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Friday, January 1, 2016

SAITM: The way forward - A letter by Sanath Lamabadusuriya

As you probably know, there has been a string of correspondence on the controversial SAITM issue in recent times. As there were opposing and supportive viewpoints, I have refrained from posting all of them. However, since this is authored by our own batch member Sanath Lamabadusuriya and as he himself has requested me to do so, I am posting this letter from Sanath. After all, this is our batch blog! This is from today's Island newspaper.


SAITM: The way forward


During the past few weeks there have been many articles, editorials and letters regarding SAITM (South Asian Institute for Technology and Medicine).

Most have opposed it for a variety of reasons. At the outset I would like to mention that I have no vested interest in it, although several invitations were made for me to join. I retired from the Colombo Medical Faculty in 2008 and since last April I have being teaching the Rajarata Medical Students in Anuradhapura, part time. Logistically and financially it would have been better for me to teach at SAITM, but I thought Rajarata served the greater national need.

I have participated at the registration examination for foreign medical graduates (earlier called Act16 and now called ERPM) conducted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) since the 1970's, and therefore I am able to comment on the standards of their education acquired abroad. Some of them, mainly from countries where the medium of instruction is not English, were of a poor standard and failed repeatedly. In excess of a thousand students sit for this examination each year. What this reflects is that hundreds of our own students travel abroad for medical studies. This is obviously because of the lack of places for them in the state medical schools, although the number of schools have gradually increased over the years to eight in total. In addition, there is the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University which is semi-governmental. Therefore there is a need for private medical education in Sri Lanka. The entry criteria for such private medical schools should be similar to the state medical schools. The cutoff point of the Z score at the A level examination should be the lowest mark used by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for the district quota category or educationally under privileged areas. Scholarships should be offered to the 5% to 10% of students who are less well off after means testing.

The criticisms of SAITM include inadequate entry criteria. This can be remedied by a program of rehabilitation for current students and rigorous future entry criteria and exit exams. (If there are such students already admitted to SAITM, they should be weeded out). The SLMC inspection team commented that SAITM students have insufficient clinical exposure. The recent directive by the Supreme Court for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to allocate the Avissawella Base Hospital and Kaduwela MOH area for teaching purposes would rectify this issue to a great extent. A component of the fees paid by SAITM students for utilisation of such facilities should be given to MOH staff involved in teaching. The SAITM Hospital in Malabe is huge, but is under-utilised perhaps because of its location. It has excellent staff consisting of recently retired MOH consultants and University teachers on long leave, who are comparable with staff of the state medical colleges.

The critics of Private Medical Education in Sri Lanka are silent about the entry criteria to foreign medical schools. The UGC should monitor the entry to Private Medical Schools (PMS) in Sri Lanka and the SLMC should keep a close check on the standards of teaching. At the examinations, external examiners from other medical faculties should participate so as to maintain standards.

I strongly feel that if the above steps are taken, we could have Private Medical Schools functioning in Sri Lanka for the benefit of hundreds of students who were short of a few marks to gain entry to a state medical school. It would save valuable foreign exchange lost to the country and our parents would have close contact with their children for five to six years. It would also attract foreign students who could be charged a higher fee and such funds utilised to offer scholarships to local students.

In the 1980s the North Colombo Medical College was established by the Sri Lanka College of General Practitioners which was the first PMS in Sri Lanka in recent times .It produced many excellent graduates some of whom are consultants in the MOH and members of the academic staff of state medical colleges. It was taken over by the government when it tried to confer the University of Colombo degree to their graduates. As a result of this venture the infra-structure of the Ragama Teaching Hospital improved tremendously. The same thing may happen to the Avissawella Base Hospital.

Prof. Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya


  1. I am not aware of all the issues but what Lama has said here makes good sense to me.

  2. The issues are too complex and too far reaching for me to make a useful comment. I seem to agree with Sanath without knowing its long and chequered history.

  3. Agree with ND & Mahen.
    I have been too far behind with the 'local politics' by being out of the scene for too long to make any tangible comments as well.
    Thanks Sanath for your input and wish you a Happy New Year.
    Good luck to everybody who will come up with some sort of acceptable solution to this complex issue.

  4. Thank you ND, Mahendra and Razaque for your comments. What is charged by SAITM, Malabe is a fraction of the cost overseas

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