15 November, 2018

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SAITM Crisis: An Ugly Symptom Of A Dreadful Socio-Political Syndrome

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude” ~Alexis de Tocqueville

According to Wikipedia, ‘the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) was established in 2008 by Dr. Neville Fernando with the aim to provide tertiary qualifications in Medicine, Engineering and Information Technology, Management and Finance, and Information Communication Technology and Media. The institute was initially affiliated with the Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy (Russia), the Asian Institute of Technology (Thailand) and Buckinghamshire New University (England), awarding degrees through those respective institutes. In 2011 SAITM applied for recognition from the University Grants Commission (UGC) as a degree awarding institution, with the ability to award its own degrees. The UGC, in 2013, granted SAITM a degree awarding status despite protests from the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). SAITM held their first convocation in March 2013, conferring degrees to ten students from the Faculty of ICT and Media and eighteen students from the Faculty of Management and Finance.’

Neville Fernando – photo via Facebook SAITM 

Today, SAITM is embroiled in a crisis-laden situation in which the two partners in the governing coalition are facing a decisive showdown, a showdown between two diametrically antagonistic socio-political schools of thought. While the United National Party (UNP) and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe find themselves in the corner of private sector-backed open market economy, President Maithripala Sirisena and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) traditionally oppose private sector backed ventures in the sector of education, a subject they think has to be severely controlled and regulated by government with no quarter given and none asked for. The well-chronicled schools-takeover in 1962, its wholehearted support of Buddhist schools and portraying them as the vanguard of a nation determined to rise after 450 years of colonial rule, stands as monument to those socio-political policies in the sixties and seventies.

North Colombo Medical College, SITM’s de facto predecessor, another source of political trouble for any government, had one serious and determined backer in the then Executive President, J R Jayewardene. NCMC in fact made it a point to record its deep appreciation of those who helped to make the NCMC a fulltime working private Medical College. Aside from J R J, those who supported this novel education venture were Dr Stanley Kalpage as chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the then Secretary of Higher Education Prof Stanley Wijesundera and the academic staff of the University of Colombo. (Source: Wikipedia).

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), at the time led by firebrand Rohana Wijeweera launched a pitiless attack on the NCMC since its inception. Wijeweera had the full support of the left-wing political parties in Sri Lanka at the time and this issue of the NCMC was a sharp weapon in his hand and Wijeweera used it in his failed attempt to topple the government in the late eighties in his murderous and vicious campaign which was mistakenly called the ‘second revolution’ by some social scientists. Wijeweera’s attempt to portray NCMC as an agent of the capitalist class ended up in a bomb attack on its administration building in 1988. Yet the Board of Management of NCMC conferred its own medical degree MBBS (NCMC) instead of the one from the University of Colombo.

However, it was the UNP leader, the then Executive President Premadasa In 1989, who appointed a committee made up of K.H.J. Wijedasa (Presidential Secretary), W.M.P.B. Menikdiwela (Former Presidential Secretary), Dr Ananda Guruge, a respected educationist and Bradman Weerakoon another high-end civil servant to look into the NCMC. Soon after, the NCMC was nationalized with the government sending the army to occupy the buildings. Its board was replaced by a Competent Authority, Prof. Carlo Fonseka. He continued as the first Dean when the NCMC was transferred to the University of Kelaniya as its Faculty of Medicine. Premadasa’s populist policies saw to it that a private sector venture was once agin placed in the government machinery. Ironically enough, it is this NCMC struggle where the current Health Minister, Rajitha Senaratne had his baptism in Sri Lanka’s politics. It was indeed a baptism by fire. Rajitha Senaratne at that time was at the forefront of the opposition’s bout against NCMC.

Twenty eight years later, this same issue, medical degrees accorded by a private medical school in particular and opposition to private sector-backed education venture in general, is irritating the government in power, this time a coalition between the very antagonists who fought vigorously against each other in the eighties. Once again a reformed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, this time led by a non-violent Anura Kumara Dissanayake, is in the forefront to lead a campaign against SAITM and its very existence as an educational institution that offers recognized degrees. In a bizarre development, however, Vice Chancellor, Professor Ananda Samarasekera, is on a leave of absence, relating to his alleged involvement in the Wasim Thajudeen murder case. How more bizarre this case could become, one does not know.

Yet the central issue remains the same. Sri Lanka’s unproductive flirtation with government-run institutions and organizations continues, emphasizing an utterly destructive ‘anti-private sector syndrome’, a syndrome that has been imparted by the traditional left in the fifties, sixties and seventies and now carried out by the current JVP and its cohorts in the twenty first century. Our medical students who get into the university straight from high school are recipients of a fee education from lower kindergarten up to the university level. And even the university education is free up to a level, thanks mainly to Lalith Athulathmudali’s Mahapola scholarship scheme. Their opposition to others getting a paid-education and receiving an award of certificate to practice medical profession is a sign of a malignant mindset, perverted by false socialistic promises offered to them by politicians who are equally perverted by a false system of socio-political school of thought. Growing incapacity of the left-leaning politicians has crippled our political dynamic and caught in this vortex of incapacity, they use an extra-sensitive issue to malign a system that is already in a state of deep indecision.

