4 December, 2020

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Why Has SAITM Become A Spike In The Progress Of Sri Lanka?

By Sarath Jayasuriya

Sarath Jayasuriya

Recently I was invited to attend a forum organised by a group of professionals in Melbourne. In fact I was invited as a panel speaker. There were three others in the panel totalling four including myself. The topic was quite appropriate and was addressing one of the burning issues in Sri Lanka.

The “SAITM” The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine

I must confess at the offset that I am not an agent nor shareholder of SAITM. I am a keen follower of issues that are of controversial nature that prop up from time to time in Sri Lanka where politicians vigorously use them to their advantage. In this article I would like to address a few points that were discussed at the forum.

Business Name “SAITM”

As far as I have read and also understood from the participants, was that SAITM was initially established under a different name where M stood for Management rather than Medicine. This was a sticky point for two speakers who spoke strongly against the mere existence of SAITM. As far as I understand I see no issue with a Management outfit conducting various courses that they are competent of. It is just a matter of establishing a department or a faculty to conduct courses? Their business structure is their business.

On the contrary KDA (Kotelawala Defence Academy) now renamed as KDU or Kotelawala Defence University which is a direct investment of the Government through the defence establishment, conducts fee paying degrees, Post Graduate courses, Diplomas and offer Professional Courses. The courses include Medical, Engineering, Allied Health, computing, Architectures and Law to name a few. This is the first university that I am aware of offering diplomas and certificate courses in networking – (CCNA) Cisco certified Network associate. By the way all these courses are fee paying and not free of charge to students who are not children of the defence personnel.

I am yet to comprehend as to how and why the politicians who agitate about SAITM has failed to see the functioning of KDU. Kotelawala Defence Academy was established primarily to train defence personnel in defence related courses. It is quite in order for the Academy now KDU to award degrees to those who excel in studies while being attached to a defence establishment.

Private Universities 

The basic argument on the table is that SAITM being a private Medical College or School should not and cannot award Medical degrees. Looking at the past we find that SAITM had been established in 2008 with the permission from the Ministry of Higher Education who had the power to do so. Initially an application had been lodged to obtain UGC approval. However during the process the line ministry had vested the power to the Minster on cabinet approval to grant permission by way of a Gazette notification. Approval had been granted to conduct Medical degree programs and to offer degrees on completion. There were no protests made at the time by the parties who are opposing today. Probably due to fear of being persecuted at the time or virtually strongly reprimanded by the then regime. Today we see protests by an array of organisations, University students, Trade Unions and the GMOA in particular. The same collective had refrained from opposing the commencement of Medical degree programs at the KDA now KDU. I am sure the majority public would like to know the turn of thought or the back flips by these bodies.
Adding insult to the injury is that the very same then President, Ministers and secretaries who approved the establishment of SAITM and KDU are now opposing SAITM quite vigorously.
Today in Sri Lanka many organisations offer degree programs in various fields of studies in association with recognised foreign universities. Law, Information Technology, Allied Health, Engineering, Bio Medical to name a few. Students who follow such programs depending on the institute they attend complete their total program locally and receive their degrees locally while certain institutes permit their students to complete the final year in the respective countries with which they are affiliated to. Several universities from a wide spectrum of countries are known to operate in Sri Lanka. Monash from Australia, Northumbria from UK, Keel from UK, American, Russian, Indian and Bangladesh are a few to name. All above institutes charge fees, to register, for tuition and for examinations. It is our understanding that all those students who attend such programs have found meaningful employment locally and overseas, while majority students who obtain degrees from the government owned Universities struggle to find some kind of employment even locally except professional degree students like Medical, Engineering, Law, architecture and sometimes accounting.

This fact brings along an argument of the appropriateness or suitability of the degrees offered by Government funded Universities in the current environment. Majority of these graduates are added to the unemployment que thus leaving the tax payers to wonder why the authorities have not taken steps to bring in reforms to introduce meaningful courses in State Universities. This question need to be addressed in a more constructive manner and would require a broader panel of experts to contribute their views. The important question that arises out of the above argument is why the protestors like JVP, IUSF and GMOA, to SAITM has failed to address this issue which requires immediate attention. It was the very same GMOA who vehemently protested against the introduction of a degree program to Nurses (Allied Health). As tax payers we expect the monies collected by the government from the people are put into to more meaningful ventures rather than producing unproductive graduates. People would like to see that the protestors to SAITM making efforts to address in full force, to get the authorities to objectively open their eyes and ears to issue of appropriate courses, rather than wasting so much energy on SAITM which is already established and running.

