18 November, 2018

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The SAITM Issue & The Big Picture

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

The controversy over the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) has been prolonging for some time without an end in sight. While the government is unwilling to budge an inch from its stand in allowing the institute to operate as a private medical university the opponents on the other hand are bent on disrupting its smooth operation. Unavoidably the security cost of safeguarding the institute is rising.

By narrowing their protest over this particular institution the protesters are ignoring the bigger picture regarding the future of higher education in Sri Lanka. Under the neoliberal economic model that is being dictated by the IMF and its guardians the government’s role in providing quality higher education to those with the necessary minimum qualification to receive it, and quality healthcare to all those who need it are measured in terms of the so called market based economic concept of the rate of return. According to this measure the private rate of return exceeds private cost as the level of education rises from primary to secondary and to tertiary stages. Therefore, a sensible policy for the government, according to establishment economic pundits, is to maximise its role at the primary level and gradually reduce it as the level of education rises. The social cost and social benefits of higher education are shelved in this measurement partly because of the difficulties in measuring them in monetary values and partly because it unnecessarily complicates economic policy making for simple minded politicians.

Since the end of the Second World War and with the entry of the Welfare State based partly on Keynesian economic theory the public sector in both developed and developing countries invested heavily on education, healthcare, food production and infrastructural development. To a war ravaged Europe and to many poverty-stricken developing nations at that time this investment brought immeasurable benefits. Sri Lanka became one of the shining leaders in Asia in providing public welfare. That the country had a healthy economic surplus at that time made it easier to operate a generous welfare state. Today’s senior bureaucrats, academics and other professionals in the country, not to mention their compatriots living as expatriates, would not have risen to their current status if not for that all round welfare policy. Domestically, that policy ultimately went a long way in bridging significantly the gap between the rich and poor in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s development became an envy even to Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew.

With the ushering in of JR’s open economy after 1977 and the re-entry of the free market the welfare state of Sri Lanka was radically rolled back. Economic advisors from the IMF in cohort with foreign trained local market oriented economists convinced the politicians that budget allocations on health, education and food subsidies are a drain on the cash tight economy and encouraged local legislators to allow the free market to take care of those sectors. Accordingly, public hospitals, public schools and universities were starved of funds and facilities, which obviously affected the standard of their products. Market oriented economics and its IMF manager still want the government to invest in infrastructure development because such investment subsidises the private sector partly with public funds raised through taxes paid by the middle and poorer classes. Although the general discontent against this state of affairs was growing for some time in Sri Lanka the people are deliberately distracted by the ethnic and religious issues.

In the meantime, the rich and the powerful began to look elsewhere to get value for their money on education and health. Private hospitals and private educational institutions started mushrooming to cater to their demand.

While private hospitals satisfied the medical needs of the rich and while private primary and secondary schools taught the affluent kids public hospitals and public educational institutions became asylums to the poor reflecting the widening cleavage between the have nots and have lots. Even doctors who are the products of public universities and working in public hospitals cut short their time spent in those hospitals and spend long hours privately charging exorbitant fees from the desperate poor. It is a pathetic sight overall which has made the medical profession a lucrative field for educators and practitioners. SAITM is the first entrant to provide private university and professional education in the country in a very profitable area. It is testing the waters before expanding into other fields. The government is sitting tight until the clamour and hoo-ha against SAITM dies down so that it will open the field to other such private entrants in engineering, accounting, law and other professional disciplines.

What Sri Lanka faces now is a systemic crisis in higher education. Even the terminology used in budget statements has changed to reflect the changing economic philosophy. What was once considered in a welfare state as investment in education and health is now being treated under neoliberalism as mere expenditure that discounts future returns. Unless the neoliberal economic model is thrown out there is no way the educational and health crises in Sri Lanka can be solved. This is the big picture.  

