All academic staff of Faculty of Medicine, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka have stepped down from their administrative positions of the faculty leading to a possible break down of medical education, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Ad hoc Faculty: Political Patchwork
The troubled faculty of Medicine started as a political patchwork following the dubiously constructed chemistry paper at the GCE Advanced in year 2005 which resulted in 180 extra students becoming eligible to enter in to the stream of medical sciences making it impossible for existing faculties of medicine to cater to them. The first batch of 120 Rajarata Medical undergraduates were recruited in 2006. This number entering the virgin faculty exhausted teaching spaces in teaching hospital, Anuradhapura. With the on-going war, 60 students allocated to Eastern University were also allocated to Rajarata that year. At the beginning, the faculty was started using a single building available in an old training college.
Lack Of Academic Staff
Unwillingness of qualified staff to be recruited to the medical faculty was an issue from the very beginning. As Anuradhapura is remotely situated, the school education and extra-curricular opportunities for the children of academic staff are minute compared to the facilities in cities such as Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Kurunegala etc. The spouses of the academic staff also find it difficult to find suitable professional employment in Anuradhapura. Factors such as the high incidence of chronic kidney disease in the area and suspicion about the water quality also contribute to the reluctance of academic staff to join this faculty. At its inception there were almost non-existent facilities to house the academics.
Under these extreme circumstances three academics were recruited to the faculty and the rest were retired academics from other universities employed on contract basis. Three years in to the inception of the medical faculty, its first and single fully qualified permanent senior lecturer was recruited.
In 2009 a special report was prepared about the staff issue and after several discussions, university council decided to pay a “housing allowance” for Faculty of Medicine academics with postgraduate qualifications. At that time, the salary disparity between a grade medical officer in the Ministry of Health and the university system was not filled by a mere Rs 15 000.
Introduction Of A Retention Allowance
A discussion was held with the then minister of Higher Education SB Dissanayake and he proposed an allowance of Rs50, 000 for probationary lecturers, 80,000 for senior lecturers and 100000 for Professors. UGC and the university ignored it. In 2014 again a meeting was held and upon being reprimanded by the minister the university council approved the payment initially for three years. This closed the salary gap and the faculty as able to recruit 20 more academics. In spite of this there are only 49 staff members of them 12 are on study leave.
Ranjith Wijewardana: Crony Vice Chancelor
In 2017, the COPE questioned the retention allowance and instruct the VC to get the proper approval from the Management Service Division. They never asked to stop the payment. However, Vice Chancelor, Prof.Ranjith Wijewardana did not bother to process this recommendation for three years to come. Wijewardana is a political crony of Mahinda Rajapkse, placed in his position with the help of Rajapakse loyalists within.
In September 2018, VC stopped the payment of the retention allowance referring to COPE proceedings and a finance ministry circular. The circular 2018/3 clearly mentions that allowance already paying should be informed to MSD and that no new allowances should be paid without approval. At no point had the COPE directed to stop allowances. It is reliably reported to Colombo Telegraph that Sunil Handunnetti, MP called the VC and inquired why the retention allowance was stopped, contrary to COPE recommendations. The minister of higher education and secretary of the ministry have categorically denied giving any instructions to stop the payment of retention allowance.
In October 2018, all academic staff in a unified move stepped down from all volunteer and administrative positions, carrying out the lectures only. The infamous VC did not respond to communications by the academics for 10 days after this occurrence.
At present the recommended student contact hours for a lecturer is 450 while many are teaching more than 1200 hours. For a head of a department it is 180 hours and some are teaching up to 1500 hours. The salary gap between a probationary lecturer and a medical officer is Rs.40, 000. No MBBS graduate want to join this faculty under these conditions.
Serious Repercussions To Students And Health System
Under these circumstances it is the natural duty of the VC to be responsible for the administration of the faculty. The final exam that is to be held on 16th of October will not be held. It will be delayed by 6 months. Another 30 weeks will be required to complete the 15 weeks semester, with the available staff delaying graduation. First year teachers are handling two batches and they will not be able to teach another batch and the next intake will be postponed by 6-8 months. This will affect the health system and all other faculties, because the internship appointments should be given at the same time for all graduates.
Dr Anuruddha Padeniya creeped in to the Rajarata medical faculty capitalizing on the dearth of staff creating the position of “visiting head of department of paediatrics” with the help of the VC. He uses his position mainly to brainwash the medical students in to the ideological mafia of GMOA by catching them young. With the current situation his position is known to be at stake as the VC’s position is under threat with the total breakdown of administration. Hence the GMOA has launched an intense mudslinging campaign of the academics who are spearheading the fight for their rights.
The Facebook pages of the GMOA and its patronized pages were forced to take down the derogatory posts created under pressure from the doctors and students who protested the GMOA move. Padeniya has since distanced himself from this nefarious activity giving the impression that it was the stance of individuals, not the GMOA. It is a well-known fact that under the megalomaniacal leadership of Padeniya’s that has not changed in decades, no individual is targeted without the explicit permission of Padeniya. ( By Namal Arsakularatne)