GMOA

Why is GMOA hell bent on protesting against SAITM. Is this a political stunt by GMOA? What does GMOA stand for? What is their mandate? Is GMOA a trade union or a welfare organisation established for the benefit of its members?

Above are a few questions that the general public have raised, while they are being put into to severe difficulties by GMOA when resorting to trade union activities from time to time. Shouldn’t the medical profession be defined as an essential service? There are few services in the day to day life of people need to be identified as essential. To sight a few – Police to maintain Law and order, Forces to join Police in their efforts to maintain Law and order while defending the country. Transport, Telecommunication are needed for the Nation to move forward. Out of all it is of utmost importance to maintain a healthy Nation. Without a healthy Nation country cannot exist. The public must force the government to enforce rules and regulations preventing organisations such as GOMA loading hardships and untold difficulties on the general public.

Who is GMOA? As far as we understand it should be an apolitical outfit. What we observe is that they are an association of medical practitioners who have got together to look after themselves. However in the process of looking after themselves they are bound not to neglect the wellbeing of the public, because the oath they take when accepting duties say so and further not to impart hardships, in their quest for power. Members of GMOA should not ever forget that they have enjoyed the benefits of free education at the expense of not only the Tax paying Sri Lankans but all Sri Lankans who have been deprived of many essentials simply to educate other University and medical graduates.

Government spends 2,422,130.00 Million rupees per medical student and 3,319,880.00 Million rupees per dental student to complete their courses of studies. Least is spent of Arts graduates which is around 520,000.00 to 655,000.00 rupees on a three year program. Medical graduates are the only set of students who find meaningful employment after graduation as “doctors” leaving the majority university graduates on the road. This system or process whatever you call it is unequal. This disparity should be eliminated. Government is creating a disparity amongst Graduates. Inequality need to be eliminated.

Time has come for the “doctors” to pay back the monies spent on them by the government. Time has come to discipline “doctors” not only to pay back but also to provide a better service to the public for a fixed period of time after graduation. Medical graduates are no superior to any other graduate that State produce. Hence it has become imperative to bridge this gap and extend privileges equally to all graduates. In our view all other graduates produced by the State should focus on equal rights as granted by the very constitution of Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. So called specialist doctors spend the least amount of time on a patient. The government should bring in rules and regulations to control their behaviour towards poor patients. A doctor should be directed to examine a prescribed number of patients within a given period of time. Doctor’s profession is a noble profession which has been prostituted by the so called GMOA in Sri Lanka. This kind of behaviour is never observed in any other country. They are hell bent on making money rather than looking after patients. They are not any more descendants of King Buddhadasa. GMOA should spend time in taming such doctors and refrain from acting politically.

GMOA has the right to demand for their work rights but not to get involved in the administration of countries resources and assets. It is unfortunate to observe the GMOA getting mixed up in the political decision making process neglecting their duties as medical practitioners. Why is GMOA hell bent of opposing SAITM? Answers need to be found to the questions raised by the GMOA. While studying various representations made by GMOA at several public forums such as TV debates and press releases the only fundamental question that emerged was the Standards at SAITM were not acceptable. However there were instances where some members of the GMOA branding SAITM as a degree boutique or an outfit selling Medical degrees. If standards were not acceptable then the simple answer is to fix it rather than crying to close down SAITM. Apparently it is a known fact that SAITM employs more professors than some of the State owned Medical faculties.

University Selection Process 

It is important to investigate who purchase these medical degrees. Before we open a dialog on medical degrees offered, it is vital to understand the statistics of the students involved in the University selection process.

Kotelawala Defence University, is listed as “another” government university that provide Medical degrees for a fee, in the University Grants Commission web site. However the above number (1145) does not include the number of students admitted to KDU since it is a fee paying University like SAITM. We are yet to comprehend why and how GMOA steered trade Unions whom we believe do not have an iota of understanding of the issue, oppose SAITM.

