Image courtesy YouTube

Medical education in Sri Lanka commenced in 1870 with the establishment of the Ceylon Medical College. It became the Faculty of Medicine in 1942 with the establishment of the University of Ceylon.  Sri Lanka produced well-recognized doctors who practice around the world with the quality education they received in our medical colleges.  Post graduate studies in medicine for MRCP, FRCS, FFARCS, MRCOG, FRCR, MRCPath, MRCPsych, FDSRCS were not available until recently and had to be undertaken abroad, which were recognized by the Ministry of Health.

The demand for medical education has been growing with the state universities unable to cope with the rising demand. The limited opportunities in state medical colleges locally have compelled thousands of students who aspire to be doctors to seek universities abroad. Less than 20% of the eligible candidates who pass the General Certificate of Education, Advanced level are chosen for University admission to study for different undergraduate programs. The rest have to choose other fields of study or go abroad. Private campuses, some affiliated to foreign universities offer various non-medical degrees in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) has continued to refuse acceptance of local or foreign institutions offering medical degrees locally, even though the university grants commission has approved medical education institutes. The SLMC has no qualms of accepting foreign Medical degrees of questionable universities from a number of countries in the former Soviet Republic, China and the SAARC region. Some of these universities offer medical degrees even with O’ Level education and a foundation course, like for many other undergraduate courses. The SLMC does not accept this qualification for registration, but these students are able to practice in many countries around the world.

The state universities do not accept students from international schools that follow the London curricula either. It is estimated that over a hundred thousand students are following the London O’ Level and A’ Level syllabi in these schools. These students are deprived of a university education in their home country.  Where do they go? The affordable universities are in countries that have standards far below ours. Why is it that those who are willing to pay cannot get  quality medical education locally?

To fill this void, a visionary investor, Dr. Neville Fernando set up the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) with a thousand-bed teaching hospital. The medical Mafia decided to boycott this institution and The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) has urged the Health Ministry not to recognize medical degrees awarded by the South Asian Institute of Technology & Medicine (SAITM), highlighting the accusations of a faulty approval process and implying that the private medical faculty has insufficient clinical facilities. These may be valid reasons, but this cannot be used against the students who are now completing their five year course of medical studies.

On an application by the current medical students studying at SAITM, and with the consent of the Ministry of Health, the Supreme Court directed the Health Ministry to provide teaching and clinical facilities for the students of the SAITM campus at the Avissawela Base Hospital and the Kaduwela MOH. Today, medical students of state universities have started a campaign against this decision by staging protests on the streets. Is this not contempt of court? Should they not be arrested?

The University Grants Commission and the Sri Lanka Medical Council ask for minimum grades of 2C and 1S (2 Credit Passes and 1 Simple Pass) in the Advanced Level Examination to register as medical professionals in Sri Lanka, after having completed the Degree in Medicine, ERPM exams and an internship period of 12 months.  All these students who graduate from SAITM or any other foreign university will have this minimum requirement.

The undergraduates who are protesting on the streets are blinded by selfish personal agendas or are misled by political groups with vested interests.  These students have enjoyed the perks of free education from the primary until they completed their Advanced Level exams. They still continue to receive free education and Mahapola scholarships, receive preferred hospitals for internship, and are guaranteed employment in the case of doctors.  Graduates who are unemployed too protest, demanding employment in the state sector and all the perks that go with it, and a pension scheme too.  All this while the Public keep paying for all these, while some even send their children to private or international schools paying exorbitant fees.  Their effort to enable their children to receive higher education without burdening the State is still seen as a reason for these undergraduates of state universities to protest on the streets, disturb civilian life, break the law, engage in contempt of court, and obstruct the freedom of choice for students who want to pay for their higher education.

Fortunately, while the authorities and Police are on their back foot, the general public are now willing to challenge these university miscreants. The recent reaction by a few motorists probably shocked the organizers of these protests. It’s a matter of time before a desperate motorist or civilians looses their patience.

