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New institute of higher education:

Whole world open to those with good qualifications

Dr. Neville Fernando is a genius having treaded several areas and then emerging victorious surmounting problems that came along the way in his long career. He is a professionally qualified doctor of Western Medicine. His stint at government service even did not last for more than a year. He was disgusted and quit government service to set up his own private practice at Panadura.

His practice flourished as time went by and became a popular medical practitioner in the area. He practised for more than 20 years before giving that up and entered active politics to serve the public.

Dr. Fernando was elected by popular vote as the Member of Parliament for Panadura. He gave up politics in 1994, and ventured into business and became a successful businessman. He owned the major shares of Asha Central Hospital, a flagship hospital in Colombo. Later he sold his shares at the Asha Central hospital at a big profit and quit hospital business. "After I sold my hospital I was thinking of doing something for the country. I thought the best was to set up an institute of higher education. Then I found out that children who should have been in universities are left out." he said.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with Dr. Neville Fernando at his South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) at Malabe last week.

Inequities

He said it was unfortunate and regrettable that students who study hard and obtained high marks at the GCE Advance Level examination couldn't enter university. They were left out because of inequities in the education system. He said students who scored high marks from Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Jaffna and Matara were left out and those from backward areas with less marks gained admission to universities. "I was thinking of the plight of my own children if they were in the same boat. So I thought the best was to start an institution of higher education."

He said the investment to build the new campus was estimated to be around Rs. 500 million. "But the cost escalated after we decided to construct the Anatomy and Physiology block for the medical faculty." Dr. Fernando stressed that there is a dearth of doctors in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the world. "Our medical students say that they won't find employment in government service until 2010. But one does not have to wait for jobs in the government sector. They should get into private practice," he said.

He said the whole world was open to persons with a good qualification. One does not have to think of a job here in Sri Lanka. They can go to any part of the world and practise medicine or any other profession for that matter "Sri Lankan medical students should change their attitude. What I feel is there is sheer hatred and jealousy towards other students. They only want to think about themselves but not about others who had been unfortunate in not getting into the medical college.

Temerity

Dr. Fernando said he will consider students who have done exceptionally well in the GCE Advance Level Examination. Those with London, Cambridge or Sri Lankan qualification will be admitted to the new medical college at the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM). "We hope to get some foreign students from Nepal, Maldives and Malaysia. The Maldivian Minister met me recently and we discussed about the study courses available at our university. "The South Asian Institute of Technology and Management is going to be an international school and won't be confined to Sri Lankan students." He said students who failed to gain admission to the medical college will have a chance at the SAITM to pursue their medical education. But some medical students have the temerity to tell students who failed to enter the medical faculty to enter other faculties. "But they have no right to say that because education is a fundamental right," he said.

"The money we are going to levy for the medical education includes one year's internship in Russia. It is cheaper than courses abroad. We will teach them to become patient-friendly and not to look down upon others. We also hope to give scholarships to deserving students and children of the armed forces."

The South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) will also conduct courses for Information Technology, Business Management, Languages that include French, German, Japanese, Korean, English. The Tourism and Hospitality Management course will also be conducted in several languages. A modern computer laboratory has already been set up at the SAITM. Several qualified academics on sabbatical leave from leading universities will be attached to SAITM.

The Information and Technology and the Communications sections will commence on May 2 and the Medical Faculty will commence on September 1, with 300 students. All faculties of SAITM will be affiliated to Vulvar Hampton university in England and the degree certificates will be issued by the same university.

The Buckingham University too have signed an agreement with SAITM to conduct MBA and MSc courses. SAITM is a specious building consisting of 5 floors and two lower ground floors in a 90,000 square foot area. The building was constructed within seven months.

Dr. Fernando said that the first student to enrol for the languages course came from a far away place in Kurunegala. 'He knew the importance of the language course,' he said.

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