2016 Aug 25
by Vandana Hiranand
Living in Sri Lanka these days makes it impossible to be unaffected by the number of protests happening constantly. Whether you are part of this battle or not, all Sri Lankans have been plagued by the traffic holdups, loud commotions and large banners placed all around, declaring their war on private education. Although state university students claim to be fighting for a cause they truly believe in, we must ask ourselves whether there truly is a valid reasoning behind their goal.
The endless battle has largely revolved around the university SAITM (The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine), the only private medical school within the country. While SAITM started off with an affiliation to a Russian university as part of a twin program, this system was not allowed by the SLMC (Sri Lanka Medical Council). Therefore, SAITM now provides independent degrees, which follow the local syllabus here in Sri Lanka.
State University students have rallied against SAITM, staging protests all over the country, in an effort to shut down or nationalize the institute. These students proclaim that SAITM students are buying their degrees, lecturers, and are hurting the free education system within the country. Yet, they neglect to mention that most professors who lecture at SAITM are the very ones who lecture at various state universities across the country. Since the syllabus and lecturers at SAITM are the same as that of state universities, it is clear that the marking system is unbiased. This is supported by the proof that many SAITM students do fail their examinations at various points throughout the program.
Additionally, the GMOA (Government Medical Officers Association) has joined the protest against SAITM, to allegedly protect the patients of the country, claiming that the institute is of poor quality and will adversely affect healthcare in the nation – claims which have not been supported by reputable evidence. The GMOA has been protesting by going on strike, a decision which has in itself been affecting the healthcare provided to patients at various hospitals.
These protests have not stopped at SAITM. Many private institutions for higher studies such as NSBM (National School of Business Management) and the Royal Institute of Colombo have been facing similar protests. Private education is being targeted all around the country, under the statement that students are buying their degrees, rather than working hard to achieve their goals. These students are merely paying money to receive quality education, such as to receive the services at SAITM which far outrank services offered by many universities overseas as well.
Meanwhile, students studying in these private institutions have retaliated and have released many statements expressing their views on this matter. They have mentioned the reasons and advantages behind having a privatized medical university within Sri Lanka. Students who have studied in International schools are not provided the option of entering state universities. As such, those who wish to study these subjects would have no choice but to study abroad at a very costly amount. For students who want to stay within the country and work within Sri Lanka, private institutions are the best possible option.
Furthermore, gaining entry into state universities is increasingly difficult. Due to the variances in the district selection process, many students who have sat for the local A-Level examinations find it difficult to gain entry into state universities, even after obtaining excellent results. Having institutes within the country which may provide them with the option of continuing studies in Sri Lanka is an advantage. Furthermore, institutions such as SAITM can pave the way for foreign students to travel to Sri Lanka for studies, which can be advantageous for the country as a whole.
State University students are insistent on their desire to nationalize SAITM and shut down every other private institute within the country. They believe that the existence of these institutes is unfair towards those who cannot afford to study at them. Their goals are to increase the number of students accepted into state universities and to increase the number of these universities as well – these being rather acceptable demands, of course. However, private establishments cannot take the blame for the lack of entry within government universities, and shutting them down would have a negative impact within the country. Rumors have also been flying, stating that the SAITM board is considering converting into a semi-government university. However, no concrete statement regarding this rumor has been released yet.
This is accompanied by the argument on job availability within the country. Many state university students have claimed that those being educated at private universities would eventually gain the jobs which belong to state university students, increasing job competition in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, those who study at these private universities such as SAITM have replied, saying that since both parties simply wish to serve and work within the country, such discrimination between both is unnecessary and uncalled for.
The question is: will waging a war against private education really help to increase the educational services received by the state university students? Action must be implemented from within the government itself, to better the free education system. The staging of such protests doesn’t appear to have a positive change where it is needed in the first place.