The three-party Memorandum-of-Understanding (MOU) to bury forever the saga that has been the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) is with the Attorney-General (AG) and will be released to the public next week, the Sunday Times learns. The MOU signed on December 30 by the government, the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology [...]


SAITM issue: Harsha explains three-party MOU to be made public next week


The three-party Memorandum-of-Understanding (MOU) to bury forever the saga that has been the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) is with the Attorney-General (AG) and will be released to the public next week, the Sunday Times learns.

One of the many protests against SAITM. File pic

The MOU signed on December 30 by the government, the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) and SAITM has been sent to the AG to look at the legal aspects and will be made public next week, said National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, when asked by the Sunday Times why the MOU was being kept a secret.

Dr. de Silva headed the nine-member committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena on October 29, last year, to end the SAITM issue and bring about a solution amicable to all.

While there were rumblings and mumblings about the MOU among many quarters involved in the SAITM issue, Dr. de Silva, when asked said that the ‘sunset’ mechanism has been proposed for the whole of SAITM. (The Sunday Times reported the protests against the solution last week)

When the Sunday Times pointed out that Dr. de Silva’s mandate should only have covered the controversy-ridden private medical faculty, he stressed that when they tried to structure the financial transaction, they found it impossible to isolate it because the assets and the liabilities were common. “All financials are in one entity. The loan doesn’t say this part is for the Medical Faculty and this is for the Engineering Faculty. The loans taken are in the billions, both for the medical faculty and for the hospital (Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital).”

People criticise me and throw mud at me without knowing the complexity of the problem, he pointed out, explaining that the committee had to consider all aspects from the extreme groups to parents, from the banks to the government side. The medical faculty cannot be taken as a separate entity because the medical faculty, the hospital and the others are all linked. They fall under one entity, financial-wise, including assets such as buildings.

He recaptures what happened over the latter half of last year and says that the first committee he headed came up with some proposals which were handed over to President Sirisena who then studied them and brought in amendments.Thereafter, President Sirisena appointed the nine-member committee, through a communiqué on October 29, to work out the details of implementation.

The main points are:

  •  The assets and liabilities, staff and students of SAITM will “lock, stock and barrel” be transferred to SLIIT to form an entity that will be different to SAITM because the protests against SAITM were the issues of ‘quality’ — that it did not meet quality standards and that it was a kade — a profit-making enterprise. This is the ‘sunset’ part of the solution.
  •  A new entity to carry out medical education that is a not-for-profit institution, which would be in keeping with the government’s policy for some amount of non-state medical education. This is the ‘sunrise’ part of the solution.


The issue of quality will be sorted out with the minimum standards for medical education and training as defined by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) being met. The issue of profit-making will be settled as it will be a not-for-profit institution.

Asked what has happened to the fees charged when admitting students to the medical faculty of SAITM, he said that the money had been utilised for operational expenses, to build the hospital, to offer scholarships and for many things in running the enterprise.

Getting down to basics, Dr. de Silva says that “all assets and all liabilities and students and staff” will be taken over by SLIIT. The earlier owners of SAITM, Dr. Neville Fernando and his family, will have nothing to do with the new entity. They will not be on the board, not in management and have no involvement whatsoever….“it will be zero, zilch. They are completely out of the picture,” he said.

There will be no screening of the SAITM students, for if they meet the minimum admission requirements, whatever was existing at that time, they will be taken in, he said, adding that what degree the students will secure is outside the scope of the committee and the matter is currently in court for the three batches which have already secured the SAITM Degree. The other batches who will be part of the ‘sunset’ institute will receive a degree from whatever name is given to that institute. This degree will only be given until the final SAITM student moves out of the institute. This degree will only be given until the final SAITM student moves out of the institute and then this entity will cease to exist. The ‘sunrise’ institute will be the new entity to which students will be admitted from 2019. They will get the degree from whatever name that institute takes.

According to Dr. de Silva the minimum standards for medical education and training as set out by the SLMC have not undergone any changes. The criticism has been over the admission criteria which is the job of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The SLMC has proposed that the admission criteria should be based on the results of the last student eligible to enter a state medical faculty the previous year. The current entry criteria are 3 minimum passes for universities. What they have agreed is to review this in the coming three years and to set the criteria at 2Cs and 1S. This has been generally agreed upon by the SLMC. The committee has no view on this, as this matter has to be sorted out by the UGC.

When asked whether SLIIT has begun the process of seeking SLMC recognition as it is hoping to recruit its first batch of medical students in 2019 to the ‘sunrise’ institute, Dr. de Silva said no. That process would have to begin once the AG’s views have been given on the committee’s implementation mechanism.

To the query how and why SLIIT was selected, without being an institution that offers medical degrees or having any medical teaching experience, the Deputy Minister said that Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella had asked SLIIT whether they were interested because that seemed to be the only non-state, not-for-profit university of repute as an option. SLIIT has been in operation for 20 years and thousands of students have passed out from there and the SLIIT degree is recognised.

SLIIT has been overseeing lots of courses in engineering and management. It’s a big institution and they have been successful so far. This can be taken as proof that SLIIT would be able to manage the task of overseeing medical teaching as well, was his view.

SLIIT, meanwhile, will use the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital to provide clinical training to the medical students, while the government will also allocate state hospitals for such training to overcome any gaps that may arise.

When asked whether the state medical faculties were asked whether they would accept the SAITM students, he was categorical that they were asked but the response was a strong no, stressing that the committee had their representation in the form of the Vice Chancellors of Colombo and Sri Jayewardenepura and Deans of the Medical Faculties of Colombo and Ragama.

To a query about the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU), he said that he himself held a two-hour discussion with the KDU authorities and it was an “absolute no”.

The other members of the nine-member Harsha de Silva Committee were Health Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa; Higher Education Ministry Secretary D.C. Dissanayake; University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva; Sri Lankan Medical Council (SLMC) President Prof. Colvin Goonaratna; Colombo University Vice Chancellor Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake; Sri Jayewardenepura University Vice Chancellor Prof. Sampath Amaratunga; Colombo Medical Faculty Dean Prof. Jennifer Perera; and Ragama Medical Faculty Dean Prof. Nilanthi de Silva.

The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS), the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the Federation of Faculty of Medicine Teachers’ Association (FFMTA), the Government Medical Students’ Parents’ Association and the SAITM Medical Students’ Parents’ Association were observers at the three meetings that the nine-member committee held “to debate and improve” the solution .

What role will SLIIT play?
The Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) will take over both the assets and liabilities of SAITM and the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital, said Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, explaining that while SLIIT will own SAITM, the hospital will be owned by the government’s Health Ministry.“SLIIT may end up paying some money to Neville Fernando as the government is not in the business of expropriating private enterprises. Part of the transaction in terms of the cost is really the hospital. The government will receive Rs. 3.2 as it currently stands from SLIIT and the government receives an asset (the hospital) at no cost,” he said, adding that SLIIT is taking on the liabilities including the repayment of the loan, with the Bank of Ceylon being part of the agreement.In turn, SLIIT will use the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital for their clinical training needs. After the loan is paid back, SLIIT will be charged a fee for each student who uses the hospital for clinical training. If there are inadequacies, the government will allocate other state hospitals for the training of their students.

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