The Sunday Leader

SAITM – An Elusive Dream

By Nirmala Kannangara

Form to register the medical centre, The five-member committee report and Dr Neville Fernando

Parents of students who are now stranded at the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) have lodged complaints at the Human Rights Commission seeking redress.
A group of parents and guardians who had enrolled their children at SAITM hoping to give them a good medical education in their own country now laments over their failure to pay attention to repeated newspaper advertisements published by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) – the body that regulates the professional standard of doctors and maintain standard of medical education in the country.
“Although we saw these advertisements, we assumed that the SLMC recognition would be given to the batches enrolled after the University Grants Commission (UGC) offered the degree awarding status to SAITM. It was too late when we found out that SLMC recognition would not be given even for the batches taken after the UGC approval. When we met SAITM Director Sameera Senaratne, he assured us that the issue was with the first four batches but not with the future batches. Anyhow it is solely our fault and cannot put the blame to any other party. We wish if SAITM could comply with the UGC and SLMC guidelines at the earliest so our children could continue their studies in Sri Lanka. If not we have to send them to foreign universities,” said a parent. In order to get relief, the parents are awaiting the Human Rights Commission (HRC) directive, which is scheduled to be released on August 10.
“SAITM is not willing to give us the money back. Instead they keep on relating ‘fairytale’ to retain the students. As we know that SAITM management has harassed some of the students whose parents clashed with them over these issues, we are worried to raise our voices against them at this moment. That is why we want your paper not to mention our names until our group decides what the next step would be,” they said.
Meanwhile SAITM has now faced an unprecedented humiliation for their failure to uphold the contractual agreement as the court cases filed by three students will be taken up on August 30 at the Kaduwela Magistrates’ Court.
Meanwhile parents who are up in arms against the unprofessional conduct of Chairman Dr. Neville Fernando have submitted affidavits to the SLMC seeking investigations to protect the public from Dr. Neville Fernando.
These letters state as to how Dr. Fernando has unjustly de-registered some students from their studentship simply because their parents had made legitimate inquiries about the children’s future education.
“There were no other options for our children but to instigate legal action against this bogus medical college for deceiving us. Just because we wanted to protect the public from Neville Fernando and ‘his team’ we sent affidavits to the SLMC seeking investigation against Dr. Fernando who is registered with SLMC. At the next hearing date – August 30, we hope SAITM will file answers to our allegations as they failed to do so on the two previous occasions,” said N. Weliwitiya.
According to Weliwitiya, the degree is neither recognised in UK nor by the SLMC and the students cannot sit for the ERPM examination as the SLMC does not recognise this degree.
“The admission in relation to the degree was not carried out in accordance with the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines and the degree was not monitored by the SLMC for compliance with the standard according to the law on recognition. Further the Russian Government had not given registration to SAITM to grant the medical qualification of Doctor of Medicine (MD) of the Nizhny Novgorod State Academy of Medicine in Russia (NNSAM) or transfer the students of SAITM to the NNSAM in Russia. Although clinical training was assured our children were deprived of this,” said Weliwitiya.
Meanwhile C. S. Keerthiratne of Kandy has given up hopes of getting their money back although she had removed her daughter from SAITM last year.
“We paid Rs.1.265 million to SAITM.

In addition the students who get absent have to pay Rs.300 per hour for the missed lessons which means around Rs.2,500 per day to cover the all missed lessons. Although they charge the students claiming to cover the missed lessons they have never conducted extra classes to cover the missed lessons,” said Keerthiratne.
The reason why she does not want to take legal action against SAITM nor asking for reimbursement of money paid was solely because she cannot spend more money on lawyers.
“It is with the greatest difficulty we earn money. If we take legal action we will have to pay more money for that. If we want our money reimbursed then we will have to spend more money to travel to Malabe from Kandy,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Government

Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has raised concern as to why parents of future doctors still prefer to enter an institution that has misinterpreted information and deceived parents, the Board of Investment (BOI) and the Health Ministry from its inception.
“The report that was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 22, 2012 by the five member committee comprising former Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravindra Ruberu, former Deputy Director General Education, Training and Research Health Ministry Dr H. R. U. Indrasiri, Prof. Jayantha Jayawardena, Director, Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, Dr Palitha Abeykoon, former Director, World Health Organization and Ms A. R. Ahamed Legal Officer Health Ministry clearly states as to how SAITM has distorted information in order to obtain the BOI approval.

