොයියද?

    දොස්තරයෙක් වෙන්න සල්ලි ගෙවල ඉගෙන ගත්තම මොකද?

    බාස් කෙනෙක් වෙන්න ලන්ඩන් සිටි ඇන්ඩ් ගිල්ඩ්ස් ආයතනය හරියක් දාන කාර්මික ස්කෝලෙක සල්ලි ගෙවල ඉන්ගිසියෙන් ඉගෙන ගන්න අය ගැන කිසිම සද්දයක් නැත.

    ඒ බාස්ලට සහතිකේ ගන්න ඉස්සර පිටරට රස්සාවල්.

    We are brain washed by the Indian Imperialists and Indian colonial parasites and we play in to their hands.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Suggestion :

    How about both sets of institutions i.e. SAITM and the various govt Medical Associations co-operate and formulate agendas on how best to serve the Nation, as well as even foreign patients ?
    Also formulate agendas how best to serve their own doctors and other Health Care professionals ?

    Excellence, with diverse Health Care Services, ought to be the watchword for all Health Care institutions.

    That way we can have a win-win situation.

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