SAITM – An Elusive Dream
By Nirmala Kannangara
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.