The IUSF and recognition of private medical universities - EDITORIAL

On 10 August the Inter University Students Federation (ISUF) attempted to hold a rally protesting government’s move to grant recognition to the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University and the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) as medical degree awarding universities.  

The IUSF sees the recognition of these two bodies -as fee levying universities- as direct threat to the free education system. Among the other matters raised by the IUSF was the issue of the detention of student activists, inflation and weakening of labour laws.  

Anticipating legal orders banning the holding of the event at particular sites, the venue and start times demonstrations were not revealed days ahead of the rally.  

As had been anticipated, the Colombo Magistrates Court banned the holding of the rally. Despite the Court ruling however, the rally was held, and dispersed by the police using water cannon. Around nine to ten of the protestors were taken into custody. Not unexpectedly the attempted demonstration and its disperal created traffic blocs.  
If the aim of the protestors had been to garner sympathy of the public to the cause of the students, it failed. The disruption delayed workers attempting to return to their homes and engendered abuse directed at the protestors.  
The fact that the demo and its dispersal by the police did not make it to the front pages of the national dailies tells its own tale.  

Working people now are most knowledgeable of the cost of living. They are after all, the first in the firing line attempting to keep the wolf from the door. They also know of the shortage of doctors in country which forces them to seek private medical treatment while at the same time trying to stretch wages to meet the ever rising cost of living.  

Lanka today is facing a dearth of doctors. Earlier this year the GMOA -a doctors trade union- announced over 500 doctors had emigrated in the first six months of the year. It also announced that the hospitals at Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Tissamaharama were on the verge of collapse.  

According to Trading Economics quoting World Bank statistics, the doctor to patient ratio in Sri Lanka was reported at 1.2291 in 2020. 

The persons worst affected by this shortage of doctors are the poorer sections of the population. The answer to the shortage of doctors therefore, is to ensure the country is able to train and produce more doctors. Presently the medical faculties of the universities in our country are unable to accommodate the number of students who are successfully complete their ‘A’ level examination.  

Large number of those who cannot gain admission to the medical faculty here are forced to pay large amounts of money to enter universities abroad. For instance 500 Sri Lankan students are pursuing MBBS degrees at Kursk State Medical University in Russia.  

The total cost of studying medicine in Russia and Belarus for a period of 6 years will be about one hundred and twenty thousand US dollars.About 44,500,000 rupees in Sri Lankan currency.  
The children of more affluent families will always be able to send their children abroad to complete their studies. It is the students from the lower income families who are cut off from achieving their dreams of following the medical profession.  

Today, the bankrupt nature of our economy does not permit government opening more medical universities. An option is to open private medical universities.  

This will help poorer students who despite having fulfilled required criteria are unable to enter university because of the lack of facilities. If the facility was available, the numbers of students studying in foreign universities -costing the country valuable foreign exchange to continue their studies in country- would drop.  

When private schools were permitted to operate, student unions raised the same cry ‘the end of free education’.  
This did not happen. State schools and colleges still provide a quality education at little cost to parents. Similarly the entry of private medical universities will not spell the end of free education in state universities.  

It will only help take the stress off the over stretched facilities at state universities in addition to saving valuable foreign currency for the country.     

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