To make matters even more malevolent, those who offered licenses and other go-aheads during their time in power to the same institutions are among the chief antagonists to the issue. Politics is playing its cruel ironies with the lives of our student population. The government seems to be in a grip of not knowing what to do. Lack of steadfast determination to settle an issue with all the sensibilities of a nation’s vulnerable segment is making the government justifiably unpopular with all segments of society.

In this context, it is pertinent to write here what a speaker at a convocation ceremony of the NCMC stated: ‘I remember, at the beginning I quoted Victor Hugo who said “No army can withstand an idea whose time has come” but I made a mistake, we were actually ahead of our time by over 1 1/2 decades. Today “private sector” and “privatization” are no longer dirty words in the vocabulary of nearly every political party. I wonder sometimes what would be the attitude of those who criticized us, if some group decides to start another private medical educational establishment in our country today. It will certainly make an interesting scenario.’ His words still echo in our private and public chambers of discussion and debate.

This country of ours has to wake up from this benumbing state of complacency. It has to clear its cobwebs of the dead past. It has to straighten its spine and say unto its own citizens that enough is enough. Clinging on to anachronistic socio-economic theories, however much they are covered with a veneer of social justice is not going to serve any meaningful purpose in the long run. The world has discarded socialism as a working economic system. The Mogul of capitalism has risen his head and never to bow down again. The so-called developing world is no longer categorized in that insulting way anymore. Second and Third-World jargon is fast disappearing from the world of international finance and economics. Corporate finance and corporate accountability is replacing government-held institutions. Those countries which are arguably the most corrupt and dishonest in their dealings, those governments which are essentially family-driven and henchmen-bonded are the ones which demand government interference into the world of global financing and global trading.

China and Russia may stand as exceptions to this rule, yet both these countries would have gone to the garbage can of history but for the fact they graduated from a slumping system of Marxist Socialism to regulated capitalism. While those very countries which dominated the cold war in the fifties, sixties and seventies, with whom countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and even India had romantic flirtations died a very sad and sudden death. Delivery of the utopia was not delayed, it was denied. Those leaders who led revolutionary movements except perhaps, in Cuba and Vietnam were eventually discarded by their very followers. In such a realistic and authentic context, why Sri Lankan leaders are scared of a paper-tiger of socialism is not comprehensible.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

By vishwamithra1984

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Latest comments

  • 3
    3

    The students in SAITM are those who got affected by the district quota system who were denied admission even after getting good results including A’s compared to those with 4 ordinary passes from so called ‘poor’ districts. It is just only fair to offer admission on purely merit basis. That is unfair to deny those with higher aggregate and better results to give their place to those with simple passes and low aggregate just for the excuse they are from poor district.

    If GMOA wants the private medical school to close down then the Government should abolish district quota system and reestablish merit only system as once how it was practiced. If the Government wants to retain district quota system then it is only fair to allow a fair option to those who got better results by allowing them study medicine privately. One cannot be punished for going to a good school. There are many in good districts but without facilities and do also have family problems so one cannot assume a student from Colombo has everything!

    Due to the district quota system poor quality students have got admitted and these students cannot even speak properly. A 5th grade student in a good school can communicate better than them. These students have very poor knowledge. behave like a street vendor and are very crude.. They have brought the high standards the university once had to a very low level.

    Most students at SAITM are very bright who have obtained very good results much better than many in the state medical faculties. They possess good knowledge and skills and they can communicate and converse clearly, and stylishly.

    Now the verdict of the court is clearly in SAITM favour and it is up to the Government to up hold justice without playing politics. There were many lies and false stories spread by vested parties against SAITM and courts was able to separate the facts from fiction and came to a clear verdict in favour of SAITM. It is then upto the Government to implement what is fair. If not no one will even invest in Sri Lanka as there is no fair play even after court verdict. The Government must stand by the court decision.

    • 1
      0

      What is wrong in students getting best results at ALgetting free education and the rest of the students paying for it?

      • 0
        0

        JAGATH Fernando:

        Sri lankan are really good Tax payers.

        Politicians a re corrupt and incompetant. Managment is corrupt and screwed up everyhing by cheating and taking short cuts.

        But, govt alone cannot handle everything alone if the private sector is not allowed to participate.

        but, thiis way is wrong. University should be asked to get research money and subsidize it..

