COM­MON WE ARE READY FOR E ACC X RED A ITA M TION -SAITM Chair­man

It has to be con­ducted by UGC or any other body It should not be by SLMC

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES - By Kelum Bandara

Amid a sim­mer­ing cri­sis over the recog­ni­tion of med­i­cal de­grees of­fered by South Asia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Medicine (SAITM), its Chair­man Dr. Neville Fer­nando, in an in­ter­view with Daily Mir­ror, says that he had com­plied with all the re­quire­ments in con­duct­ing this de­gree pro­gramme. The ex­cerpts of the in­ter­view:

Q Over the cur­rent cri­sis sit­u­a­tion, what is the way for­ward for SAITM?

In spite of all the protests, SAITM will go on. I started it not to make money. If I wanted money, I would have started a fixed deposit and stayed at home with in­come from in­ter­est. But, I an­swered the call of the then Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, the late Prof. Wiswa War­na­pala. He said that out of the 250,000 stu­dents sit­ting the G.C.E. Ad­vanced Level Ex­am­i­na­tion, around 100,000 passed it. They are suit­able to en­ter the uni­ver­si­ties. But, only 18,000 are taken be­cause the state does not have the fa­cil­i­ties. He wanted to in­vest in pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion. It is on his sug­ges­tion that I started this. At that time, I had sold my Asha Cen­tral Hospi­tal for Rs.1.6 bil­lion. I had enough money to start. I told him and he agreed. I got the go ahead. First, I wrote to Prof. Gamini Sa­ma­ranayake, the then chair­man of the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion (UGC). He wrote to me say­ing the Uni­ver­si­ties Act did not pro­vide for pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions. I knew there were uni­ver­si­ties un­der the BOI. I met Mr. Dham­mika Per­era, the big­gest share en­tre­pre­neur in Sri Lanka. He gave per­mis­sion and ap­proved this. He asked me to get the per­mis­sion of the Health Min­istry. I got it. Then, he asked me to get af­fil­i­a­tion to a rec­og­nized univer­sity. I did that as well. We went to Rus­sia and found a univer­sity there. That MOU is still in force. In fact, there are pro­fes­sors who come to teach. They are in the is­land to­day. They were the ob­servers of class fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tion. We con­tinue with that ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

Q You are af­fil­i­ated to a Rus­sian univer­sity as you said. But, you of­fer a Sri Lankan med­i­cal de­gree. How does it hap­pen?

When we went to the Sri Lanka Med­i­cal Coun­cil to get this ap­proved, they said that the pre­vail­ing process could not be ap­proved. But, we can ex­ist as a de­gree award­ing in­sti­tu­tion. We have that in writ­ing. Af­ter that, we met the then Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion S.B. Dis­sanayake. We wanted the de­gree award­ing sta­tus. There is a pro­ce­dure. There are var­i­ous re­view com­mit­tees that come. It is only af­ter that, the Min­is­ter can an­nounce it in a gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tion. We were given the de­gree award­ing sta­tus. Stu­dents orig­i­nally en­tered for MD. Some of them have two Cs and one S. They were weeded out by the UGC. They went to Rus­sia.

Q Ac­cord­ing to the gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tion is­sued, you have to fol­low a cer­tain set of guide­lines. How far have you ad­hered to them?

We have got a cer­tifi­cate of com­pli­ance from the re­spec­tive au­thor­i­ties. We have ful­filled all the con­di­tions in the gazette.

Q Af­ter that court rul­ing was given, SLMC re­fused to rec­og­nize the de­gree. What is the next step?

They will be charged for con­tempt of court. The court has or­dered them to give pro­vi­sional reg­is­tra­tion. If they do not do it, they will go to jail. We will not do that.

Q At the end of the day, you need the co­op­er­a­tion of the SLMC. How vi­able is a con­fronta­tional ap­proach?

The court de­ci­sion is that the SLMC must give pro­vi­sional reg­is­tra­tion. They will have to con­tinue with it.

Q At the meet­ing with the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, they came up with some con­di­tions for SAITM in­clud­ing the sus­pen­sion of ad­mis­sions. How are you go­ing to com­ply with them?

We have not got any of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­di­cat­ing that ad­mis­sions should be sus­pended. When it comes to that, we will take a de­ci­sion af­ter­wards.

Q They have pro­posed to con­duct a sep­a­rate ex­am­i­na­tion. Are you ready for it?

We are pre­pared to sit for any exam. We have been giv­ing a good ed­u­ca­tion. But, it should not be an ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted by the Sri Lanka Med­i­cal Coun­cil. It must be con­ducted by an in­de­pen­dent body like the UGC.

Q Why are you op­posed to the ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted by SLMC?

That is be­cause they are all GMOA mem­bers. The Deans and the SLMC are part and par­cel of the GMOA. We can­not get jus­tice from that ex­am­i­na­tion. That is why we are for an ex­am­i­na­tion un­der the UGC. We are even al­right with an in­ter­na­tional body, but not the SLMC.

Q What is your stand on this Act 16 Ex­am­i­na­tion meant for stu­dents com­plet­ing de­grees at for­eign uni­ver­si­ties?