It is important to look at the University entrance selection process. As per the UGC information site students who obtain minimum three passes at the GCE A/L examination conducted by the Government of Sri Lanka Education department are eligible to enter the medical faculties of Government Universities. Although it is simple to mention the selection process is complicated since many conditions do apply even after obtaining minimum of three passes at the GCE A/L examination. UGC adopts a selection process where students are screened on merit, district and poorly facilitated schools. Statistically driven Z score applies across all three categories mentioned above. However the selection is made by an elimination process thus depriving talented bright students with better results, entering any medical faculty, just for the mere fact that he or she having sat for the A/L examination from an affluent school, area or district.

Where will such students meet their life goals? State has a limitation of accommodating not more than 1200 students per year. If the deprived students are coming from affluent parents they will seek foreign universities in numbers thus draining much of our foreign reserves. It is the duty of the government and the UGC to provide opportunities to such students to gain access to Medical degrees within Sri Lanka with either private or public / private participating educational institutes.

One such institute sponsored by UGC is KDU. If students are willing to pay could enter KDU provided they possess minimum 3 passes in Chemistry, Physics and Biology with a Z score of 1.5 and foreign students who possess three passes in Chemistry, Physics and Biology at GCE A/L London examination . In a similar manner SAITM should be permitted to continue with proper standards as recommended by the SLMC (Sri Lanka Medical Council).

Government Decision 

We are perturbed at the lackadaisical attitude of the President, Prime Minister and the Minister of Higher Education in handling the SAITM issue. It leaves ample time opportunity for the bankrupt politicians to make “hey while sun shines”. The agitators against SAITM has ignored Court orders and many appeals made by the government from time to time. It appears their objective is not SAITM but bring down a legitimately constituted government. Conspirators behind are the very same people who Initiated SAITM. It appears that they have ganged up with the undesirables of one era for mere political advantage.

Today the university students are misguided by some pariah politicians who were hiding during tyranny of the previous regime. Some even ran away from the country and emerged at the expense of Yahapalanaya. They are no better than a pop group. They are breakaways of breakaways. It is unfortunate to note why they have not addressed the burning issues of State University graduates as discussed above in this article. If they are true patriots they should fight for equality amongst university graduates and force authorities to restructure courses to suit the demands of the country and the world at large, rather than wasting energy, money and time of undergraduates in the public arena.

University students discard such opportunistic so called politicians and give leadership to their own issues. University students are the intelligentsia of Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate to observe them becoming pawns of some bankrupt politicians who attempt a comeback at the expense of University Students. The issue is not SAITM, but efforts of a bankrupt political hyena using the poor gullible students to come back to lime light. We urge the government understands this and investigate into the activities of such discarded politicians who have waged war against a legitimate government using University Students. In their quest for power have disrupted the everyday life of the peace loving people of Sri Lanka. Time has come for Sri Lankans to wake up and fight these culprits.

In a similar manner it appears the GMOA has joined forces with the mob, using the opportunity to topple a legitimately constituted government. They are dancing with the Shrew who once was discarded by the people for creating holes in our day to day life and economy.

SAITM should be allowed to function but their activities should be moderated by the SLMC and UGC and not close down. In fact we need more SAITMs to commence in the future.

*Sarath Jayasuriya BSc (University of Ceylon – Peradeniya campus) , Secretary of Science Students Union 1973/74. Member of the Inter University Students Federation 1973/74 (IUSF)

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Author, please check the following figures given by you: “Government spends 2,422,130.00 Million rupees per medical student and 3,319,880.00 Million rupees per dental student to complete their courses of studies.”

    At a fee of 30,000 Pounds a year in Britain, a five year medical degree would cost around 30 Million Rupees

  • 7
    10

    Dear Writer,

    I am an academic and I am totally against the private tution factories. I need to mentioned that you are trying to show that you are an independent person. But it seemes to me that you have done a lot of research to write this article becuase you might be having vested interests. These interests could be that you are writing this article for money (you may have been paid) or you may have other interests with this particular institution.

    To me, this particular institution is not a national issue. But the people who have vested interests and people who get bribs from these tutution factories are trying to create this issue as a national issue. There are many other burining issues that the government needs to pay attention inseated of supporting tution factory owners to ruin the established qaulity medical education in Sri Lanka.

