Money has been a hot topic of discussion during this conflict between SAITM and the government medical students, therefore it is appropriate to analyse this situation from a purely economic standpoint. The true economic impact of private medical universities being set up is far deeper than what it may seem at the surface. Almost all of the wages of a certain profession are dependent on a few factors, one of the main ones being scarcity of people qualified to perform that particular task. As long as qualified individuals available to perform a certain task are low the wages of people who are specialized in performing that task will remain high.
Medical Doctors are a very scarce in Sri Lanka, although we do fare much better than most south Asian nations. Our ratio of doctors to patients at 55.2 doctors per 100,000 population is still way below the global average of 170 doctors per 100,000 population. This scarcity is something that is threatened by the establishment of private medical colleges in Sri Lanka. It has been well documented in economic literature such as Tim Harford’s’ book The Undercover Economist, that professional bodies try to limit the number of individuals passing out per year to make sure that the supply will never meet the demand to ensure that wages will always remain high. The establishment of SAITM might set precedence for the establishment of other private medical universities. That might greatly increase the yearly output of qualified MBBS doctors, which will greatly decrease the scarcity value of the doctor and might drive wages down. It does not seem like a favourable situation for the unions.
Another approach is that although these students who aspire to be doctors cannot study here due to lack of results to be admitted to state medical universities they might be able to study abroad in a university in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Russia or some eastern European countries with similar results and perhaps at a lower price than what is charged currently at SAITM. It is important to note that this leads to a large exodus of intellectual ability from Sri Lanka and also a serious loss of foreign exchange for our nation. The economic effects of brain drain as it is colloquially known are also well documented, skilled emigration is a huge issue for our nation and medical professionals are one of the main professions who seek foreign employment. Forcing these students to study abroad due to the lack of options in Sri Lanka will expose them to different geographical, economic and professional environments which might entice them more and this leads to the loss of human capital for Sri Lanka. This might in the end effect both the health and education factors of Sri Lanka negatively.
The Issue of Quality
“Finally, considering the debate on the question that matters the most: Are the graduates from SAITM of the same standard as the graduates of State universities? The answer to this question is not one that can be answered by this article. However the question we can answer is: Are there steps we can take to ensure that graduates from both parties can be of similar standards? Certainly.
First we ensure that the internal examinations carried out by the university are up to the standard of the State universities. The Medical Council could carry out this monitoring process. Next, students must receive sufficient clinical training. (Since clinical training at NFTH seems sub par at the moment, the training can be given at other private or state hospitals at a fee that will be borne by the student.) Thirdly, the SAITM students could be asked to take the common final examination taken by state medical students throughout the island or for them to answer the ERPM exam answered by students who have studied medicine at foreign universities.
The primary objective of the State medical students in launching protests against SAITM was due to the concern that these graduates would be below standard, as they believe that the future doctors of this country need to be responsible and knowledgeable. By making these proposals a reality, do we not achieve this objective?”
Now that you have read this article series. Let us know what your opinion on this matter is.