    • 0
      0

      Shikharan,

      even if they have been rejected due to aggregate of marks, so long minimum qualifications are covered by the students with promise of getting through entrance exam for any pvt college can allow any student to go for study their choice of subject. That has been the procedure being used in developed world. After getting their admissions, student will have to prove his ablities in each and every semseter if they are capable of holding the expected requirements. Those who are able to get through various kind of assesement tests can move forward while others not. That is so simple. The problem with lankens is,they dont even understannd as to why the local medical faculties are not capable of offering placements to all the eligible students. That is because the state has no funds to build up new faculties. So long the quality of the degree is maintained by a common assessment system, the degrees being awarded by STATE and PVT colleges are the same. The basics should be made clear to lankan society. And the fact, even if the authorities would doboule the number of enrollments within next few years, there will still be lot more students without getting a chance to study medicine. So allowing PMCs to offer placements should be permitted by the state and society. Then those who can afford to pay the expected course fee can go for study their course while others should also be offered kind of loan system so that they can pay them back with couple of years. That is how even Germany, France and several other european universitiies handle the issue. Vehimently stand against pvt medical colleges is no longer an option even if free edcuation to be safeguarded.

      • 2
        0

        Samuel
        Two things have to be fulfilled before admitting students to a PMC.
        1. Every PMC should be accredited by the country’s Medical body (SLMC)
        2. Student admission should be from the same merit list used by the state medical schools. Once the state medical school intake is done next to be filled should be the PMC and from the remaining top students. In other words, students who are selected for Dentistry, veterinary and biological sciences now, will be admitted to the PMC based on their merit level..
        3. No PMC should admit students who did not get admission to any biological science course of state universities.
        If this is followed there will be no more confusion and disappointments.

  • 4
    4

    SAITEM medical faculty much much better than public University any faculty. See inside public University system: Whole Sri Lankan low quality public University system is full of politically appointed joker VCs. You name any public University in SL, VC is appointed through political contacts. Some Universities already started this appointment campaign even before end of current VC regimes through political connections. Now Moratuwa University full time private sector employed (but he has University also full time fake professorship) this campaign started with help of Southern UNP Minister. Rather helping him to get VC post he must be sacked from the current University job because he is doing full time job in private degree offering college. In overall, Kalaniya University recent VC appointment creates hell of problem there. In general Sri Lankan University professor appointment are hell of corruption. All the professorships given to jokers must be cancelled. In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 – 500 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. But all these Sri Lankan Professors are jokers and more than 40% University Lecturers are relatives to each others and they give degrees to each other. MY3 clean University system and sack fake professors. Some Dept are family trees. Grandfather Emeritus and all others are relatives, henchmen, lovers, pimps, etc. We well know how they recruits and promoted in University Mafia. First find a person and then advertise according to his/her requirement and send aboard for their friends’ places for PhDs. Go beyond Sri Lankan airport and see International job market. Even in Middle East job market, without PhD from accredited Western University you cannot become even Assistant Lecturer. But in Sri Lanka more than 99% professors do not have PhDs from world recognised Universities. The countries they (University teachers) go to do higher studies, no person is going to studies: China, Malaysia and India.

  • 6
    3

    Sri Lanka is destined to remain a backward country as progress, innovation and creativity scares the protectionist mentality. It SAITM falls short in expectation, then it’s the duty of the Medical Council to assist / help them rather than destroy their existence.

    • 2
      0

      ceylonese,
      Part of Medical Council to assist / help them rather than destroy their existence, is to direct these private medical schools on quality of student intake, academic curriculum, adequate clinical exposure, conduct of academic assessments etc. If any of these are not up to the expected levels it is the duty of the SLMC to reject their accreditation and decline registration. It is the duty of the PMC administrators and the faculty to make sure all aspects of the school are according to the accreditation authority.

  • 0
    1

    Dr. Neville Fernando is the embodiment of the racist par excellence!

    Just read the Hansard of the months before the July 1983 Pogrom against the Tamils!
    He wants to now unleash,not thugs against the Tamils but the thugs against the poor patients in the country!

    • 1
      0

      If The word Tamil is not inluded, nothing works for coolies from Tamilnadu who does not want to go back there.

  • 1
    0

    All those who speak ill of SAITM students are doing so only for two reasons of which one is genuine unawareness as to the truth and the other is nothing but pure jealousy! In state medical colleges there can be enough medical students with S passes due to district quota from remote areas but SAITM does not accept such students as they have a minimum requirement for entry and most of the students in SAITM have excellent Advance Level results including one with world highest results for A/L biology! Unfortunately this backward hateful and jealous nature of GMOA and Students’ unions backed up by unsuccessful political parties fear a lot to be challenged by SAITM who has the potential to outperform them in the future. GMOA in response to this is now using poor patients in order to satisfy their self-obsessed unjustifiable & monopolistic goals in health industry of this country. It’s high time that we eradicate such unfair GMOA Monopoly and malignant influence by Anthare students’ union.

  • 0
    0

    Vishwamithra for “is a sign of a malignant mindset, perverted by false socialistic promises ” read jealousy.No medical outside the state University system will condone the corruption of the specialist grade.

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