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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

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Opening of private medical faculties

By introducing the Z score criteria, the authorities ensured reserving of a reasonable quota of the places available in the local university system for the students from the educationally backward districts. However, the fact remains that in the medical field; annually the doors are shut for 9,000 odd students who have minimum stipulated qualifications to enter the medical faculties.

Further, while a large number of students who have poorer A /L results gain entry annually to medical faculties, many students who have better A/L results (such as two As and one B) are denied admission. Those who are denied are not necessary from the affluent families. They are sons and daughters of the lower middle class (government servants, teachers, university academics themselves and other professionals).

I know of a number of such persons who have not been successful in admitting their children (who studied in the national schools in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and Matara etc.) to local Medical and Engineering faculties due Z score based selection system. As a result, in desperation, they have been forced to send their children to foreign universities. At very recent television discussion on the same subject, it was revealed that a daughter of a prominent Cabinet Minister (who himself is a well educated professional) too had been sent to a Medical Faculty in Bangladesh. I am also a parent who has gone through the same predicament.

Foreign universities

When my son indicated his wish to become a doctor while he was attending Ananda College, Colombo (which was my alma mater too), I tried to persuade him to move to a school in Gampaha district (where we reside), but unfortunately he was adamant to remain in Ananda College saying that he will somehow obtain the three As. However in the end he ended up with two A passes and one B pass with a Z score of 1.94 or something. The cut off level for Colombo was a few points above and he did not get a place.

First option open then to him was to try the A/Ls for a second time. I discussed this with several knowledgeable persons but in the end the conclusion was ‘how could you guarantee that my son will get three ‘A’s in the second attempt?’ Then we went for the second option and visited several agencies who arrange placements in foreign universities. I also obtained a copy of the booklet published by the SLMC on the courses recognized by them.

However, nobody could guarantee of a time frame that my son could pass ACT 16 even if he completed the medical degree in one of the universities recognized by the SLMC. Hence, after considering Russia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and China, we finally explored the possibility of sending him to Australia where we were advised that obtaining of employment will not be difficult. Next hurdle was to show adequate liquid assets to the Embassy to obtain the VISA. This was done with great difficulty after submitting a number of documents: my assets, my wife’s assets, assets of my wife’s unmarried sister and the letters of commitment of all three of us.

Course fees

Direct entry to a medical faculty in Australia was found to cost about 4.5 million per year for course fees alone: for five years, the total of tuition fees came to about LKR 25 million. This amount was totally beyond our reach. The facilitators then proposed that my son could initially enroll for a three year Bio Science degree and once it was completed, he would be eligible to apply for residency. Then he could pay at the residents’ rate which was half of the International rate. We settled for that option and sent him there. But when he completed the three-year course and applied for the residency he found that he was short of five marks or something. Then he was advised to top up with a Bio Science Honors to obtain the balance marks. He completed it in the following year and obtained a first class.

Unfortunately, by that time the residency rules had undergone changes and the authorities asked for two years work experience, to consider giving residency. Then he applied for several jobs with a view of fulfilling this requirement and returned home due to expiry of his Student VISA.

Rigorous interview

To fund for his four year course, I spent all my earnings/savings during that period barring a meagre amount spent for family expenses. I also sold my car. Disposed of some shares I had bought at the IPO of the SLT. In all I spent about LKR 10 million for his four years in Australia.

While he was going through an indecisive period back at home last December, a party from Monash University Malaysia branch came to interview some prospective applicants. I came to know about this event and attended it with my son. There I got an opportunity to talk to the Medical Professor who had come. After I explained my son’s predicament, he agreed to interview to him and after a rigorous interview, he went back and sent a placement for my son in the Sunway Campus.

Course fees per semester in the Sunway Campus are LKR 1.86 million. With the proceeds of the sale of some old rubber trees of a small land belonging to my wife and after borrowing some money from her sister, we managed to pay the first semester fees for his studies in Malaysia. Before the second Semester was due, we wanted to sell that land. But due to involvement of several brokers, it did not materialize. In the end, my wife was forced to sell her car and pay the second Semester fees.

University academics

These days we are frantically trying to sell the said land since we will need another LKR 1.9 million by December for the third Semester payment. By the time he completes the five year medical degree in Malaysia, about LKR 20 million worth of foreign exchange would be drained out from the country. Together with the money drained out for the Bio Science course in Australia, it would be LKR 30 million.

Why I wrote all these details about the agony we are going through to fulfill our son’s wish is to give an indication of the impact to a child and his/her family, of a difference between one ‘A’ pass and a ‘B’ pass of the A/L could do. I am sure that our son and we are not the only family in Sri Lanka going through similar ordeal. There will be thousands of families of teachers, engineers, accountants, doctors, university academics and the like who are with us in the same boat. I know of a former UGC chairman who was in the same position, while he was still holding that position.

According to UGC sources, about 10, 000 students are currently studying in foreign universities. If each of them spend on average LKR 2.5 million per year, about LKR 25 billion is annually drains out of the country.

Most of those children who go for higher studies abroad will never come to serve the country after securing employment in those countries. These huge losses could not be easily written off.

Asian countries

According to UGC and the Higher Education Minister, they aim at setting up of private universities of high standards for local students as well as for the students from other Asian countries. By allowing the setting up of these institutions, by way of Taxes etc. the government should be able to rake in sufficient funds for the upgrading of government universities. For example, the medical faculties of Rajarata and Eastern Universities are said to be functioning without Teaching Hospitals. The GMOA that is calling shots at the standards of Malabe medical faculty is silent about such vital shortcomings. From what they are doing and the way they are acting, I find a great similarity to that of the Lanka Private Bus Owner’s Association and their vociferous president Gemunu Wijeratna.

I believe that the very same doctors who are in the GMOA clamouring for the abolition of private medical faculties will face the same problem if and when their children sit for the A Levels from the schools in Colombo, Kandy, Galle or Matara or Kalutara eventually.

It is my opinion that the root cause of the manifold objections raised against the setting up of private universities is due to the fear of the children and the parents of rural areas (who are benefitted by the free education and Z Score selection system) that it will pave the way for those who pass out from the private universities to grab the limited number of vacancies available in the government service.

Let the authorities verify this fact by having frank discussions with those agitators.

If it is proved correct (I strongly believe that it will), let the government bring legislation that those who pass out from the private medical faculties will not be entitled for appointments in the recruitment grade of the government service. If that assurance is given, I am sure the GMOA will not agitate about the quality of those medical graduates. That aspect could be left to be settled between the SLMC and the authorities of those medical faculties.

Instead of going through the humiliation of seeking of positions in the government service, let the private medical graduates go abroad and practice their chosen profession send some money for the betterment of medical faculties in the local universities.

Let the rural poor serve their kith and kin by securing employment in the government service. It will be good if the GMOA in the same spirit could prevent their members in the government service patronizing the private hospitals where patients are often forced to pay exorbitant charges against their will. Instead they should devote more time and energy to get the services in the government hospitals upgraded to be able to provide a real 24 hour services as per the wish of the President.

 

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