‘We cannot go against Court decision’- Higher Education Ministry | Sunday Observer

‘We cannot go against Court decision’- Higher Education Ministry

D. C. Dissanayake, Secretary to the Higher Education Ministry says, the Higher Education Ministry is taking interim measures to resolve the SAITM issue after speaking to the relevant stakeholders and await President Maitripala Sirisena to appoint a committee to resolve the issue.

“Our point of view is that SAITM has been given degree awarding status in 2011 provisionally, and it has been confirmed in 2013. We cannot go against this decision. If we are to stop their degree awarding status, it would be a severe violation of the regulation. Otherwise, there would be another court case to contend with,” Dissanayake added.

He said, there is no argument regarding the Appeal Court ruling that two batches of the SAITM Medical Faculty graduates be given provisional registration enabling them to have their internship. Changing that decision has to be done through a legal process.

“From our Ministry side, we had discussions with Deans of the eight medical faculties of state universities who are also part of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, to make their representation at the SLMC”, he added.

Suspend enrolment

The Deans of the Medical Faculties suggest to give SAITM medical faculty graduates further clinical training in four key areas. Therefore, they want SAITM students to undergo further four months clinical training and sit the licensing exam conducted by the SLMC. They also propose to suspend enrolment of students to the SAITM medical faculty for six months, until the issue is resolved.

“We propose the Deans to make this representation in the SLMC and we have conveyed the message to the SAITM management too. I understand that SAITM has announced that they will favourably consider the proposals by the government to resolve the issue”, he added.

He said, the basic allegation on the SAITM graduates is not about the theory part, but regarding clinical training. Though they set up a new hospital, the number of patients coming to that hospital are low due to the cost involved.

These students were given clinical training on a pre-paid basis, to which the GMOA too objected.

“I think if these students are willing to pay Rs.100,000 or Rs.200,000 to those hospitals for their clinical training, it should be a good option because the hospitals also will have a good income to maintain the hospital, and purchase urgently required drugs, etc”, he added.

With regard to conducting a qualifying exam for the two batches that have already passed out from the SAITM medical faculty, it is questionable, as the Appeal Court has given a ruling that they should be given provisional registration to complete their internship.

“If any examination is to be conducted for them a ruling should be taken from the Supreme Court ,” he added.

He said, the Ministry, as the authority on private sector higher education institutions, would ensure that no student below the minimum qualification is enrolled to the medical faculty. The minimum qualification is, two C passes and one S pass at the A/L bio-science stream, while in Edexel and British exams they should have two C passes and one D pass.

“From 2014 onwards all the students have two Cs and one S pass, and some have 3 As or 2 As and one B , and even better results”, he added.

Asked about the SAITM request to conduct the qualifying exam by the UGC or the Higher Education Ministry, the secretary said, the UGC has no authority to conduct examinations for private sector degree awarding institutions.

“Now, the Higher Education Ministry appointed committee is acting as the competent authority for non-state sector degree awarding institutions and the Ministry is setting up a Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council, especially, for the private sector degree awarding institutions, but it will also be applied to the state sector universities,” he added.

Eligibility to practise

“The SAITM issue does not relate to the degree. If a problem arises about the degree the UGC or the Higher Education Ministry would have attended to it. We have given them the authority to conduct the degree awarding examination. The problem is with regard to their eligibility to practise,” he added.

The SLMC says, for local students they accept the university results. But, for foreign students they conduct another examination, because they say they are not happy with the quality. But, here in Sri Lanka, SAITM is a private sector university and the SLMC has some reservations on the SAITM graduates’ fitness to practise and that is why they need them to conduct an examination or test to examine their eligibility to practise”, he said.

“Therefore, Dr. Neville Fernando can’t say that the SLMC cannot conduct this examination because it is not relating to the degree but for their eligibility to practise, and the SLMC has to conduct this exam. They have to accept that”, the Secretary added.

“Our approach to solve this issue is one sided and we want the situation to be calm and quiet to work out a solution. On the SAITM side also if they are striking it will be problem for them. If others accept them it will be good for the SAITM, to continue the institution for the benefit of students qualifying for university admission, but not able to get a placement in state universities”, he said.

Private Medical College Parents’ Society seeks justice for SAITM students.

Convening a press conference, the Private Medical College Parents’ Society appealed to all stakeholders involved in the issue not to jeopardize the future of the students but cooperate and peacefully resolve any concerns.

The Private Medical College Parents’ Society is the registered legal body consisting over 300 eminent professionals formed with the objective of promoting and safeguarding the interests of private medical education in Sri Lanka.

Prof. Neville Perera, Professor of Surgery at SAITM, commending the standards at SAITM said, “SAITM is on par with any other university in Sri Lanka. Having taught government medical students, for over a decade, I can confidently say that those students who passed the MBBS degree at SAITM will be a clinically sound batch of medical graduates who will become competent doctors.”

Presenting concerns on behalf of the parents, and children who are SAITM students and graduates, the Society earnestly urged that students not be victimised having gone through and passed the gruelling examination processes, but instead, be allowed to pursue their right to become doctors and serve the nation.

President of the Parents’ Society, P. M. B. K. Tennakoon said, “SAITM began in 2009. These students are citizens of this country who chose to complete their education in a homegrown private medical school. To overcome the highlighted shortcomings we request the Government and the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to help develop the institute. Agitating and creating protests is setting a dangerous precedent and a hindrance to the right to education in Sri Lanka.”

The Parents’ Society has also submitted a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena requesting a meeting, to present their views regarding the SAITM issue and private medical education in Sri Lanka. Hoping to find a solution to this crisis, President Sirisena will appoint a special panel to consult all parties and advise the government on decisions pertaining to SAITM.

Secretary of the Parents’ Society, Anura Dhanaratna, asserting the legality of SAITM MBBS degrees noted, “On January 31, the second highest court in the country - the Court of Appeal, observed that an MBBS graduate student of SAITM had the legal right to be provisionally registered by the SLMC on the basis that these students had fulfilled the necessary requirements laid down by the Medical Ordinance. If the SLMC challenges this ruling they may face a charge of Contempt of Court.”

“We are deeply appreciative of the government’s efforts to resolve this crisis. We have no objection to SAITM students sitting any exam provided the state sector medical students also sit the same exam. We cannot agree to an exam for SAITM students only, as it is unprecedented anywhere in the world. We are also against the view that new students should not able to enrol at SAITM until the issue is resolved,” stated W. P. Samarakoon, Treasurer of the Parents’ Society.

Scarcity of doctors

Emphasising the need for more private medicine colleges to operate in Sri Lanka, the Parents’ Society drew examples from the region where in most countries there are more private medical colleges than state medical faculties.

Observing that such a trend could take place in Sri Lanka, the Parents’ Society called for an unbiased authority to regulate these colleges to ensure high standards of medical education in the country.

The Parents’ Society reiterates that SAITM was established with the approval and in compliance with government regulations. The right to medical education should be open to all and not limited to the government sector; saving the country from the much needed foreign currency drain and helping to negate the scarcity of doctors in the country.

Dr. Neville Fernando, Chairman SAITM

Issuing a statement over the latest situation of SAITM, Dr. Neville Fernando, Chairman of the SAITM said, they would cooperate and support the government’s future measures applicable to non state medical education with a broader objective of ensuring standards of medical graduates.

Without any prejudice to the rights of the graduates granted through the Court of Appeal decision, we are considering the proposals set out by the Ministry of Higher Education and the UGC, and we will have further discussions with the relevant authorities.

SAITM has the fullest confidence that the Government and the legal system of Sri Lanka will take all necessary measures to ensure that our students are treated fairly and given equal opportunity.