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 8
    4

    I feel sorry for poor students of this country ..if we go with Saitm at the end of the day, all poor students will be sidelined. it is not now downline in 20 years time private medical college with earn money ..corrupt politicians will put their relatives, sons and daughters at the expense of poor .
    I do not support SAITM at all ..Sri Lanka looks good but a lot of crooks work in Srilankan. a lot of crooks gave favouritism in employment such as foreign service, university lecturership, vice chancellorship and so on. look at South Eastern university or jaffna university or eastern university. a lot of people came to academic posts from back doors..some time with Russian PhD..who knows who gave them PhDs still they all work with promotion.and spoiling life of student community and puting the national interest of this country in the hands of untrained graduates..
    SAITM if it goes ahead thieves will intrude into Higher education to make money out of it ..
    so I’m against SAITM..

    • 5
      1

      Thieves have already taken over even the state educational institutions.Allegations are there that in some instances proxies sit the exam. Recent fracas over the Chemistry paper is only one instance.The charge that papers are being leaked had been there for some time.The question of private tuition is another instance of thieves taking over.
      Who finances the students when they do not attend lectures. It was said in the papers that 200 students sitting a particular exam of a particular university had failed to attend even 10% of the lectures, but the University authorities allowed them to sit the exam, a case of thieves taking over the administration of the University.
      I myself was against SAITM, but after seeing what is happening elsewhere I say _ Let 1000 SAITMs flourish

    • 4
      2

      SAITM is here to stay and hope everyone opposing it get to grips with it.

      What is required is a good regulator to ensure that minimum standards are maintained by both public and private medical faculties. What is wrong with students who have excelled at AL being paid for their medical education by the tax payer and others who could not get in either due to the crazy district quota system or due to limited spaces paying for their medical education by themselves?

      Who is GMOA or SLMC or student unions to oppose this? What right have they got to decide on education policy? They are all monopolies in their own right and will prevent anyone else getting on to their turf.

      Look at the Carribbean islands where they have established 70 Fee paying medical schools to cater to USA students by charging almost USD 200,000 for the medical degree. Even our students are studying in Grenada.

      Absolute hypocrits who are opposing private medical education. If Batticaloa and Anuradhapura or Kotelawala medical schools are unable to meet minimum standards all of them should be treated the same way that SAITM is treated. All of them should get their act together.

      Let govt establish a medical faculty for every university bringing the current faculties from 8 to 15 so more students can be admitted and the tax payers can pay a bit more indirect tax through VAT or impo duties to fund it and I am supporting of it.

      But don’t oppose private medical education under minimum standards.

      Very happy to note that the govt is to establish two high level fee levying universities in the caliber of MIT and Berkeley. Also the fee levying SAARC medical school in Colombo.

      • 0
        0

        It is alright to establish private medical schools. But students enrolling must be scrutinized by an government examination board consisting SL medical academics! All students must sit the same examination papers.
        These private students capable of paying fees must also pay the NHS for doing practical training at government teaching hospitals.
        A sum of USD 200.000 from them to be exclusively used for the development of higher education in Sri Lanka is good. However unfortunately this will end up in the pockets of ministers like RS who have no shame in taking Rs.1 million to pay his medical bills in Singapore! He says RW ordered him to take it! First it is not his grand fathers money second if he orders RS to jump in the well will he do it?

    • 3
      1

      To Lankan no 3

      How about foreign medical degrees. Are we to stop them going overseas to make way for poor students to monopolize the medical profession. Some have not understood the problem the inability of the govt. to admit all those who qualify to govt. medical colleges. The entire world is going private and why not Srilanka. Thanks to JR he commenced private sector lead growth even before the Soviet union China and India but we lag behind today because of left inclined governments that followed from time to time. Private education has come to stay and cannot go back. We need more private medical colleges.

    • 2
      0

      you said “If we go with Saitm at the end of the day, all poor students will be sidelined” what about the thousands of poor student who don’t get into the Government universities? Some have valuable property that they will dispose to finance the child’s education some may even obtain loans!