According  to the report the application submitted to the BOI by Chairman SAITM Dr Neville Fernando on March 17, 2008 seeking approval, the BOI had granted approval on March 31, 2008 subject to certain conditions.
“Although condition number five and nine of the BOI letter was that the enterprise should obtain approval
from the Ministry of Health (MOH) prior to providing training in health science and SAITM is permitted to offer degrees only after affiliating to a recognized foreign university, neither of these two conditions have been complied with before commencing the course,” claimed the GMOA.
The report further states that although Dr Neville Fernando in a letter dated May 21, 2008 to the BOI informing that he has made representations to the Health Minister, SLMC, and University Grants Commission (UGC), only the letters written by Dr Neville Fernando was attached but not the responses of the MOH, UGC and SLMC.
Although SAITM has signed the agreement with the BOI on October 1, 2008 the five member committee observes that two batches have been admitted by then without obtaining approval from the MOH and the SLMC.
The committee report observations meanwhile states that even after the newspaper announcement of Health Ministry Secretary advising SAITM to suspend the enrollment of new students to the MBBS Degree until the MOH resolve the issues, SAITM still has placed a public advertisement to enroll students for the next batch.
It also states that in the absence of an effective date in the gazette notification on August 30, 2011 granting the degree awarding status to SAITM, it is to be treated that the Higher Education Ministry had offered the degree awarding status prospectively. “The report further states that SAITM has acknowledged that they had admitted two students who did not meet the current SLMC admission criteria and the SAITM have ensured that this would not be repeated. However we have details that not only two there are more than that who have not met the SLMC  admission criteria.  Even the UGC   have also informed the five member committee that it is not possible to accommodate the four batches recruited before the gazette notification and also does not have any provision legally to approve any offshore campus of Nishny Novogorod State Medical Academy (NNSMA) in Sri Lanka. If so what will happen to the students of these four batches who cannot sit for the ERPM and what does SAITM has to tell about it. Knowing all these it is surprising as to how parents  keep on enrolling their children to a fake university,” claimed the GMOA.
Registrar SLMC Dr N. J. Nonis said that there are no provisions in the Medical Ordinance to grant SLMC recognition for a twin programme. “NNSMA degree is recognized by the SLMC but cannot give recognition to a degree that has been done in two countries. Now the UGC has given the degree awarding status to SAITM. If they comply with the SLMC requirements they could get the SLMC recognition for the batches enrolled after the UGC approval. The SLMC also can de-recognize the degree awarding status if found that the institution has not abided by our requirement,” said Dr Nonis.
Meanwhile it is learnt that SAITM Director Sameera Senaratne has given an assurance to the parents at a parent-teacher meeting held on July 27 that he will be getting the SLMC recognition on July 30 when the parents started accusing the management. However Nonis rejected the SAITM’s claim that the institution would get the SLMC recognition soon.
“They did not meet us nor have we checked whether they have fulfilled the requirements,” said Dr Nonis.   Though SAITM has repeatedly stated over the years that they have obtained the Health Ministry approval to construct their Teaching Hospital at Malabe, Dr Kanthi Ariyaratne, Director, Private Health Sector Division, Ministry of Health said that SAITM has neither received Health Ministry approval for the Teaching Hospital nor have forwarded a project proposal to the Ministry.
“The approval they are talking about is the clearance they have got from the Provincial Health Director Dr Harsha De Silva but not from the Health Ministry. We have been asking them to prepare a project proposal and forward it to the Ministry but so far they have failed to abide by our instructions. Hence up to now the Health Ministry has not granted any approval for the Malabe Teaching Hospital,” said Dr Ariyaratne.
The Sunday Leader is in possession of the registration form SAITM Chairman Dr Neville Fernando had forwarded on October 28, 2011 for a Medical Center but not for a teaching hospital, despite their claim to have received approval for a Teaching Hospital.
Meanwhile Company Secretary SAITM Hemantha Tennakoon said that the delay in constructing the teaching hospital is solely due to lack of labourers and rainy conditions.  “We have to stop work when it is raining and also due to lack of labourers. If not for these two reasons we would have completed the hospital by now,” said Tennakoon.
However he further declined to answer to other questions posed by the paper and wanted to forward them the questions. “I will get the answers from our lawyers,” he said.    He later said that SAITM does not want to answer any of the questions as this paper has not published their version on an earlier occasion.    Although Tennakoon made accusation for not publishing their version, the truth is that they failed to send the answers for three consecutive days but forwarded them only on a Saturday by which time the paper had gone to press.
“The directors said that they are not interested in giving answers to your questions,” said Tennakoon.