    • 13
      3

      To begin with you appear to be prejudiced against private education. Do not forget there are private schools in Sri Lanka. Most of the best universities in the world are private and they conduct very useful research and keep contributing to the well being of mankind.

      You have been very unkind and displayed a lack of finesse in labelling the writer as a bribe taker. I know the writer personally and he is a man with an impeccable character. He is wealthy enough not to steep down to such low levels. He deserves an apology from you.

      • 1
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        I believe this Sunil Dahanayake is otherwise known as Jim Softy.

    • 6
      2

      Good guess!
      The writer is the brother of Upul Jayasuriya, the UNP apparatchik since Lalith Athulathmudali’s time. Of course, they don’t want any resistance to Sirisena-Wickremesinghe plans to sell every thing the country owns.

  • 7
    1

    what we need are technical colleges not universities teaching arts subjects as most students are unemployable and wasting taxpayers money whereas technical college students have a much better chance of getting emplyed

  • 1
    1

    Time for analysis is over. The spike shows that the obvious and legitimate solution has not been outworked. Whatever the beginning, the journey ended in court verdict 2017, which affirmed the legality of curriculum and exams. of SAITM MBBS as valid, and directed Medical Council of SL to register them for internship, also finding SLMC violating the Medical Ordinance in obstructing. Your spike goes if SAITM MBBS moves to their only legal, valid, and just internship. Instead, SLMC and GMOA deceptive proposals to an ignorant govt. to explore (1) more training (impossible with GMOA) (2) delay exams.(illegal for locals like SLMC/ERPM with 10%pass rate) This planned chaos is to wipe out SAITM if agree to ERPM, thinking of saving Institute. Nationalisation option remains.

  • 3
    3

    That is correct. Sri lanka need more private medical colleges. They should be self funded as much as possible with research funds. After training stidetns should be free to go anyw ehre they like. Those schools also should teach every thing inthe world because, now mediccine goes with technology.

    It is common to find defects as it goes. those should be corrected. If some is saying govt has to do everything, Sri lanka will be backward for ever.

  • 3
    5

    Mr. Sarath Jauasuriya: You say in the article that GMOA was against the Nurses getting Degree education. From where you got this information and have you checked it from the GMOA? Have you ever watched TV debates and discussions, attended by the officials of the GMOA? If you did, I don’t think you would have mentioned this fact in your presentation. For your information, this allegation was made in one of those debates and the GMOA Secretary himself refuted it and in fact went on to detail out the assistance extended to that initiative of the Government. I suggest you to take up this matter with GMOA and try to get the facts corrected. Next comes the “social responsibilities” that the Doctors produced by the “Free Education” system you are so interested in. Have you done a research or a study of what this collective body called GMOA has done towards improving the health conditions in Sri Lanka? Have you ever made an attempt to get at such information from this GMOA? I don’t think so. Please try to get at those community projects and their initiatives so far done and successfully completed. For your information, at the present moment of time, this GMOA has appointed a Committee comprising academics of varying fields to formulate a “Trade Policy” for the Government. So know your facts before presenting your views and do not allow others to make you a “Parrot”.

    • 2
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      Douglas,
      Ven. Muruttetuwe Ananda himself said recently (in the presence of Maithri) that the GMOA opposed degrees for nurses. Of course it is very convenient for the GMOA to say they supported it now. It is similar to Mahinda giving scholarships to SAITM then and opposing it now.
      “this GMOA has appointed a Committee comprising academics of varying fields to formulate a “Trade Policy” for the Government. So know your facts before presenting your views and do not allow others to make you a “Parrot”. “
      Why the devil is this GMOA interested in Trade Policy? It is for pure self-interest, just like their opposition to SAITM.They are afraid that
      Indian or SAITM doctors are going to compete with them and bring down their exorbitant charges. Before you start talking about standards, may I remind you of Prof. Priyani Soysa, who was successfully sued by a lawyer for mis-diagnosis.
      Do not be a parrot for this bunch of hypocritical shylocks called the GMOA.

