An Echelon Media Company
Monday May 17th, 2021

Sri Lanka education freedoms, choice to be expanded with ‘sunrise’ medical college

ECONOMYNEXT – The establishment of a non-profit medical college with minimum education standards will expand education freedom and choice with parents now spending over 100 million US dollars to send children overseas, Deputy Economic Policy Minister Harsha de Silva said.

The South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) will be closed and a new non-profit college with no shareholders and minimum education and training standards set by the medical fraternity will be established.

De Silva said the new non-profit college will increase choice and freedoms, as is seen in developed countries.

The SAITM was a private college, set up during the Rajapaksa regime, which the Government Medical Officers Association went on strike to close after a new administration came to power in 2015 giving more freedom to protest, claiming it was not up to standards.

Standard Concern

De Silva said there were two concerns, one that training standards may fall short and because it was a for profit college, SAITM may be tempted cut corners reducing standards.

But minimum standards have now been set by the medical fraternity which is expected to be gazetted soon, he said. De Silva is heading a committee to solve the SAITM issue, but standards are not set by them.

The operations of SAITM including 800 odd students who were studying in four intakes will be taken over by a ‘sunset’ college which will operate for five years, under the supervision of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, an existing non-profit fee levying college.

"The setting of minimum standards will address the question of quality", de Silva said. "There was concerns about for profit status as it was felt that a for-profit college may cut corners to make money. Both concerns had been addressed."

But critics say the GMOA, which frequently strikes for political purposes, endangering the lives of patients while members engage in private practice, simply wants to preserve it grip on the medical profession in the style of a medieval artisan’s guild preserving their privileges.

The fear is that doctors who pass out from private college may not join the association, loosening its grip on the medical system, critics say.

The Sri Lanka Medical Council, a standards body, the Supreme Court said given a clean bill to a medical college at the state-connected Kothelawala Defence Academy before it was even built, while raising questions about SAITM.

Tax Payer Funding

In Sri Lanka educations freedoms of young people have been restricted due to a state monopoly in degree awarding. Most universities are run with taxes taken by force from citizens. All medical colleges are run with taxes, and students earn degrees at other people’s expense.

Most GMOA members had also earned degrees at tax-payer expense. Also opposing students of SAITM who were paying their own way, were undergraduates of state universities who were studying at tax payer expense.

Many of them critics say are misled by Marxist political forces.

Students in a fee levying college on the other hand will pay their own way, without being a burden to society.

The state monopoly in degree awarding had reduced higher education opportunities, and choice, keeping economic development back for the entire country, forcing parents to send children abroad at great cost.

In a collapse of the higher education system, only about 20,000 students have places to study at tax-payer funded universities out of 400,000 who sit for a high school exam.

The SLIIT is already helping drive an expansion in the information technology sector.

Meanwhile de Silva said at the moment, parents who were rich enough were sending kids to countries ranging from Nepal, to Estonia for students to get a medical education.

"About 100 million dollars is spent a year by parents to send children abroad," de Silva said. "Many of them also do not come back."

De Silva said the world’s best universities ranging from Harvard, or Johns Hopkins in the US or Oxford in the UK were not state agencies.

Non-state, Non-profit

"They are independent non-profit colleges," de Silva explained. "Non-profits means the profits or the surplus earned is not distributed to shareholders. There are endowments which fund the students."

"In an advanced country students can choose between a private college or a state university. That is the freedom, the choice."

De Silva said the surplus of the ‘sun-rise’ college that will start admitting students from 2019 will use any surpluses to fund an endowment where students may get scholarships in the future.

In Sri Lanka university entrance is decided by advanced level examination set by a state body, equal to a high school diploma.

There is no separate non-state university entrance exam like SAT in the US. At the moment there is no attempt to change the system.

The cabinet of ministers had also set a minimum education qualification for entry to the ‘sunrise’ college which will start.

Economic analysts say unlike the GMOA, medieval craft guilds (as well as the church) were a driving force in setting up universities in Europe including Oxford.

The advent of fee-levying colleges (as opposed to the original ‘halls’) in about 1200 AD, led to an explosion of knowledge and new thinking including in Oxford. (Colombo/Jan22/2018)

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