      All institution owners will run it as a business. Therefore the government should collaborate with foreign universities and get them to set up universities like in Malaysia. The government can provide the land and give them tax concessions

  • 3
    1

    Money making is nothing new. Writer is in Australia for that and Sri Lanka is still a welfare state. One private medical school does not shift health and education into neoliberalism like one swallow does not make a summer. Advise reading Court of Appeal judgment verdict releasing justice to SAITM on 31st. January 2017 and some confusion about SAITM issue will vanish. It is on the web CA/WRIT/187/2016 a 42 page document covering all aspects and issues of false accusation.

  • 1
    1

    I think your analysis is good. Yet, there is another way to look at it. IF a university admits even the minimum qualifications – students, as they pay good money, then we can think of the quality of the output of that university. It will never become a pretigious university. Secondaly, Sri lanka is animmensely corrupt country. that is claer with how Maitheipala sirisena and Ranil wickramsinghe are silent with the Central Bank day light robbery and many other corruptions cases going on as reported by newspapers. they know it and they allow it. Both leaders from the beginning showed that they simply don’t care voters by appointinf those who lost the election (S>B> dissanayake) and those (Rajitha Senarathen). who were chased out from the preivious govt because of corruption. So, IMF and world bank are known to spread the american type of economy all over the world. but, that is not the only model. I think, Private education is essential at the top end. Govt should charge some money from university students. that would stop the students getting into politicsd leaving the studies behind. Govt should good scholarships to poor students. When they ar enot performing well. there should be a way to stop the scholarship. So, that is a carrot and the stick like approach. Only the private universities can spend good money in order to provide education with modern machines and so the modern techniques. SAITM is a fraud from both sides. that is the govt, and the businesses, govt mostly. Then from the GMOA side. Progressive JVP and GMOA want it to become a cash cow for them. MY3 wants to protect his butt. So he is silent. that is not leadership. Just dithering by both. LEt the problem solve itself, then we start screaming saying I did it.

    • 4
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      what about MR and co ..
      how far they are courrpt compared to M&s and Ranil?.Ranil does not have children to save money but MR looted for seven generation

      • 0
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        RW does not have children! Is this also the the fault of MR. Even if MR made money for seven generations it is there in Sri Lanka for other Sri Lankans to grab it back or share it with them!
        RW does not care he and one eyed jackass will sell anything and everything to please the US/UK/INDIA and the Tamil Disapora! MS as long as he has his foreign trips and cutting the ribbons and opening projects that someone else expedited he is happy.

    • 1
      0

      Jim Soft
      You are in a different world to say that Rajitha Senaratne was chased out of MR government. He walked out with MS. I am from Gampaha and see the Malawana mansion and the oruthota house bought by your another hero Basil everyday. In one way I am disappointed by the so called legal system. Robbers like Sarana G was only fined Rs. 2000 just for undeclaring assets. He took hundreds of thousands bribes from all petrol sheds started when he was the deputy minister and now roaming around with MR.

  • 3
    3

    The big picture is some mudalali starts a business to sell a degree without any facilities to do it properly and charge hefty sums from students with rich but stupid parents. He cant deliver it and strangely the government [some politicians] thinks that its their problem and spends public money to rescue it.
    Just apply the same theory to mushrooming nursing training institutes, technical training institutions.

    • 2
      3

      what did not mention is SAITM mudalali also got a big govt loan for some 600 million, proably no need to pay back and will dudecut from losses, and who are the other people who invested in it ?

    • 3
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      Motta, Dr. Neville had a son trained in NCMC and now serving Australia like many NCMC. He knew the needs of doctor parents whose College of GPs had vision. He put his own funds to develop medicine amongst the jealous GMOA making money only for them-a monopoly. Many in GMOA have cheated at A/L, gone to wrong districts for admission, come under the ‘Z” which accepts a Gaussian curve that the intelligence IQ of all A/L are same even in agriculture or architecture with different skills. You are not a parent who wants to even pay fees and educate children here, than send for unseen torture and torment in foreign lands to commit suicide. You don’t understand that parental love for children is not money bound duty, but constant nurture in own land, not communicating through skype. Keep your mudalali garbage to your self. Open your eyes to parental love of soft hearts and not hardened stony ground with mindsets of worldly stronghold chasing money.

