The real truth about SAITM
Interview with Dr. Sameera Senaratne : CEO - SAITM, NFTH

Date : January 29, 2017

"The professors, senior lecturers, specialists, and consultants at the South Asian Institute of Technology & Medicine (SAITM), are among the best in the country. The facilities and quality of teaching at SAITM cannot be compared to the situation in some of the state medical faculties which even lack professors for some of their depts. In SAITM and at the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) we have professors in every department"

So said Dr. Senaratne, CEO of SAITM & NFTH, at a media briefing, in response to question pertaining to the quality of education at SAITM.

"All of our present professors and lecturers have served and taught in govt. medical faculties and hospitals in Sri Lanka. Some are retired, others teach at SAITM even during their sabbatical leave, and although they have the choice of visiting foreign universities, they opt to engage in a service to the country by teaching medical students at SAITM. We have some of the most renowned professors in Sri Lanka, such as Professor Deepal Weerasekera (Obstetrics & Gynecology), Prof. Deepthi Samarage (Peadiatrics), Prof. Kolitha Sellahewa (Medicine), Prof. Anura Weerasinghe (Physiology), Prof D.B. Nugegoda, (Community Medicine) and Snr. Professor Sriyani Ekanayake (Parasitology)" explained Senaratne.

Referring to allegations that SAITM students do not have the requisite qualification, Dr. Senaratne pointed out that such accusations were nothing but malicious propaganda to disrupt SAITMís steady progress . "ÖAt first, in 2009, our admissions policy was to adhere to the clear criteria laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in admitting students for the MBBS programme. That meant those students with three S passes at the GCE ĎA" Levels were eligible for the MBBS programme.

Subsequently, consequent to the steady increase in our intakes, and especially on the advice and recommendations of SAITM professors and faculty, in 2013, SAITM decided to raise the minimum qualifications for entry to entitling students who had obtained two C passes and one S pass at the GCE ĎA" level examination. Now, let me stress here that although this is the minimum qualification, you will not be able to see too many of such students. Why? Because we have at present at least 12 % who have obtained three A passes at the ĎA Level exam and about 35% who obtained two A passes and one B pass. We also have, for instance, students who have been short of 0.001 on the Z score. We also have a student who was placed first in the global London GCE Advanced levels in Biology".

On the question of SAITM, being disparagingly referred to as a degree shop, Dr Senaratne explained that Dr Neville Fernando, the forefather of the SAITM and NFTH, founded both institutions with the future of the youth in Sri Lanka in mind and certainly not as a profit making venture. "I am aware there are many such rumors being spread throughout the country. Dr. Fernando had invested his personal funds in Asha Central Hospital and when it was sold, utilized Rs 800 million to set up SAITM."

One must understand that SAITM is not only the medical faculty. We also have Engineering, Management, ICT & Media faculties. It is a composite of four faculties, where the main faculty is Medicine with more than 1,000 thousand students. SAITM has all the requisites a university needs to function well. One of the accusations against us is that the Chairman had started SAITM solely with a profit motive, and hence students have no proper facilities. "I can proudly state that that in comparison to state universities, SAITM boasts of facilities of a very high standard" stressed Dr Senaratne.

Tracing the evolution of the MBBS programme, Senaratne clarified the real truth behind the disinformation campaign against SAITM and the NFTH .

"When we commenced our medical programme, many alleged that Dr. Neville Fernando did so without any plan - that if there is a Medical College, there should be a Teaching Hospital as well. Dr Fernando is a doctor who also graduated from a medical faculty and not just an ordinary businessman. He has vast insight and experience. He is not that foolhardy to start a medical school without a teaching facility. The project proposal for SAITM included a medical school. However some key govt. officers told us that they were unable to accept the clinical teaching from a private hospital for students at a private medical school as it would be inadequate and thus it was necessary to liaise with government hospitals instead.

Although accusations are hurled at us of not having discussed issues with responsible stakeholders in this field before embarking on venture of such magnitude, the situation is quite to the contrary. When we began, Dr. Neville Fernando had discussions with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Higher Education, BOI, and the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and other responsible organizations. In addition, discussions were held with the officials of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). It was they who said that the private hospital clinical training was inadequate and therefore to link-up with govt. hospitals. We then went slow on building our own private hospital and established links with govt. hospitals. Both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Higher Education supported our endeavours", Dr. Senaratne explained.

"With the concurrence of the Governor of the Western Province, the use of Homagama, Talangama and Avissawella hospitals were permitted for our students. When we obtained the necessary permission, there were certain groups that were jealous, and began anti-SAITM protests and threatened to strike if our students went to govt. hospitals for clinical training. Thereafter our Chairman had no option but to set-up a private teaching hospital at his own expense and at that time, the partially constructed SAITM Engineering faculty, was gradually converted to a teaching hospital. What the Chairman did was to mortgage the SAITM buildings and land to the Bank of Ceylon, and obtained a Rs 2,000 million loan and thereafter built Sri Lankaís largest and only private medical teaching facility. This is the real truth about SAITM.

Responding to a question regarding the SLMC, Dr Senaratne said, "Two of our batches, have passed out from SAITM and students from the first batch has challenged the decision of the SLMC to disallow the granting of provisional registration to SAITM students. We say we need the SLMC to give permission for our students to take their rightful place as doctors in this country. If any shortcomings on our part are shown us, we are willing to rectify them with their assistance along with that of the health ministry of.

"We never say no to SLMC. We need a controlling body to regulate because without proper regulation we will have doctors without standards. There must be quality assurance. However, we oppose the duplicity of some members of the SLMC. For instance they appointed a committee to visit SAITM and ascertain the quality of our instruction. They made certain recommendations regarding some perceived shortcomings. If these recommendations are implemented, SAITM students are suitable for provisional registration was the position of the SLMC committee. It was clearly stated so in the report sent us. Strangely, by the time the report when into the hands of the highest authorities, they removed those recommendations and listed only the shortcomings. This is very regrettable. There are many eminent people in the SLMC but their voices are drowned by a small coterie" Dr Senaratne concluded.