Please do not tell me that we do not have crooks in Higher education.
by Dr SLM. Rifai
( March 19, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Both opponents and proponents of SAITM have been coming up with their vigorous arguments. This subject has been debated by politicians, academics and public in many forums. People of different political parties have been demonstrating for and against SAITM. Both arguments have some valid points but which argument over weights today in this modern world? Which argument is most viable and most practical one today in this modern globalized and competing world of brain powers and human resources. I will share my thought on this issue objectively without any bias.
Opponents argue that they want to secure free education, they want to maintain the quality of medical education in Sri Lanka, they want to protect the rights of patients in Sri Lanka and they want to protect and preserve the integrity of medical profession. They come up with many good and valid points. I fully agree with them in some of their points. To privatise medical education in a country like Sri Lanka would be dangerous. It has been claimed in India you can buy any degree certificates even MBBS certificates with bribes. We do not want to see that in Sri Lanka. Please do not tell me that we do not have crooks in Higher education.
Some crooks may try to make money out of this private medical colleges. With political influences in Sri Lanka, not only medical degrees you could buy PhDs in Sri Lanka. We have seen this in Sri Lanka in recent past. The quality and integrity of university education is fading away in Sri Lanka slowly and gradually. Sometime less qualified people are recruited into university post with political influence. Recent events in Jaffna University is a good example for this political influence. Politicians have been influencing in public institutions, schools, universities, public offices and in many government departments in Sri Lanka. This is not a secret in Sri Lanka and everyone knows this. Except JVP all political parties will use their political influence in these public affairs. I see some valid points in these arguments. No doubt some unqualified and unsuitable candidates may get into medical profession with back door influence. There are some valid points in this arguments and government should hold its grip on this. if it does not we may lose the reputation of this profession in Sri Lanka soon with establishment of private medical colleges.
Yet, the proponents of private medical colleges argue that private medical colleges give Sri Lanka students some golden opportunities to do medicine in their home country rather than going abroad to do medicine. This facility of private medical college saves their money, and facilitates their studies. They argue that they meet all requirements to do medicine. They argue that UGC sets some strict rules and conditions to enrol students into private medical colleges. All those requirements have been met by those selected students. The country saves millions of rupees of foreign exchange with establishment of private medical college. Parents are scared to send their children abroad to do medical degrees for many reasons. Specially, many girls are missing out medical profession because parents do not want to send them abroad. For this reason, they argue that private medical college is a must in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan educationalists and politicians have utterly failed to produce some good educational policies and strategies to meet increasing demands for higher education. Higher education ministry continuously failed to invest and allocate enough fund for higher education. Of course, 30 years of unwanted war has done its damage in all aspects of Sri Lanka’s developments. Sri Lanka could not invest enough money for education due to this continuous war for 30 years. Now war is over and still we do not have good educational strategies for our future. A great amount of human resource/human skills/ human capacities are beings wasted. Still UGC is implementing some of outdated sets of rules and regulations. Most of those rules and regulations were designed many decades ago in accordance with the needs and requirements of those old days. Today, in this modern virtual world of modern technology and science, the philosophy of education, its dimension, its scopes, its connotations and its parameters all are dramatically changed. More importantly, in areas of higher education. UGC needs to update its strategies, policies and its rules and regulations in higher educations.
SAITM episode clearly illustrates UGC’s failure to plan for future of higher education in Sri Lanka. With rapid increase in student numbers in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan government must provide with higher education facilities for future generations. Sri Lanka is rich in its human resources and human potentialities. Among all Asian countries, the quality of Sri Lankan Human resource is one of best in Asia: yet, we have failed to enhance the human potentialities of Sri Lanka for more than 6 decades since our independence. Consider How many thousands A/L students are left out from higher education opportunities each year?
Less than 15% of all students who sit for A/L examination get a chance to continue higher education. 85% of students’ communities are left out from higher education opportunities. Most of school dropouts go to ME to do odd jobs or to work as house maids otherwise, they do some odd jobs in Sri Lanka. UGC, Higher Education ministry and academics all should take some responsibility and develop some mechanisms to help all those drop outs. If there is not enough public fund to offer them higher education opportunities in Sri Lanka Sri Lankan government should have some solid policies to set up some private colleges, universities and institutions. It is responsibilities of government to encourage, persuade and motivate private sectors to provide higher education in Sri Lanka not only in medicine but also in all fields of education.
We are living in this global village and globalisation has made tremendous changes in this world. Today, modern economy is shaped and moulded with knowledge based economy. We may not have enough tea to export or enough diamonds to export or enough rubber to export. Yet, we have enough human resources to benefit from. Today, Sri Lanka’s top foreign currency/ exchanges no longer come from tea exports or Rubber exports rather it is Sri Lanka’s migrant communities that contribute greatly to Sri Lankan economy today. Yet, what we have been doing for the last 50 years, we have been sending house maids and drivers and unskilled workers to ME and abroad, we have failed to enhance the potentiality of our human resources. We are paying the price for the mistakes of our politicians and policy makers for the last 40 years. They failed to invest money on human capital for a long time in Sri Lanka.
If government cannot do this, opportunities should be given to private sectors to train and educate our next generations in all fields. If we do not do this, other countries will make use of this vacuum. Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries provide private education and take on thousands of international students from many countries. They all make use of this vacuum and loophole in our education system. They all know well we do not have a comprehensive system to cater education to all in Sri Lanka. We have been sending many of our students to Bangladesh for higher education for last few decades. Because, we have failed to develop an inclusive system to provide higher education to most our student community.
I know well Sri Lanka cannot afford to provide higher education to all free of charge and yet, Sri Lankan government could encourage private sectors to step in. otherwise Sri Lanka will go against basic freedom of people. In this modern free world, students should have freedom whatever course they want to do. If they have money and qualification and motivation to become health professionals, government should encourage, and support them rather than blocking human potentialities.
I think that arguments of proponents to set up private medical colleges and private universities in Sri Lanka overweight the arguments of opponents of private universities in many ways. Pros and cons of this issue must be studied from different perspectives and from different socio-economic, political and medical perspectives. Look at this issues from the perspectives of students who enrolled in SAITM. I look at this issue from human resource perspective of future generations of Sri Lanka. The opponents have argued that not enough clinical facilities/ staffs, and other facilities to train SAITM medical students. It is responsibilities of government and UGC to provide all these facilities. UGC should integrate private higher education into its system and administration so that it could hold its grip on them. It should monitor, guide and gauge progress all higher educational institutes in Sri Lanka and yet, UGC did not develop any good mechanism to do this evaluation process yet.
I think that not only one SAITM but many more private colleges should come up with best higher education system in Sri Lanka in many fields to meet the demands of higher education locally and internationally. I cannot understand why some narrow minded medical professionals and doctors oppose the establishment of private medical colleges in Sri Lanka? It appears that they fear that their reputation will go down with increasing numbers of medical doctors in Sri Lanka. They fear that their earnings will be reduced and they fear for their name and status in the community. I think that some of them oppose SAITM for these personal interests. Why should they interfere in government’s policy making in higher education?