Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the Institute which regulates physicians, had declared that SAITM degrees are invalid

On Friday, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment, possibly leading to the sanctioning of private local degrees in general, by affirming the validity of medical degrees awarded by the South Asian Institute of Technology & Medicine (SAITM), a local, private, medical degree awarding institution.
SAITM degrees are recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the regulator of the country’s tertiary education system. Nonetheless, the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the Institute which regulates physicians, had declared that SAITM degrees are invalid, on unfounded grounds that such degrees are of an inferior quality.
This led to a SAITM graduate to challenge this directive, in Court, which upheld that the complainant’s plea was justified and ordered the SLMC to register her as a medical practitioner and directing SLMC to pay damages to this aggrieved graduate.
SAITM, since the advent of the Yahapalana Government on 8 January, 2015, has been beset by strikes engineered both by undergraduates from State universities who obtain their tertiary education free, at taxpayers’ expense and the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), the country’s medical officers’ trade union (TU), whose products, similar to State universities’ undergraduates, have also obtained free education from State universities.
SAITM was recognized during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime. However, during that period, the GMOA’s opposition to SAITM was reduced to a whimper, quite a contrast to the roaring lion it now is. That was also the case in regard to undergraduates in State universities.
The highlight of GMOA’s comicry then was, a sibling of Rajapaksa’s, summoned the GMOA top brass. This sibling wanted the State-owned Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA), established in 1980, since renamed General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (GSJKDU), to be a medical degree awarding faculty.
This sibling told the GMOA of his plans. His parting words to the GMOA were: ‘I don’t want any trouble.’ These words worked like magic, immediately converting the GMOA to be ‘His master’s voice,’ the master being the Rajapaksas.
Some of the GMOA top brass then still continue to hold high office in this TU. The difference is, during Rajapaksa’s tenure they purred like a cat, but at the present Yahapalana Government, they roar like a lion, striking at the drop of a hat, thereby crippling the Government’s free healthcare system, the hope of the country’s poor who cannot afford private medical healthcare.
Meanwhile, the original purpose of the KDA was to turnout officers to the military. This scope has since been broadened to also be a degree awarding institution, embracing both military personnel and laymen, alike. Whereas Sri Lankan military personnel following courses at the GSJKDU enjoy free university education similar to State university undergraduates, other students on the other hand have to pay fees. GSJKDU is recognized by the UGC.
The GMOA, together with the SLMC, unsuccessfully objected to the recognition of SAITM degrees, in Court. Due to the militancy of the GMOA and State university undergraduates, the Yahapalana Government recently nationalized SAITM, as a means of appeasement and transferred the SAITM undergraduates to GSJKDU.
Nonetheless, the message of this Court victory is that if there is a legitimate, local degree awarding institute, recognized by the UGC, neither the regulator of such disciplines, nor a TU, however powerful it may be, has the right to prevent a graduate, passing out from such an institution, to exercise his or her right, to practise the profession for which the requisite qualifications, recognized by the law, have been obtained.
A university don once told this newspaper that the reason behind the hysteria against private universities by the likes of the GMOA and State university undergraduates is that they fear that a graduate from a private university will do better than them because of his/hers superior knowledge of English, compared to theirs.
If the phobia is English and not private university education, the Yahapalana Government, with aid from friendly countries, multilateral institutions and the domestic and foreign private sector should fix this problem, starting from the kindergarten, as a priority. Such a move, at the eve of national elections, will garner it votes. The masses now realize the folly of 1956 and its anti-English ‘pogrom’.

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