  • 5
    5

    A well-informed and obviously ‘researched’ account which should be read by everybody interested in this (SAITM) matter which no doubt has an impact on every decent Sri Lankan keen about our Higher Education, whether living ‘inland’ or overseas!
    Thank you, Mr Jayasuriya for highlighting the existance of ‘hands’ that continue to mislead our youngsters undergoing university education; they are particularly gullible at this stage of their life. Wisdom to realize the ‘truth’ is somewhat late in descending upon ‘some of us’.
    Let us hope ‘writings’ such as this will open the eyes of all opponents of SAITM without any further delay so that tertiary education (in whatever field) in Sri Lanka shall prosper, as has been happening in a number of our neighbouring countries for many years.

  • 2
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    do a google search to find out this so called academic who gives facts and figures

    • 1
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      All data in public domain after Appeal Court verdict of January 2017 in a 41 page document. The petition submitted to courts included every fact and document about SAITM and there are no secrets any more to accuse with or to debate. Only need is to carry out verdict releasing justice to SAITM MBBS doctors who are hindered from internship training, their legal right, and not failed jn illegal ERPM.

  • 5
    0

    Some quick comments: . . . . .. . . . . . There are better ways to handle cost of higher education. . . . . .***
    In Western Europe higher education is state controlled, but there are fees to pay. Students have loans and grants based on performance and need. . . . .***
    We too can go for such a scheme which will ensure that an eligible student is given the opportunity irrespective of family income. . . . . . . . ***Ones who need support borrow from the government but pay back after qualifying. Low interest if serving the government & moderate interest if serving the country (for a minimum specified time). Any who wants to serve a foreign country pays back the loan in full at commercial interest rates before departure. . . . . .*** All admission based on GCE A-L performance and aptitude.. . . . . .***The surplus generated by the universities to be reinvested in education…….***Make graduates employable by reviewing performance of different disciplines.

    • 0
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      S.J,
      Great list of proposals, but do you think this will get past the public, who think everything is free?

  • 5
    1

    Sarath Jayasuriya,
    You have done much research to write here. I commend you for that. Your heading is misleading. If you are looking for spikes that may hinder progress of Sri Lanka there are million more spikes, before SAITM! In fact, if SAITM is allowed to function the way it does now it will be a spike to our progress.
    You do not have to write pages and pages about private higher education for SL, specially in Medical education. I see you are a Peradeniya science graduate. Medicine is different from science degrees, that these graduates are required to be competent enough to practice medicine on humans. How do we make sure that they are competent? Procedure starts from admission. The best of students are admitted. Then the SLMC which consists of medical academics and clinicians accredit medical education institutions which will be allow medical registration to practice medicine. This is the norm all around the world.
    It is simple. We need private higher education. When it comes to Medical education we need two criteria fulfilled.
    1. All Medical Institutions should be accredited by the SLMC (as in every country). Accreditation should be reviewed every 5 years.
    2. Best students should be admitted using the merit list for State medical schools. District quotas for admission should be reduced and rural schools should be brought up to the levels of schools of urban areas.

    If treatment to KDU by SLMC is considered bias SLMC should be taken to courts. But no judge can decide or force SLMC to register persons who are deemed incompetent by the SLMC.

  • 3
    3

    Sarath Jayasuriya poses the question: “Why Has SAITM Become A Spike In The Progress Of Sri Lanka?”. The answer lies in a self-analysis question “Should Lanka creep towards pre-independence era?”. Colonial Ceylon was the land of the privileged. CWW Kanangara’s free education made a much needed dent. The bigger impact was SWRD B’s awakening of “Ape Aanduwa”. (Unfortunately this led us into a canyon – this is a different story). To cut a long story short: “Is SAITM a “progress” (as Sarath puts it)?”. It is recreating the privileged class. During weeks of campaign we were bombarded with SAITM students flaunting foreign A/L qualifications and a theme “We could have gone overseas to do Medical Degrees but we stayed behind in our beloved country”. The campaign has now gone all the way to a forum in Melbourne?. SAITM has continued to take business risks using political connections to overcome difficulties.
    Medical profession is much sought after in Sri Lanka. The “ordinary” medical students have worked very very very hard to enter state medical schools. They quite rightly feel threatened by a rich hoard able to come up with huge fees. Sarath foul-mouthing the money made by doctors is a red herring. The GMOA stand is fair and reasonable. We can talk our hind legs off talking about the politics. KDU was a Gota creation to keep the armed forces satisfied. This concept needs rethinking.

