Anti-SAITM protests a political gimmick?

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By 2017-10-15

By Methmalie Dissanayake

Since its inception, Medical Faculty of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) never failed to create news on a regular basis. Even after numerous trade union action and protest marches, the main stakeholders are yet to find a solution to the issue.

At the moment, steps have been taken to stop fresh enrolment and awarding of degrees at the SAITM Medical Faculty and a Court decision on the institute will be taken next month.

It is in this context that several hundred university students staged a protest march in Colombo against SAITM on 10 October.

As a result of the protest, heavy traffic congestion was reported and the Police used tear gas to disperse the students. Some 14 students were hospitalized and the Inter University Students' Federation Convener, Lahiru Weerasekara, and Ven. Tempitiye Sugathananda Thera were arrested the following day.

The students are firm on their stance that the SAITM Medical Faculty should be abolished immediately. There is no other solution to this issue, they say.

To support the 'struggle', Medical Faculty students of all State universities have not attended in lectures since last year. They also say that they will never go back to classrooms until they win their battle.

The Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) also stands with the university students. The GMOA staged several strikes protest against SAITM. During a recent media conference the GMOA said they are considering holding a continuous strike until the government gives a favourable response to their demands.

However, the government says that SAITM is going to stay no matter what. During a meeting, Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that the government will not act according to the wishes of university students and medical officers. It is the government which formulates education policies, not the students nor the GMOA, he said and stressed that those two parties are trying to create unnecessary problems.

Furthermore, Kiriella also said that when the Court verdict is received in November, everyone should follow the instructions given by the Court.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has been critical of the university students and the GMOA throughout this issue.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet media briefing on 11 October, Senaratne lashed out that the GMOA is trying to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa into power by manipulating the SAITM issue.

"Students who are not willing to take part in demonstrations are being coerced to participate by students unions. It is the GMOA that forces the students not to attend the lectures. These students' movements have been used to achieve political objectives," he charged.

Meanwhile, parents of the SAITM Medical Faculty students signed an MoU with State Medical Faculty students on 1 October during which the parents said they will support the State university students' struggle to get justice for the SAITM matter because they too want to protect the future of their children.

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