Yahapalanaya does not mean allowing these wild asses to run amok and create mayhem and turmoil for everyone.  Students who do not enter state universities too need justice.

  • shakthi721994

    well you do outline a number of important points with regard to the need for private universities or education facilities that allow students interested to follow a course or field of education to do so. but your attitude towards those who protest against the establishment of private universities seems to be overwhelming colored. you term them as “university miscreants.”
    the students who get into public universities to follow medical degrees do so after immense amount of handwork and dedicated studying. often they must sit two or three times for the A/L exam to get into the university medical faculty. imagine now if private universities across the country gave a medical degree with an equivalent qualification of the public university MBBS. there emerges a problem of the importance of the A/L exam simply because a student can bypass or pass the exam with just the required qualifications and get into the field of medicine in private universities.
    in such cases those with the financial capacity could get an easier chance to get an education on medicine while those without the financial capacity in rural areas, even with years of extreme hard work and dedication might not get the same chance.
    so is the current education really a free education? it brings into question the capability of those who obtain the private medical degree (with money) with lesser qualifications in the A/L, against those students who may have better performance at one of the most competitive exams in the country. i do not endorse the fact that exams are always an effective judge on intellect but i do believe that exams are necessary to select those who are capable of following higher education at the tertiary level because as you well know the education cost in our country are a significant drain already and medicine is not a field that can be taken lightly.
    however i do agree that “undergraduates of state universities protest on the streets, disturb civilian life,break the law, engage in contempt of court, and obstruct the freedom of choice for students who want to pay for their higher education.” but you must realize that there are two sides in this story and that accusing one party, your “university miscreants” as the sole faulty party in this would only be one side of the picture and rather biased in nature because it does not effectively paint their own problems and grievances. simply because they receive an education by the state and that they have a higher chance of getting employed doesn’t exclude them from having legitimate problems.

    • Talal Fazmin

      The article does state in paragraph six that students at SAITM would face the same standard checks as the state universities, isn’t that what you’re asking for?

      • shakthi721994

        i m not asking for anything in what i have said above.
        you must realize that obtaining a medical degree in order to treat patients is more than just passing the same exam. this article : By Hansika Hanthanapitiya in the Colombo telegraph also outlines the need for a standardized exam but you must realize that most students engaged in private medical degrees do not obtain enough on-the-job experience with patients. they do not often get chances at clinical practices as they do not have patients to deal with and practice during their tenure as students.
        in cases like these, despite being able to pass exams whether standardized common exams or otherwise they might not have enough experience with dealing with patients.

  • AP255

    Rather than using free education as a blessing these students think its their right to deprive young people who are not fortunate enough to gain access into Govt universities from achieving their dreams, its pure selfishness!

    80% of young people who sit A’level and don’t get into Govt Universities have to at times work 2 jobs to earn money and pay tuition fees for higher education, but Govt University student take free education for granted and cause further burden to the civilians of SriLanka by striking and causing huge traffic jams which impact peoples capability of earning wages and increases costs due to waste of time, fuel ect

  • Lochana

    It’s obvious that u are talking about only one side of this story.. Some of ur points are acceptable. But do some background search about the medical education in india. What happened to so called brilliant Indian medical education after the acceptance for private medical colleges. U can even find a youtube documentary based on this topic. Also u mentioned that dr. Nevil Fernando opened the SAITM WITH a teaching hospital. But please, the truth is that the teaching hospital started few years after the SAITM. He built those facilities from a 600 million government loan with the help of mahinda rajapaksha and S.B. Disanayake. If they’ve used this money to make a new government medical faculty, it could have helped to fulfill the need of doctors. If we talked about the protesting medical students, u should think about the point that as future doctors they can manage it to put their children in to those private medical colleges. So why are they protesting? I think as the students who came through the free education with the hard work they know this is the right thing to do for the future generations. They are not fight for their future children but for the future doctors that come from rural areas with low facilities. Actually i think we need private medical facilities. But before that there must be enough government medical faculties with at least 40% intake for A/L qualifiers. But in present it is 15%. So it’s not that hard to bring 15% to 40%. But instead of doing that governments are funding private sector for new medical facilities. This will only take the medical education into a chaos in near future. I admire ur article. But this is biased. U haven’t given the honor to the government medical students that they deserve. Don’t forget that everyone has the chance to learn freely with “the money” of the people of country. I hope u will understand what I’m trying to point out here. Thank u!

