Judgement on SAITM, a bone of contention

Dr. Sameera Senaratne, CEO of the SAITM and Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital
Dr. Sameera Senaratne, CEO of the SAITM and Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital

The judgment given by the Appeal Court on January 31 not only decided the future of the Medical Faculty students of SAITM, but also the future of the younger generation of Sri Lanka, says Dr. Sameera Senaratne, CEO of the SAITM campus and the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital, Malabe.

Dr. Senaratne said:

“The judgment goes down in history as a landmark judgment as it paved the way for thousands of students attending international schools in this country to qualify as doctors in Sri Lanka itself, as hitherto no such opportunity is available.

“The judges gave the judgment after studying all facts representing our side as well as that of our opponents. But, the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and others who oppose the SAITM medical faculty, without knowing the real facts are trying to overrule the judgment.

“The SLMC informed the SAITM Medical Faculty graduates when they went to get registered after the court ruling, that they will consider their registration only after the meeting they propose to hold on February 8”, Dr Senaratne added.

Street protests and strikes continued throughout the week against the recognition of the SAITM Medical Faculty graduates, raising serious doubts about the future of the Medical Faculty.

Dr. Senaratne says, those who have not seen even the colour of the SAITM Medical Faculty, are now criticizing the quality of the Faculty.

“Those who are protesting against us should do so in front of the Higher Education Ministry and the UGC, to demand more facilities and lecturers for the Medical Faculties in state universities, rather than criticize the quality of our medical faculty”, he said.

How can a student from a Rajarata University Medical Faculty criticize the quality of the SAITM Medical Faculty when they themselves don’t have enough facilities, professors and lecturers, he queried?

“I am proud to say, our Medical Faculty has all required facilities and sufficient lecturers, unlike some state university medical faculties”, he added.

SAITM was given degree awarding status by then Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake on the recommendations of three fact finding groups sent to SAITM, and Prof Carlo Fonseka was also among the first fact finding team which gave a good recommendation, he elaborated.

Dr. Senaratne said, if there is any allegation that SAITM has enrolled any unqualified person the Higher Education Ministry and the University Grants Commission should take the responsibility because, a representative from the UGC or the Higher Education Ministry as the specified authority, conducts the final interviews to enrol students to the Medical Faculty.

SAITM enrols students with two C passes and one S in the A/L Bio Science stream subjects as minimum qualification. “The student who got the best results in the world, at the London A/L, is also with us,” he said.

“If there is a big demand we will consider raising the minimum qualification ”, Dr. Senaratne added.

“I must say no one is perfect in this world. If we have erred, left a loophole, or if we lack facilities or lecturers, they should tell us. We are ready to improve our part”, he added.

He said, if someone wants to check the level of education of the SAITM students they are ready to sit any test, but it is unfair to demand them to sit the Act 16 exam, which is meant for the foreign university graduates. “Our students follow the local MBBS syllabus and it is unfair if they are requested to sit the Act 16 examination”, he added.

He said, if the SLMC appeals against the judgment, in the Supreme Court they are also ready to face it.

“Dr. Neville Fernando is an educated person, and does not wish to produce unqualified doctors.

Being a doctor he respects the medical profession. A majority of his family members too are medical professionals. He also wants to protect the patients and give the best service to the country. I don’t believe the Chairman would want to produce unqualified doctors”, he said.

Prof Mohan de Silva, Chairman University Grants Commission:

“The issue regarding SAITM is due to the interpretation of the Health Act and the UGC was made a respondent as it is the authority of deciding the degree awarding institutes prior to 2012.

“What happened here is the interpretation of the grey areas in the Health Act by the SLMC which has no lawyer to represent them and therefore their interpretation is different to that of the judiciary.” Prof Mohan de Silva added.

“As far as the UGC is concerned we are trying our best to increase the medical student intake to state universities.

“We know it is very important. This year we have increased the intake to existing medical faculties up to 50 seats after negotiating with the Deans of the respective Faculties. While enhancing the opportunities in existing medical faculties, we have got two new medical faculties, in Kuliyapititya in Wayamba and in Ratnapura for the Sabaragamuwa University. We are increasing access to free higher education in medicine to the maximum.

“At present, students entering the medical faculty are not enrolled on an all island merit basis. Some are very much below the standard of the Colombo students, whereas even the students with three A passes from Colombo, Gampaha and Galle districts cannot enter medical faculties.

“Ideally, we should exponentially increase the number for free education medicine. But if we have Medical Faculties like SAITM we can negotiate with them to give scholarships to students who do not get an opportunity to enter medical faculties even after obtaining three A passes at the A/L”, Prof Mohan de Silva said.

Commenting on the criticism about the standard of the SAITM medical faculty Prof. de Silva said, those who criticize the standards should first visit SAITM and see the facilities before criticizing them.

The facilities at SAITM are very much higher and on par with the Colombo and Peradeniya medical faculties.

“As far as clinical facilities are concerned the number of patients they get at the Dr.Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital is lesser compared to other teaching hospitals. To address this issue Dr. Neville Fernando has offered to hand over this hospital to the government and pay the loan taken for the hospital. If it is vested with the government it will be yet another Colombo South Teaching Hospital and students will get better chances for clinical facilities”, he added.

Ryan Jayalath, Convenor Medical Faculty Students’ Action Committee:

“The judgment given on the registration of SAITM Medical faculty graduates at the SLMC is not a mere judgment, but a conspiracy to give recognition to SAITM, making use of the judiciary. We have seen all what happened behind the scene. Before the court issued the judgment, some Ministers in the government announced the judgment.

“The judgment has been given ignoring all the recommendations by the SLMC that SAITM is not suitable to award MBBS degree for graduates. This is a fake degree awarding institute and we cannot allow this to happen ignoring the SLMC decisions.

“The prime aim of SAITM is profit making. If profit making becomes the sole objective of a university which produces medical students we cannot expect qualitative education from such institution. It will be a threat to all the people in the country. “This is a very dangerous trend, and can spread to other fields.

If they also continue to ignore regulatory institutions such as, the SLMC, it would be a bad precedent to private sector higher education institutions. Therefore we will fight against this trend.

“We urge that SAITM, a bogus degree awarding institution should be banned and we will mobilize all the movements against SAITM and mobilize all student unions and other movements against this conspiracy” Jayalath concluded. 

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