Recently I was invited to attend a forum organised by a group of professionals in Melbourne. In fact I was invited as a panel speaker. There were three others in the panel totalling four including myself. The topic was quite appropriate and was addressing one of the burning issues in Sri Lanka.
The “SAITM” The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine
I must confess at the offset that I am not an agent nor shareholder of SAITM. I am a keen follower of issues that are of controversial nature that prop up from time to time in Sri Lanka where politicians vigorously use them to their advantage. In this article I would like to address a few points that were discussed at the forum.
Business Name “SAITM”
As far as I have read and also understood from the participants, was that SAITM was initially established under a different name where M stood for Management rather than Medicine. This was a sticky point for two speakers who spoke strongly against the mere existence of SAITM. As far as I understand I see no issue with a Management outfit conducting various courses that they are competent of. It is just a matter of establishing a department or a faculty to conduct courses? Their business structure is their business.
On the contrary KDA (Kotelawala Defence Academy) now renamed as KDU or Kotelawala Defence University which is a direct investment of the Government through the defence establishment, conducts fee paying degrees, Post Graduate courses, Diplomas and offer Professional Courses. The courses include Medical, Engineering, Allied Health, computing, Architectures and Law to name a few. This is the first university that I am aware of offering diplomas and certificate courses in networking – (CCNA) Cisco certified Network associate. By the way all these courses are fee paying and not free of charge to students who are not children of the defence personnel.
I am yet to comprehend as to how and why the politicians who agitate about SAITM has failed to see the functioning of KDU. Kotelawala Defence Academy was established primarily to train defence personnel in defence related courses. It is quite in order for the Academy now KDU to award degrees to those who excel in studies while being attached to a defence establishment.
The basic argument on the table is that SAITM being a private Medical College or School should not and cannot award Medical degrees. Looking at the past we find that SAITM had been established in 2008 with the permission from the Ministry of Higher Education who had the power to do so. Initially an application had been lodged to obtain UGC approval. However during the process the line ministry had vested the power to the Minster on cabinet approval to grant permission by way of a Gazette notification. Approval had been granted to conduct Medical degree programs and to offer degrees on completion. There were no protests made at the time by the parties who are opposing today. Probably due to fear of being persecuted at the time or virtually strongly reprimanded by the then regime. Today we see protests by an array of organisations, University students, Trade Unions and the GMOA in particular. The same collective had refrained from opposing the commencement of Medical degree programs at the KDA now KDU. I am sure the majority public would like to know the turn of thought or the back flips by these bodies.
Adding insult to the injury is that the very same then President, Ministers and secretaries who approved the establishment of SAITM and KDU are now opposing SAITM quite vigorously.