Students of Sri Lankan State universities receive higher education that is fully paid for, a monthly Mahapola allowance, and most even receive hostel facilities. ‘What more do they possibly need?’ you’d think. All they need to do is sit down, work hard and make use of the free education that they have earned. However, it is extremely rare to see a news cycle pass by without Student Unions demanding something more.
This article is about one of those demands. The single demand which the IUSF, other Student Unions and organizations have adamantly made demanding that the Medical Faculty of SAITM be closed down or acquired by the government. Why? Let’s find out. As always, this article will justify neither side involved in this fiasco, but analyze, and propose a solution, in an effort to provide you with an informed opinion, for informed democracy. To genuinely understand the mindset of both parties, our team visited both groups and had interviews with members of both parties. First we’ll take a look at what the two parties have to say, and then we can analyze each point of view and identify a solution.
Before getting to the criticism let us look at the type of students who study at State medical colleges. A majority of students are from families that are of the middle class or below, but these students were the ones who genuinely worked hard, received excellent results and hence got the chance to study medicine at a State sponsored university.
The MBBS degree at SAITM costs roughly LKR 12 million. This, in the eyes of the Conservatives, considering the spending to earning ratio in Sri Lanka, is a huge sum of money. It is a price very few people would be able to afford right away. However does this mean only a selected upper echelon of students study medicine either at SAITM or elsewhere? In their eyes they are standing up to what they believe is their duty as future doctors of this country to maintain their professional standards, as they do not want the patient to become a victim.
The resources provided by the government for higher education seems scarce, there’s quite a limited number of lecturers and in the eyes of the Conservatives, it might seem that an institute charging LKR 12 million per student would be able to provide their lecturers with greater monetary/non-monetary benefits than their State sponsored counterparts. Hence the arguable, yet justified fear of “Will our lecturers leave their permanent posts at State universities to take up permanent posts at a private Medical College which provide a more attractive salary?”
An example to justify this fear would be the difficulties at Medical Faculties at Rajarata and Eastern universities due to lack of lecturers. In their eyes, if most lecturers prefer teaching at a private university, the only students who will be able to study medicine in Sri Lanka would be those who can afford the costly fee of LKR 12 million.
The entry requirements to attend SAITM are horrifyingly low in comparison to State medical universities. Whilst the entry requirement for the University of Colombo Medical Faculty is 2 As and 1 B, the corresponding requirement at SAITM is 2 Cs and 1 S pass. Someone inn the shoes of the Conservatives would think, “I worked so hard on my grades to get this privilege, but one day we will be doctors of the same stature simply because they had the money”.
Moving on to a recent and more specific event. The courts, in response to a Fundamental Rights petition filed by a group of SAITM students granted clinical privileges to practice forensic and community medicine clinical training at two State hospitals. The State medical students vehemently opposed this move claiming that it was nothing more than the leasing out of government property for a fee to private medical college students who may not have the required skills to execute the duties of a doctor.
“The Liberals” : Through the Eyes of SAITM Medical Students
If we analyze the types of students who study medicine at SAITM, we can identify two major groups. The first and the most dominant are students who’ve studied Advanced Level curriculum outside that which is followed by State schools i.e. Cambridge/Edexcel programmes. The second group encompasses students who followed the National curriculum but were unable to get a z-score sufficient to study at a State medical college.
All these students have the chance of studying at a foreign university (at a cost which is equivalent if not lower), then come back to Sri Lanka, do the Act 16 exam and practice medicine as a SLMC certified doctor. However the reason these students chose SAITM was because they wished to remain in Sri Lanka with their families and loved ones, and to live in the same culture they grew up in. This seems to be the most popular reason for choosing SAITM over a foreign university.
Most of these students come from poor or middle class families. These are families for whom a cost of LKR12 million is a hefty investment. Most families break years of savings, relinquish assets or take higher education loans to pay the tuition fee. It isn’t wonderland for these students, and unless they genuinely work hard and succeed, it would be a lost investment. These students don’t feel lucky that they are able to bear the tuition fee. If at all it is an added burden, because “Your family is sacrificing a lot for your studies” would always be on their conscience.
These students have studied for the first 3 years at a standard equivalent to State medical students. Following which similar to the State medical students they began Clinicals and while the first few batches were denied the chance to have comprehensive clinical training for certain subjects, their recent victory of the FR petition to use Avissawella base hospital and MoH-Kaduwela for community medicine, forensics & psychology, chances are that the future batches will not have this issue. In the eyes of these future students, the only difference between their degrees is that one will say MBBS (Colombo) and the other MBBS (SAITM).
Additionally someone in the shoes of the Liberals would think: “There are certain foreign universities where the medical students aren’t given the chance to interact with live patients, some of these students practice on mannequins. However with their degree they are able to write for the Act 16 exam and become doctors. Whilst we do interact with live patients however we are swept aside as irrelevant.”
Now that you have explored the story through the eyes of both parties, read our second article within this series which analyses the situation and provides a middle path; http://intca.org/saitm-story-part-2/