  • Manura Rathnayake

    This article contains many factual inaccuracies. I would have preferred to correct this article with a correct depiction of the situation but in the brief time available for me I will at least try to correct the inaccuracies. Hopefully through which the discerning public will be able to make up their minds about whether this protest against an illegal, substandard, private medical degree awarding shop which currently weighs this illegal “degree” at 12 million rupees is in the best interest of the public or not.

    To start with, the “visionary investor”s’ illegal business venture, named South Asian Institute of Technology and MANAGEMENT (not MEDICINE) at inception did not include training in medicine but to provide training programmes in IT, Management and Finance, Engineering, Vocational Studies, Nursing, Languages and Health Sciences as per BOI registration of 2008. Hence, it was established without a Medical Degree Programme, and approval for same has not since been obtained from the BOI nor Ministry of Health. And there is no evidence of an affiliation to a recognized foreign university either. Indeed even SAITM have only recently notified that their ‘degree’ would be stated as MBBS(SAITM).

    The aforesaid hospital was hastily constructed later when it was pointed out that one could not train medical students without giving them concordant clinical exposure and training as well. Although it be a purported 1000 bed institution the quality and the quantity of patients exposed to these ‘undergrads’ is highly questionable to anyone who has spent time at NFTH.

    Since the very beginning the due authority that can recognize medical training in this country, the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) intimated to the SAITM students, parents and public that there were glaring deficiencies in the legal aspect of awarding and recognizing this degree, as well as the substandard training which the students were subjected to. Both the SLMC, and the UGC(by a letter stating that establishment of private institutions does not come under their purview) has not given approval for this medical training.

    If the writer had spent 30 minutes of his time listening to what the purported ‘wild asses’ in the street were trying to bring to public attention, other than trying to peddle propaganda material off the SAITM website in this letter, maybe he would have a realization into how medical education has been peddled now as a commodity in this country.

    The recent spate of protests by said wild asses, although I do not condone some of their protest activities is against the utilisation of government property and resources at Base Hospital Avissawella and Kaduwela MOH in order to satisfy the whims of a fee levying private enterprise. The writer would do well to spend his time in exploring how this would be an offence under the public property act.

    Indeed the situation that these private medical students and their parents are facing is pathetic, given that they had been hoodwinked into this false programme, albeit fair warnings had been repeatedly given by the SLMC. If indeed their wish is to complete this course and gain recognition for the programme, one course that they can now push for would be a nationalization of this institution so that the state can intervene and supplement the glaring deficiencies in the training. That would be the proper justice dealt to these daylight robbers in the name of medical education

  • srivanamoth

    Not everyone aspiring to be a doctor can be a doctor! Diversification is key to overall balanced development of the country. And underlying all this is population growth which if unchecked is heading for even bigger problems in the future.

  • Jagath Wickrama

    [edited] The so called doctors at GMOA learned their MBBS without paying a penny but by public tax money.Then they earn millions by private practice while retaining the government job,im not sure whether they pay taxes.

    This campaign against SAITM is purely class warfare & economical.

    They know that SAITM students are from well to do family kids & will never engage in strikes and they are independent they wont be able to control by the GMOA.So that’s the class warfare part.

    Economical part is that there will be more doctors who will come to workforce and most of the SAITM guys will join private hospitals,surely they will be hired
    Why? Because they are smart ,excellent English speaking and knows how to treat people well without stealing their kidneys unlike GMOA doctors who got caught in India

    I dont like Ranil & the UNP but in this case I support them ,because they are firm.I wish they would start more private medical schools like Malaysia did During Mahathirs time,Now Malaysians get lots of foreign medical students.Sri Lanka should the same