Q Your critic number one, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) and the ‘Centre Against Private Medical Colleges’ charge that the SAITM chairman Dr. Neville Fernando and its Board of Directors had committed fraud in establishing the SAITM by providing false information. What do you have to say about this serious allegation?
These are just baseless allegations because SAITM from its inception acquired the license in terms of the Board of Investment Law of Sri Lanka Act No 4 of 1978 (as amended) having been registered under Section 17 (2) of the said Act, to set up a higher education institute to provide training in Information Technology, Management and Finance, Engineering, Vocational Studies, Nursing, Languages and Health Sciences.
Q Don’t you think that the name SAITM itself (South Asian Institute of Technology and Management) which you started with in 2008 betrays you as nothing is mentioned in it on teaching of medicine like any other medical college in any part of the world?
The BOI approval mandated the establishment of a higher education institute to train students in Health Science, among other fields of study since the inception. It is clearly stated in the BOI agreement therefore the name of an institution is irrelevant. Note that Health Sciences includes Medicine and other related sciences such as dentistry, nursing, physiotherapy and psychology. Currently in the Eastern University of Sri Lanka, the MBBS degree is offered under Faculty of Health Care Sciences.
However in February 2011, SAITM changed its name to South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine since SAITM’s Degree programme for Medicine was found to be the most popular among the public with a greater number of students applying for enrolment for the medical degree. And this was in turn clearly communicated to all relevant authorities.
Q This is also one of the main allegations of the GMOA against you that you are supposed not to teach or qualified to teach medicine. Your comments?
The GMOA is not the specified authority for Degree Awarding Institutes. It is just a trade union. The specified authority for Degree awarding institutes is the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education as per gazette notification 1824/21 of August 22, 2013 and prior to 2013 it was the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka
SAITM was granted Degree Awarding status in 2011. The Ministry of Higher Education having obtained recommendations under section 70 C of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978 and its subsequent amendments, granted recognition to SAITM to award the MBBS degree as per Gazette No. 1721/19 dated 30/08/2011 for students who register for the degree after 30 August 2011.With the Gazette No. 1829/36 dated 26/09/2013, the students enrolled earlier for the MD programme offered by the Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy, Russia from September 2009 up to August 2011, were also permitted to register for the MBBS degree
Q Explain briefly the minimum qualifications needed to enrol for a medical degree at the SAITM.
Two Credit passes and one simple pass in Chemistry, Biology, Physics or Mathematics at GCE A/L examination conducted by the Department of Examinations of Sri Lanka and equivalent qualifications for all other foreign examinations.
Q Are you confident that you have a fully qualified and experienced academic and non academic staff to offer an internationally recognized medical degree to students who successfully complete a course of medicine at the SAITM?
As per Sri Lanka University Statistics 2015 published by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka, as of December 2015, the SAITM Academic panel is on par or above State Medical faculties with a total 194 staff, consisting of 19 professors, 76 Senior Lecturers, 59 Lecturers among others. All our senior academic staff are of highest repute and who have already served the State Universities in the capacity as professors, senior lecturers, consultants etc.
All examination panels of SAITM consist of both Internal and External Examiners. The external examination panels for the final year students are comprised of eminent professors from the state medical faculties and consultants from the state hospitals and 19 students from the first batch of 24 students have successfully passed final MBBS examination.
Q One of the main allegations of the GMOA is that you don’t have enough facilities for clinical training, especially for community and public health. Your comments?
The clinical training is mainly provided at Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) for Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics which include 100 bed Professorial Units for each speciality.
NFTH also provides training in the following fields: psychiatry, cardiology, ENT, ophthalmology, radiology, clinical pathology, dermatology, anaesthesiology, and transfusion medicine. State of the art patient diagnosis facilities include CT and MRI scan technology.
The other leading private hospitals also facilitated clinical training for the MBBS degree programme.
In addition to above, training is received at Kaduwela MOH and Avissawella Base Hospital respectively for Community Medicine and Forensic Medicine which was obtained after our students filed a case in the Supreme Court.
Q Though you have constructed a fully fledged Teaching Hospital at Malabe for the use of the Medical College, it is not fully occupied by patients and that is a set back for students for their clinical training. Do you agree?
The NFTH has reasonable number of patients although this may be less compared to a state hospital. We adopt many other teaching methods other than the method using inward patients for clinical training such as ambulatory training which is training using clinic patients. We also adopt skills training in a skills lab and simulation which is globally accepted methods of clinical training. So we have mitigated the impact of lesser number of inward patients. We have been negotiating exposure in government hospitals but unfortunately the GMOA always opposes such a move. But we are hopeful that through a public private partnership this problem could be solved.
Q The Ministry of Health permitted on the advice of the Supreme Court the students at SAITM to undergo clinical training at Avissawella and Kaduwela hospitals. What is the progress?
Yes, the agreement was to obtain clinical training in judiciary services, psychiatry and public health. Students are currently undergoing the training. For this training also the GMOA made various attempts to harass the students at the beginning.
Q As far as you know, what happened to the report submitted by Prof. Rezvi Sheriff to the SLMC on the SAITM in 2015 on the SLMC’s own initiative?
We invited SLMC many a time since the inception of this institution. But they visited only when the students have reached the final year. Although there were ten names in the review panel only nine members participated properly in the review process. The recommendation of this 9-member committee was that to register SAITM graduates with some exposure at a state hospital. But unfortunately at the council of SLMC these recommendations were made to change and a report stating that SAITM graduates are not registrable was handed over to the Minister of Health. We have given our reply to this report to the Minister of Health.
Q What do you have to say about the demands made mainly by the GMOA and the students at government owned medical colleges to shut down the SAITM or take it over by the government?
The GMOA being a trade union is only concerned about their bread and butter at the end of the day. They will oppose any form of activity that would hamper their monopoly, holding poor patients to ransom. Private Medical education is opposed by them due to the fear that one day students from Private Medical Colleges will outperform them. They fear that they will one day lose postgraduate opportunities to students from PMCs. The struggle that they are doing is only to protect the monopoly and nothing else. Not certainly for the benefit of the greater public as they wish to portray.
The ideas attempted to inculcate by IUSF among the public represent only an insignificant fraction of the total University student body. It is only a politically motivated faction and their demands are not even worth the paper its written on. Any Government has only limited resources and they find it difficult even to fund the State Universities. Nationalizing of private enterprises in the Sri Lankan context has most of the time been a failure. If you count the students enrolled for higher education in non State Institutes, you will realize that they cater to more students than State Universities.
Q Are all your students the siblings of rich and powerful?
About 30% of the student population at SAITM are on partial or full scholarships. The majority of the parents of students mortgage or sell their property, or take educational loans to cover the finances required for the course of study. Many parents have invested their hard earned money on the education of their children and if not for SAITM, most of them would have gone abroad to China, Russia, or Bangladesh to continue their dreams of becoming doctors. More than 65% of the students are residing outside the Greater Colombo area and hail from middle class families.
Q Any idea why this virulent hate and protest by the GMOA and IUSF to the SAITM?
The GMOA as a trade union is only in it to protect their monopoly in the current system. Recently we saw how the GMOA protested to get preferential treatment for their children for school admissions. I suppose they forgot that their children will also need higher education opportunities in time to come.
If not at the expense of the State there should be opportunities in the private sector. Even at present there are at least 150 GMOA doctors whose children attend SAITM. The IUSF is just parroting what the GMOA says.