14 Comments for “SAITM – An Elusive Dream”

  1. SUN

    SLMC has recognized law quality medical degrees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Bangladesh and Caribian and some other african countries. SAITM has much better quality than some of SLMC approved medical degree. My question is whether SLMC will personally attend to check the quality of foreign degrees. Answer is “No”. SLMC has much better position to evaluate and advice on SAITM. Rajarata University medical faculty also has many problems. Further, other faculties of many state universities do not have PhD qualified teachers with good research backgrounds.After constuction of teaching hospital, SLMC can approved this medical degree. Sri Lankan people spent millions of USD for their child education in the broad. All professors and lecturers in SAITM are Sri Lankan. All money return in the country. SLMC does not play polical games such as GMOA. SLMC is not trade union. Minister of heigher Education should introduce law and regulation for private degree offering institutions. Further, MOHE ha to setup monitoring body for evaluate teaching quality, studenst and teacher qualification. Parent and students have right to get better education for all the degrees and not only medical degrees. Further, hiegher education is fundermental human right whether it is public or private. All overther world (from Russia to China and US to UK) there are private universities. We hope President Mahinda Rajapaksa government will intoduce proper law and regulation for non-state universities, all non-state universities are approved with 3 or 4 faculties and all other law quality private degee offering companies shutdown. These proper regulations privent Sri Lankan education system quality and avoide cheat people of Sri Lanka.

    • MOON

      Brilliant comment Sun, I cannot understand why there are elements against private university education in Medicine only in Sri lanka. I congratulate Dr Neville, Minister S B Dissanayake and our President for approving and supporting to the fullest the SAITM Private Medical College, which was a long overdue need in this country. see how the GMOA doctors behave against the Hippocrates oath by striking, working to rule etc…they are selfish and jealous of the high quality doctors that SAITM will produce.
      I am aware that SAITM’s exams are pretty tough to get through and that the standard is quite high and I am sure the hospital too will be great
      Thank you Dr Neville and the government

    • Junglee

      I dont understand why SLMC, Gov of SL, SAITM, get together and sort this out constructively. It is very clear that practicing medics (not worth to be called doctors) are hell bent on stopping any medical colleges coming up and producing more medical practitioners in SL. Any other country or in any other society they will give their eye teeth to get a medical school started. IT MUST BE SAID that, If the Tamils had this opportunity in the north (and if they had a degree of freedom ) they would get together and build the necessary buildings/hospitals for the medical school to make sure that their children could qualify. If thought necessary they will amalgamate with an TN /Indian school and make the project a success. As a Sri lankan I am ashamed to see this happening thinking what has happened to our values, Buddhist 70% and Christian 15% country when both Gautham Buddha and Jesus Christ set an example by treating and nursing the unwell (I have no knowledge of Islam to quote anything, sorry). The followers have been overtaken by greed and are now looking to destroy these facilities. Hon President and Gota , people who removed terrorism from the land are silent and have allowed the ‘medical mafia’ to dictate.

      • Senanayake

        Unfortunately this has become a highly politicised issue. The genaral public is unaware of the issues that the newly passed-out MBBS Doctors (from the SL government universities) are faced with.
        The SL health Ministry is faced with a severe cadres issue which needs to be sorted out, first of all.

    • Gamini

      I totally agree with the points of sun. The simple reason is that SLMC or UGC do no wish to have a private universities. Even because of sri lankan dirty politics i was compelled to send my daughter overseas by spending million of rupees.

    • Kandy

      Sun you are perfectly correct.
      Our people fail to understand the fact that in International labour market Degree holders percentage of Srilankan’s are far less than other Nationalities as only Govt Universities are operational here. This really has an impact on getting high positions in International arena even though our Srilankan’s are a highly skilled work force.. Srilankan University entrance system gives a special allocation to ‘Educationally disadvantages districts ‘where students with less marks can enter universities but students who score higher marks are denied entrance. As for Z score it’s a total mess.
      When someone takes the initiative to cut this deficit and help students who cannot afford to go abroad for higher studies with a private university, the end results unwanted agitation and people opposing to the projects .This initiative will pave way for more Private Universities being opened in SL.
      They fail to understand that private universities generates income to Country as so many Students who are studying in overseas countries coming back to Srilanka to pursue their Degrees.
      As well said by Saman why can’t SLMC conduct unified ‘test’ for students who completes their Medical degree notwithstanding the place of Study.
      They fail to understand the plight of students who are already registered in this Institution spent millions and more than that spent precious time without knowing their future.
      Please the relevant authorities don’t Geopardise the future of these students come to an amicable solution soon.

