he South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine or SAITM –Sri Lanka’s only private university with a licensce to award medical degrees- is again in the news. Once again, for all the wrong reasons.
Student unions, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), public university lecturers and trade unions are calling on the government to close down the private medical college.
The GMOA, medical students who benefit through the government’s free education programme and certain groups of non-government organisations (NGOs) see the private university’s medical degree programme as a threat to free education.
Trade unionists have claimed SAITM is the only medical faculty in the world that started without having a teaching hospital of its own, which is not
The Joint Opposition in Parliament also backs parties opposed to SAITM being granted a licence to award medical degrees. They too claim the University poses a threat to the government’s free education programme.
What is questionable about the Joint Opposition’s motives in opposing SAITM awarding medical degrees is that at the time the private university was set up, it was done with the approval of the self-same Opposition governing the country at the time. The University Grants Commission granted approval and registration to SAITM on August 30, 2011 to conduct the MBBS degree programme, again under the previous regime.
In fact, when thousands of students took to the streets in October 2015, demanding the closure of the private medical college, the then Government comprising today’s Joint Opposition unleashed anti-riot armed Police, who used tear gas and water canons to break up the demonstration. Around 12-15 students were hospitalised in the aftermath of the protest.
The President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) on one occasion said he would never register students from SAITM. One of his reasons being that “SAITM students do not have exposure to forensic medicine” and hence cannot complete their clinical training, which is reasonable.
In December 2015, at the hearing of an application filed in the Supreme Court by the SAITM students, the Health Ministry gave an undertaking to provide clinical training to the students of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), at the Avissawella Base Hospital and the Kaduwela MOH.
In an effort to resolve their dilemma, an MBBS graduate of SAITM filed a petition at the Appellate Court, as the Sri Lanka Medical Council refused to register medical students who had passed out from the SAITM. On January 31 this year, the Appellate Court after hearing claims of the opposing parties, allowed the provisional registration of SAITM’s MBBS graduates, and in its judgement, directed the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to grant provisional registration to medical students passing out from SAITM’s medical degree programme.
University students threatened to demonstrate against the judgement. Better sense however, seems to be prevailing and the deans of medical faculties of eight universities have proposed suggestions to resolve
In a nutshell, what the deans have emphasised on is the need to maintain minimum standards for medical education in the country and proposed a process which needs be applied to ensure maintenance of these minimum standards.
Let’s face facts; Sri Lanka is facing a serious shortage of medical doctors. A study by Professor Lalitha Mendis shows Sri Lanka has a doctor to population ratio of 55.2 per 100,000 population (i.e. one doctor per 1,811 persons). The current specialist per 100,000 population is even worse, being 4.8 (one specialist per 25,000 population).
According to statistics published by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2006, only 14.34% could enter the university out of those eligible for university admission. Dr. Tara de Mel (Secretary to the Minister of Education) in 2009 pointed out that 164 students with 3A grades, the highest grade one can secure at the GCE Advanced Level, and 1,464 students with 2As and 1B grades, did not find placement in the universities.
The Government universities cannot produce sufficient doctors to meet the country’s needs. Students with a capacity to study medicine cannot enter the medical faculty, despite acquiring requisite standards. There is therefore a need to help the country meet this shortfall, and the country and its peoplecannot be held to ransom to decrepit claims of threats to the free
We already have private schools and private universities but the system of free education in the
It is time for good sense to prevail. It’s time to end the rumpus in the campus.