Economic Development Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva said the Government would be able to come up with a “compromise agreement” with all stakeholders regarding the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) in Malabe within the next couple of weeks.
“We have almost arrived at a workable solution based on some modalities like trust, in which the public and private sector together would be able to get SAITM under the same name or some other name back into operation,” he said at the final session of the Sri Lanka Economic Summit held yesterday.
He pointed out that the issue was to find out how the Government was going to move away from the current ambiguity they face and find a way in which all parties would be satisfied.
“There cannot be one position that people are not willing to shift at all. Hence, we need to be able to compromise so that we can have a sustainable solution,” he added.
Noting that there is broad-based support from different stakeholders, he said the objective was to somehow find a way to ensure that the opportunity exists not only for this private medical institution but for other private medical universities to operate as long as they provide a quality medical education.
National Human Resource Development Council Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody noted the minimum standards were the biggest concern of the GMOA with regards to SAITM.
“I think the Government is in the process of working that out. I think within the next week or two they are going to solve it. Any private university has to make that investment to deliver the competency level that the medical council desires. Thus, I think once that falls into place, I am sure the GMOA and the doctors will look at it positively,” he said.
Furthermore, he pointed out that of the 80% of the students sitting for the advanced level examination less than 1% students got selected to study medical education, adding that there was a need for medical professionals in the country.
“I am sure that a lot of these issues can be resolved. The feeling I get is that if the Government can hold 51% stake, the private sector would come in and I am sure the medical fraternity will also support it,” Weerakkody added.
However, Dr. De Silva, responding to the comment, said: “What we are working on I do not want to mention here, especially on how much percentage each party will want to hold. I will leave it out to further discussion and agree on something that is workable. But the issue is whether these universities should be making profits or not. This is something that has been discussed a lot.”
The Deputy Minister emphasised that the question was whether private medical education institutions were going to be profit-making enterprises or not.
International Trade State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe claimed that although the GMOA cited standards, the actual reason was the curtailment of job guarantees that medical students have at present.
“It is a broad issue with the doctors because it is the only profession that guarantees a job once the degree is completed. With private universities coming in there is a fear of losing that job guarantee,” he explained.
Calling the issue very “sensitive”, Senasinghe however asserted that private medical education was essential for the country.
He spoke on how sceptical he was as a law student back when private law colleges in the country started mushrooming and pointed out that those institutions continued as there was no guarantee of jobs for lawyers like there is for doctors.