  2. Buddhadasa

    It is shame why people do not learn lesson from their mistakes. They have already forgotten the drama unfolded with the episode of previous private medical college. The main issue is,we are country functioning without proper rules and regulations. There should be strict guidance about creating institutions like SAITM and it is unfortunate that responsible bodies like SLMC and ministry of health raise their concerns only after the enrolment of three batches of students. How did SAITM do that. Why did parents send their children to an institution without having a guarantee of their legal status. These are not very transparent deals and I can only feel sorry for the affected students and the parents.I qualified from the Colombo medical faculty and had to spend extra three years to get my degree because of the issue of NCMC. However, I do appreciate the fact that NCMC has produced doctors of immense quality and it is unfair to deprive the medical education for those able students who can afford to pay their medical education. Strict regulation and control should be in place before initiating institutions like this and it should not be with the sole intention of making money.

    • SUN

      At least now, Sri Lanka has to introduce law and regulations for private/non-state universities or band all private degree offering institution by law. We are like or not there are private institution offer degree to Sri Lankans. Some of them are university affiliated degree awarding bodies now who charge extortionate amounts from students and send them to low-quality universities in the west for the final year”. some private degree offering companies send their students to low quality foreign colleges and some does . On the other hand, some low quality indian degrees (including masters) are offered by some private companies Rs 3-5 lks. The most bad case, there are some private degree offering companies offer so called foreign university degree by on line degree offering centers. These centers do not have any physical exsistance. Hence, there should be proper law to address this issue. Ministry of heiger education have tried to address this problem (By introducing the quality assurance and validity of degrees by Act of Paliment). However, it has prevented FUTA. Some of FUTA members are doing part-time work in this places? Who are responsible and who will adress this issue? Lot of parents and students have been cheating from these places. Sri Lanka urgently needs law and regulations for private/non-state universities (not only medical degrees)

  3. saman

    It is common in other countries to sit for liceciating exam to practice medicine.Therefore ,in Sri Lanka ,SLMC should conduct this kind of exam to everybody who want to practice medicine in SL irrespective of stae or private graduate.Then we can see who will pass and fail.Then we can standardize the quality.Not just criticizing students who enter private medical colleges.I think state universities satisfy with 3 S to do Medicine(minimum requirement to do medicine).If it is so I can not understand why medical students are protesting that private medical students are not well qualified to do medicine.I think they all have more than 3 passes.I know some students who were not selected from Colombo and Galle(to do medicine) due to district quota system studying in PMC at Malabe.(their marks are higher than some medical students in state universities at present)
    Sametime independant body should be formed to evaluate facilities in both private and state and advice on them.

    I think Minister SB will not stop and should not.If He will stop I think in future no one will be able to overcome this barrier.This is most powerful government with more than 2/3 majority. So well done minister even UNP will support in this case.

  4. Lanka Liar

    Looks like another medical scam. Beware of getting treatment from Sri Lankan doctors. You never know who they are and where they were trained, I hear some are trained in Bangladesh Iran Cuba Russia and mange to go to overseas and practise medicine there.

    • Kalani J K

      What a stupid comment from typical Sri Lankan idiot?? Those countries you have mentioned have very good health system and doctors. It is only Sri Lankan jealousy lousy lot pulls each others legs so that no one progress.
      Listen to Freddy Silvas old song–”Kenek diunivi ihalata yanawa- bala idinnata barianam”

    • Weragoda

      There is nothing wrong in having a private medical college in Sri-Lanka. Dr Neville should be congradulated for taking the initiative in setting up this.What is required is for the government to ensure that necessary quality and international starndards are maintained.GMOA is an utterly politicised parocial body who do not look at the broader issues in the best interests of the country.
      I only hope the government will do the right thing by ensuring quality standards and the private medical institution will bring recognition to Sri-Lanka. Dont give up Dr Neville.Continue with your best efforts.Only thing just make sure that international standards are maintained. Otherwise it is a slur on your reputation.It is not only the rupees that matter.

      • Senanayake

        Dr Neville has first hand experience and knows the agony and the anxiety that a parent of a Private Medical College student undergoes. The Ragama Private Medical College which was set-up in the early eighties of which Dr Neville’s son was also a student was an example.
        In my opinion this is a classic case of HISTORY REPEATING.
        May saner counsel prevail!

    • Booruwa

      Are the patients in those countries dying? Do you have facts to suggest that the above countries have sub standard health care systems than Sri Lanka?

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