SAITM: Deceiving Students; Misleading Courts
Chairman of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) Dr Neville Fernando, who is accused of deceiving students from its inception, has now come under criticism for misleading courts.
He is accused of misleading the District Court of Kaduwela by stating that he got the Health Ministry approval for his private medical college although the Health Ministry has vehemently denied the claim.
The failure to comply with the contractual agreements signed by SAITM with its students has resulted in three individual cases being filed by three students against SAITM in the District Court Kaduwela in 2012.
“Contrary to what was promised in the agreement, SAITM could neither give clinical training to any of its students nor a medical degree that is recognized by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC). Since SAITM duped us and our parents from its very inception and ruined our lives, we filed individual cases seeking compensation and to get back the money we have already paid them for a fake medical degree,” said the plaintiffs.
According to them although SAITM did not have the Health Ministry approval, the students were told that they have all the necessary approvals for the medical college including the Health Ministry approval.
When asked in courts by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as to whether SAITM had the Health Ministry approval, Dr Neville Fernando in an affidavit, informed courts that he has obtained a written approval from the Health Minister.
On February 27, 2013 he had told the Magistrate’s Courts that he obtained written approval from the line health minister for the private medical college.
“In an affidavit dated February 27, 2013 to the Magistrate’s Court Kaduwela, Dr Neville Fernando had stated that he had obtained the line Health Minister’s approval for the medical college which is not true. If Dr Fernando could mislead the court, it is very simple for them to deceive its students and parents,” said the plaintiffs.
In a letter dated April 5, 2013, Health Ministry Secretary Dr Y. D. Nihal Jayathilake had stated that Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena had instructed him to inform that the Minister had neither given any approvals in writing or otherwise to SAITM for a medical faculty nor to award medical degrees in Sri Lanka.
The letter further states: “I was instructed by the Hon. Minister to inform you that he did not issue any letter in writing or otherwise or grant any approval to the effect of carrying out a Medical faculty as SAITM and to award Medical Degrees in Sri Lanka”.
SAITM was also accused by the Five-Member Health Ministry Committee in its report for misrepresented information and deception, not only parents and students, but also the Board of Investment (BOI) and the Health Ministry.
The report that was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 22, 2012 by the committee appointed by the Health Ministry has clearly stated how SAITM had distorted information in order to obtain BOI approval.
The committee comprised the then 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.
According to the report, when SAITM made the application for BOI registration on March 17, 2008, there was no reference to a medical school.
The area of teaching was given as Information Technology, Engineering, Management and Finance, Vocational Studies, Nursing, Languages and Health Sciences.
“There was no medicine involved in training programmes at the time SAITM made the application for BOI registration. Therefore the committee notes that at the inception the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management was established without a medical degree programme. It was only on June 24, 2008, Dr Neville Fernando sought BOI approval to change its name to South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine,” states the report.
According to the five-member Health Ministry Committee report, the application has been submitted to the BOI by its Chairman Dr Neville Fernando on March 17, 2008 and the BOI had granted approval on March 31, 2008 subject to certain conditions.
Although conditions number five and nine of the BOI letter had stated that the enterprises should obtain approval from the Ministry of Health (MOH) prior to providing training in health science and SAITM was permitted to offer degrees only after affiliating to a recognized foreign university respectively, neither of these two conditions were complied with before starting the said course.
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, the SLMC and University Grants Commission (UGC), only the letters written by Dr Neville Fernando were attached but not the responses of the three institutions.
Although SAITM had signed the agreement with the BOI on October 1, 2008 the report observes that two batches had already been admitted by then but no approval from the MOH and the SLMC had been obtained even at that juncture.
Even after the newspaper announcement by the Health Ministry Secretary advising SAITM to suspend the enrolment of new students to the MBBS Degree program until the MOH resolved the issues, SAITM still had made a public advertisement to enroll students for the fifth batch.
The report meanwhile states that the students in the first four batches should be informed that it is very unlikely that they will be able to sit for the EPRM (formerly Act 16 examination) and obtain SLMC registration to practice in Sri Lanka. Although SAITM claims that it is the off shore Campus of Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy (NNSMA) of the Russian Federation, the Medical Ordinance does not permit the existence of offshore campuses for foreign medical schools for the purpose of conferring a foreign medical degree in Sri Lanka.
According to SAITM the Sri Lankan campus of NNSMA has given their students the opportunity to obtain a prestigious medical degree in Sri Lanka from a reputed Russian state university confirming the foreign degree after successfully completing the first four years in Sri Lanka and the fifth year at NNSMA Russia.
Meanwhile, Director, National Accreditation Agency of Russia, in an email dated September 22, 2011 had notified the Minister of Higher Education that the medical programme conducted at Malabe is not accredited to Russia.
According to the SLMC, although they have recognized the medical degree awarded by NNSMA for the course conducted in Russia for a six-year period, SLMC does not recognize any other twin programme conducted by the NNSMA. “Therefore SAITM cannot exist as the offshore campus of NNSMA Russia,” the SLMC said.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Russian Federation Udayangana Weeratunga in a letter dated November 7, 2012 to a parent had stated that Sri Lankan Embassy in the Russian Federation, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation had informed him in December 2011, that the Russian Federation had not established a branch of any educational institute in the territory of Sri Lanka.
“As per your request this mission has made arrangements to obtain the current information of the accreditation of institutes of Sri Lanka affiliated to universities/ academies of the Russian Federation; the results of which will be conveyed to you immediately upon receipt,” the letter further stated. All attempts to contact SAITM Director Dr Sameera Senaratne for a comment failed.
SAITM Officials Unaware Of Court Case
When contacted, Director SAITM Dr Sameera Senaratne for a comment, he wanted this reporter to contact Director Administration Himali Jayathilake as he was not aware of the pending court cases in Magistrate’s Court, Kaduwela.
However, when contacted, Director Adminstration Himali Jayathilake, too said that she was not aware of it and wanted Hemantha Tennakoon to be contacted for a comment.
When Tennakoon was contacted, he said that he could not make any comment without getting the facts correct.
“Even if we furnish details you do not publish our comments but details detrimental to the institution,” said Tennakoon.
When told the reason why this paper did not publish their comments on an earlier occasion was because they failed to send their story before the paper went for publication although given ample time, Tennakoon said that he was not bound to meet the paper’s printing deadline.
“We are not bound to meet your deadlines. Whenever we can, we will send our comments. For your questions this time, if I get the details I will send it to you but cannot meet your deadline,” said Tennakoon.