  • 4
    0

    In short, this is a fight between MR and the country. GMOA and Students union are MR stooges. Student Union is led by Peratugami Party which is led by one Kumar Gunaratnam, a break away from JVP. He was brought by MR from Australia for his (MR’s) election campaign. JVP has to do something as otherwise Peratugami gets the limelight. That is why JVP is in the SAITAM fight. MS/RW did a big mistake by not punishing MR and his clan for their grave misdeeds. They have now got organised to unsettle the country.

  • 0
    1

    LAC3 (rtd) Buddhadasa: Your comments on May 28th on the subject matter, in my opinion, need not be replied. However, please note, I am no spokesman for this GMOA. In fact, I too have concerns on some of their activities; yet, if anyone does some good and engages in any constructive initiatives, I would not hesitate in appreciating them. For your information, I have had the opportunity to go through some of their (GMOA) study materials, publications and some proposals accepted by this very President who was then the Minister of Health under MR Government. As regards this “Trade Policy” study that they have undertaken spreads into a wide range of subject matters that include even the varying aspects of Health Policies. Although you ask “Why the devil this GMOA is interested in Trade Policy”?, I have an interest to know what their initiatives are and assess how such proposals are going to highlight the Health Issues of the country.

  • 1
    1

    Soon after independence, Sri Lanka had a policy of “free education and free health for all”. All those who live here know that the ground situation has changed completely. Our cowardly politicians of whatever stripe have not been able to face the fact that they are not able to provide these and to amend the policy accordingly to free education and free health for a segment of the population only. We all know that the deputy minister of higher education has a thriving private school network and that the Minister of Health did not show any faith in the Government hospitals when he fell ill recently. Private education and health have grown up to meet a need but are not recognized as policy by Governments and therefore, not properly regulated. As a result, they are – like SAITM – backdoor operations supported by politicians on the sly.

    • 0
      0

      If SAITM is backdoor, how come court verdict pronounced it legal, and directed SLMC to register them for internship, saying SLMC violated the Medical Ordinance. We often parrot as street urchins slogans shout lies, embracing gossip irrationally.

  • 0
    0

    Even in the West, there is a shortage of seats for qualified applicants who wish to attend medical schools. It is very expensive to train a doctor, since expensive equipment and highly trained faculty (who command high salaries) are required throughout the programme. So the school cannot afford to have a high attrition rate, e.g. students who drop out due to failure. If the school is charging high fees, there may be some flexibility, but if it is free, then the cost is borne entirely by the school/taxpayers. This means the selection process must be rather narrow. Due to the high cost of training a doctor and the low volume of candidates, the medical professional generally commands a substantial premium, depending on the specialty. This market imbalance may be corrected in the future, thanks to automation. Automation will make it cheaper to train a doctor, since some of the procedures done by the human will be done by a robot instead. Correspondingly, there may be a drop in physician salaries. In other words, advances in technology will correct the market imbalance for physicians.

  • 2
    0

    In my view Mr.Sarath Jaysuriya has been forthright in expressing his views. I agree wholeheartedly that SAITM should be allowed to function but their activities should be moderated by the SLMC and UGC and it should not close down. In addition, more Universities and Technical Colleges of this nature should commence in Sri Lanka to cater for the demand. If we are catering for the properly identified demands, ‘Unemployment of Graduates’ shouldn’t be an issue. For example, are there any unemployed doctors in Sri Lanka? Rather the supply of doctors, is much less than the demand. The government should restructure the education system to meet up with the current and future demands of the country. if we expect the government to give completely ‘free education’ to doctors to meet up with the increasing demand of the country, it will never happen and it’s not practical, mainly due to high costs.

    Therefore, in my view, let’s be happy with the medical schools that the government is doing now (free of charge) but let’s meet up with the demand of the country by expecting the private sector to perform its role. After all, we say that the private sector is the engine of growth. Then let them take an active role in education, including medical education. Today, already in Sri Lanka, there are private educational institutes, both foreign and local, producing graduates in many areas. In that case, why not medical education? Are we implying that doctors are any superior to any other profession? It’s not whether you are a doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher, IT professional, accountant, farmer, brick layer or any other professional that matters. What matter is whether you are performing duties of your chosen career with the right Attitude, right Knowledge and the right Skills (A+K+S).

  • 0
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