  • 1
    3

    Ameer Ali betrays his prejudice in the first para “………….While the government is unwilling to budge an inch from its stand in allowing the institute to operate as a private medical university the opponents on the other hand are bent on disrupting its smooth operation……………”
    Ameer goes on “……………the protesters are ignoring the bigger picture regarding the future of higher education in Sri Lanka………”.
    Medical Faculty staff in ALL the universities are worried about the academic standard of SAITM. Ameer obviously is not aware. Why not Google “saitm” and enlighten yourself off say the Wikipedia entry Ameer?
    Ameer, try to persuade an Aus university to recognise SAITM.

  • 0
    1

    Thank you dr Amir. You have given us a clear picture of the big picture.
    Soma

  • 5
    0

    SAITM is one current burning issue in Srilanka. Government recognizes the medical degrees obtained from countries such as China,Bangladesh,Nepal or India, etc.some of these universities may be not as better as SAITM, students who qualified MBBS from those countries come here and sit ACT16 exam to be absorbed to government service. what’s wrong if applied same processes to SAITM as well.They too like foreign graduates should sit ACT 16 and qualied , to be work as doctors in Srilanka

  • 3
    0

    Why should SAITM sit Act 16 which includes Forensic, Community Med. and the like already covered in their course and exams, as they are locals under UGC. SAITM MBBS has legally approved verdict to continue into internship. Since SLMC is acting in the malice of not approving SAITM, they are even unable legally to offer Act 16, being trapped by their own web. SLMC is hitting out at all doctors by scrapping the ERPM. What a weird legacy Carlo left behind for the profession and he wants to topple the govt. also. Angoda or Welikada

    • 1
      0

      Watcher SAITM students must sit Act 16 which includes Forensic, Community Med. and the like because they have not sat for approved government medical college laid examinations during their training!
      Study privately it is anyone’s choice but final exam each year must be the same papers for every student! Once again private students must pay for their practical training sessions at government teaching hospitals. This will be of benefit to the higher education budget in Sri Lanka!

      • 0
        0

        lanka and peter, Every medical college sits for its set exams. SAITM too sat for set exams. in Forensic/Comm. Med. according to the system approved for it in 2011. SAITM students are taken by coach with security to govt. hospitals, GMOA being life threatening terrorists and not healers. Suggestions to have govt. hospital training shows how much out of reality these writers are. To cap it all, Act 16/ERPM is illegal for med. schools which SLMC wont recognize, and SAITM is in that category. SLMC is unable to offer ERPM now to anybody, with its closure for Foreign MG too
        SAITM has been struggling since 2009, adjusting according to requirements of SLMC, and has finally completed MBBS so that SLMC should now approve it without lame excuses. It is an injustice to put additional burden of a pass rate 15% manipulated exam. called ERPM, on a local UGC approved institution MBBS in order to simply delay it and deny rights to practice for 85% of its students. What are they expected to do. Malicious SLMC got verdict of internship training to be given to SAITM. What mess do they want to do now. SAITM is privately owned.

  • 1
    0

    Dr. Ameer Ali,

    You said ‘The government is sitting tight until the clamour and hoo-ha against SAITM dies down so that it will open the field to other such private entrants in engineering, accounting, law and other professional disciplines’.

    Private education in other fields you have mentioned is widely available in Sri Lanka. You can get some prestigious foreign university degrees in other fields by studying in some Sri Lankan private educational intuitions even without GCE Ordinary level qualification. You should know this Dr.! Further, anyone with some money can go abroad with very low grade A levels and get a Medical degree and practice in Sri Lanka as Medical doctors. Why cannot our children even with A grades in A Level study under our learned former/retired professors of Sri Lankan Medical faculties in SAITM study and get qualified as doctors and practice here. I was surprised to know that you can even get Economics degrees of one of the top world class universities in a private institution in Sri Lanka and in Middle Easts. Anyone can become an Engineer, Quantity Surveyor, Accountant, Bio-Chemist etc with foreign top qualifications in private institutions in Sri Lanka. Then why cannot in SAITM???