Yes, it should be a com­mon ex­am­i­na­tion for state med­i­cal stu­dents, our stu­dents and for­eign stu­dents. It is one com­mon MCQ ex­am­i­na­tion. Ap­point­ments should be given on the ba­sis of re­sults of the MCQ. That is what the state stu­dents are scared of. They know def­i­nitely that our stu­dents will top the list.

Q How­ever, crit­ics chal­lenge the qual­ity of med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion you of­fer. How do you re­spond?

We have 19 pro­fes­sors. All of them have worked in state uni­ver­si­ties and taught all th­ese fel­lows who are shout­ing. If th­ese pro­fes­sors are bad, the train­ing of med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion re­ceived from them are also bad.

They are the best pro­fes­sors in the coun­try to­day, teach­ing our stu­dents. That is why I am con­fi­dent that our stu­dents, af­ter pass­ing out one day, would be ef­fi­cient 100 per­cent. They will not go on strike. They will shave their faces, dress well.

Q The qual­ity of clin­i­cal train­ing given to your stu­dents is chal­lenged. How would you re­spond?

That was ac­cepted by the re­view com­mit­tee. That com­mit­tee came and met me. They met with the aca­demic staff, stu­dents and the mi­nor staff. They ob­served the lab­o­ra­to­ries. In their fi­nal dis­cus­sion with our staff, they said they would give pro­vi­sional reg­is­tra­tion, sub­ject to cer­tain con­di­tions. It was men­tioned in page 18. When the fi­nal meet­ing was held, this page was sub­sti­tuted. They said reg­is­tra­tion could not be given. This is a big fraud. I am go­ing to hand this over to the CID. We can get the min­utes ac­cord­ing to the Right to In­for­ma­tion Act. We have got the min­utes even be­fore that.

Q How do you re­spond to th­ese crit­ics in terms of dif­fer­ent as­pects of clin­i­cal train­ing?

In the first two batches, we had only 25 stu­dents each. For one stu­dent, there must be seven pa­tients. We had that ra­tio. Our stu­dents were trained well. They were given clin­i­cal ex­po­sure. Even now, af­ter the de­gree, they are in hos­pi­tals fol­low­ing pro­fes­sors for clin­i­cal train­ing.

Q How is their clin­i­cal train­ing on foren­sic medicine?

We went to the Supreme Court for that and got a rul­ing. Our stu­dents had to be given Avis­sawella Hospi­tal and the Kaduwela MOH area for com­mu­nity medicine. We went to Avis­sawella for Psy­chi­atric and ju­di­cial med­i­cal train­ing. For each sub­ject, stu­dents had to pay Rs.50, 000. It is not free. Th­ese are chil­dren of tax­pay­ers of this coun­try. In the state uni­ver­si­ties, no fee is charged from stu­dents. It is also un­eth­i­cal.

Q As for the ad­mis­sion cri­te­ria of your univer­sity, crit­ics say you ad­mit stu­dents even with min­i­mum qualifications such as two C passes and one S pass at the Ad­vanced Level Ex­am­i­na­tion. In the sci­ence stream, there are some stu­dents even with 3 As, but left out from the state uni­ver­si­ties. What is your re­sponse?

In our in­sti­tu­tion, there are a large num­ber of stu­dents with three As. They missed the en­try to the state uni­ver­si­ties be­cause even stu­dents with min­i­mum qualifications are taken on the district quota sys­tem from ar­eas like Mul­laitivu and But­tala. What has hap­pened is 40 per­cent of good stu­dents with three As are shut out. Those are the fel­lows shout­ing against SAITM. They have an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex.

Q What is the fu­ture plan for you?

In anatomy, we or­dered equip­ment worth Rs.15 mil­lion to teach surgery. There is a new process called ‘Theil Em­balm­ing’ that en­ables a body to be kept fresh for three to four months. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Royal Col­lege of Sur­geons are com­ing on Sun­day. We will get ac­cred­i­ta­tion from the Royal Col­lege of Sur­geons. We have not taken any stu­dent with qualifications less than two Cs and one S.

I met Mr. Dham­mika Per­era, the big­gest share en­tre­pre­neur in Sri Lanka. He gave per­mis­sion and ap­proved this. He asked me to get the per­mis­sion of the Health Min­istry. I got it. Then, he asked me to get af­fil­i­a­tion to a rec­og­nized univer­sity. I did that as well. In our in­sti­tu­tion, there are a large num­ber of stu­dents with three As. They missed the en­try to the state uni­ver­si­ties be­cause even stu­dents with min­i­mum qualifications are taken on the district quota sys­tem from ar­eas like Mul­laitivu and But­tala. We have 19 pro­fes­sors. All of them have worked in state uni­ver­si­ties and taught all th­ese fel­lows who are shout­ing. If th­ese pro­fes­sors are bad, the train­ing of med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion re­ceived from them are also bad. There are var­i­ous re­view com­mit­tees that come. It is only af­ter that, the Min­is­ter can an­nounce it in a gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tion. We were given the de­gree award­ing sta­tus.

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