What went wrong in SAITM?

Lead news Opinion
 We, as trade unions of academic staff of State Medical faculties have been closely observing the developments regarding the SAITM issue since its inception up to its current crisis. As responsible trade unions and one of the stakeholder parties concerned about the standards of medical education, safety of the patients and the wellbeing of the undergraduates of the state medical faculties studying under us, we have discussed the SAITM issue in depth and have reached the following resolutions.
  1. We are not in agreement with the verdict of the Court of Appeal ordering the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to grant provisional registration to students of SAITM and fully endorse and support the decision by the SLMC to challenge this verdict in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
  1. FMTAs are disappointed about the lethargic approach shown by present and former governments to resolve this issue with a solution agreeable to all parties concerned.
  1. If authorities do not intervene in an unbiased way to solve the current crisis we fear that it will lead to a serious threat to the training of medical students of the eight state medical faculties and in the end it may lead to more serious consequences as we have seen in the past.
  1. We condemn the statements made by certain members of parliament who have no understanding of medical education, training or profession to facilitate and solicit the interests of SAITM.
  1. We also condemn the document titled “Expansion of Medical Education in Sri Lanka with the Participation of the Private Sector: Adopting the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) as a Model” submitted to the Parliament by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resources Development dated 23.11.2016. It is full of inaccuracies, absurdities and lack clarity and some members have conflict of interest too. An institution such SAITM established in a fraudulent manner should NEVER be adopted as a model for private medical education.
  1. SAITM has enrolled 40 students in 2009 which increased to 209 in 2014 according to report of the SLMC sent to Hon.Minister of Health dated 4th September 2015. Colombo Medical Faculty with a staff of 140 is admitting only 200 students a year. In addition two batches of students have been admitted to SAITM every year while State Universities have only one intake annually. According to the University Grants Commission (UGC) institutional review report (2013), this is in the absence of permanent trained staff in the institution. So with a skeleton permanent staff we (all FMTAs) have serious doubts about how quality can be assured in this setting. This is prima facie evidence that SAITM is on a path of raking in large amounts of money at the expense of providing a quality education. The FMTA is against such admission of uncontrolled numbers of students.
  1. Hence, we believe that, SAITM is currently not in a position to award a medical degree for reasons detailed by the SLMC and thus current students of SAITM should be given provisional registration by the SLMC to practice medicine only after obtaining the core competencies as prescribed by the SLMC. A qualifying examination conducted by the SLMC should be introduced and included in the medical ordinance to assess these core competencies.
  1. We wish to point out that according to regulations published in 2013 under Section 137 of the Universities Act requires non-state degree awarding institutes offering study programmes leading to professional qualifications should obtain compliance certification from the relevant professional body (ie: SLMC). SAITM has not obtained this to date. Hence we urge the Hon.Minister of Higher Education to revoke degree awarding status of SAITM temporarily until SAITM acquires the compliance certificate.
  1. Recruitment of new students to the medical degree program of SAITM should be ceased immediately until definitive solutions are reached. 
  1. We urge the Hon.Minister of Health to inform the relevant legal authorities (including Supreme Court) his endorsement of SLMC report and insist on gazzetting prescribed minimum standards for medical education as required by the Medical Ordinance.
  1. The legislation governing professional bodies such as the SLMC should be amended in order to empower it to grant compliance certification to degree awarding institutes.
  1. Attempts to establish new private medical education institutions in Sri Lanka should be halted immediately until all aspects of SAITM issue are resolved.
  1. It is worthy to note that education is not a commodity even in the United Kingdom. India has failed in private medical education and in a complete chaosity even with a National policy document by Indian Medical council on ‘Establishment of Medical College Regulations’. Studies by United Nations (UN) have shown that “for-profit education and a commercialised educational sector can jeopardise the exercise of the right to education. In this context, privatized and commercialised education can have dreadful consequences on the social development of a country if it is not duly regulated, monitored and if private entities cannot be found accountable in case of violations of the right to education.”United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declares that “the state has the obligation to establish a regulatory framework for private education and to ensure that international minimum standards are met. As private entities invest in education and make profit from it, it becomes a market and a good. This expending ‘market-based education sector’ raises additional legal issues.”
Thus a National document is needed which provides a clear mechanism and a legal framework to monitor and regulate the whole process from eligibility of the person applying for the license to start a medical school and entry criteria of students up to graduation and provisional registration under SLMC to practice medicine in Sri Lanka.
  1. In keeping with Article 26.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, admission to higher education should be based on the merit and capacity but not on the economical wealth of parents.
Further, FMTA endorses the joint statement made and handed over to the Minister of Higher education by the Deans of the Medical Faculties in February, 2017(annexure 1). If the government fails to identity SAITM issue as a threat to free education and State medical education and provide a satisfactory solution we will not hesitate to join hands with other forces for serious trade union action.
 (Colombo, Sri Lanka, Guardian) 
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