  • 1
    0

    My children were educated in some of the top schools in Colombo. Yet, being average students I knew that they would never make it to the top courses in the Sri Lankan Universities. I took them out and sent them to do the London ALs in an International School paying my hard earned taxed employment income including VAT on the school fees.All of them passed the ALs reasonably well to enter foreign Universities. I again had to spend a lot from my taxed earnings to pay for their overseas education. All of them are now top professionals. They would have ended up as nobodies if they had depended on the Government educational system.

    It would have helped a lot if there were institutions such as SAITM at that time. My expenditure would have been much less and my family would have benefited from having the children closer to home.

    Even my education was stunted in the late sixties because I missed Engineering at Peradeniya by a few marks. At that time I was forced to change to Accountancy as it was the only option available at that time.

    Dr. Ameer Ali, sitting in a well governed Australia can pontificate on economic and political theories. But given the increasing chaos that is Sri Lanka brought about by self centered politicians and trade unionists, it is best that one looks at ground realities.

    Private education in the recent past has given us top Accountants, Lawyers, Engineers, Managers, Scientists and many other professionals. Why not Doctors?

    Of course, standards has to be maintained.

    The way to go is therefore to set up proper monitoring systems to maintain standards.

    The more educational opportunities that are created by whoever is interested will always be beneficial to the citizens. It is wrong to stop such endeavours.

    • 1
      0

      Ralph, I agree you. All this ha-ho is the work of political cut throats. Private schools, colleges, universities are a necessity in the current economic situation. The only thing missing is proper monitoring systems and standards. Students study for London ‘A’ levels but they sit for the examination papers set by the examination board in the UK. Private students in Sri Lanka must sit for relevant exams set by the relevant authorities!! The problem is that monitoring systems will not allow politicians to amass the kick backs. If the University academics, student leaders are brought to a conference where MS, RW and others sit down and discuss the issue, this issue can be settled within a few hours. But unfortunately some politicians have made money out of this and they make the biggest noise.

  • 0
    0

    More than anything else , SAITM issue has been made a “class struggle”
    with no visible enemies to open market approach and IMF and WB
    support of developing countries’ economies . Private education is now
    a world wide booming industry where medical education is in high
    demand with India on the lead . India not only produces surplus doctors
    but also manufactures medicines for export . Srilankans are running up
    to all corners of the world in a mad race to become a medico ! One main
    reason is , easy entry requirement followed by generous awarding of
    qualifications which is harder in our country , not due to higher standard
    of entry requirement but lower class room capacity and tighter exam
    process to fit the existing capacity ! But the open economy has its doors
    open for anyone with a minimum required A/L to cross the seas if you got
    resources , simple as that . A medico’s place in our society and money are
    the motives behind this MAD RUSH. And if this trend is global , if even
    countries like USA ,UK ,Germany and Australia have private medical
    colleges to meet local and international demand , it would be reasonable
    to ask , WHY NOT A SAITM for Srilanka ? Can anyone deny the fact that
    we are COPYCATS for centuries now ? From eating to dressing , from
    feeling to thinking , from healing to dying and in everything else ! SAITM
    too is such a creation following a world trend and NOTHING ELSE AS IT
    IS PORTRAYED BY the opponents .

  • 0
    1

    Ameer, you have been championing the case of the “oppressed” SATM for quite awhile. It was suggested you read
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Asian_Institute_of_Technology_and_Medicine Did you?

    • 0
      0

      Legal verdict given to SAITM re true facts should matter more than this biased and critical web article repeated by KP. Real murderers in SL are still at large together with terrorists and don’t live in SAITM, but there are some excellent and experienced teachers and professors who are training these students, as the govt. hospital is flooded with free patient care. Even GMOA covers up for drunken rapists and careless overworked surgeons amputating wrong body parts. Carlo even tried to pin Sobitha thera’s death on SAITM and failed. False accusations galore, but the ground reality is that SAITM students have not been idling for almost 10 years looking up and waiting for an MBBS to fall from the skies. Hard work earned it. It is a fact of significance that both SLMC/GMOA leaders in courts will get justice.

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