The Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) has issued a circular asking Bhutanese medical students in Sri Lanka to return home should the on-going strike continue beyond October this year.

Sri Lankan media reports state that the Government Medical Officers’ Association and other groups including the Inter University Students Federation have been protesting, questioning the educational and medical standards of the only private medical university in Sri Lanka, South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM).

The strike, which is also against the privatisation of education, has been on for about six months. The strike has disrupted classes for 120 Bhutanese medical students studying in Universities of Colombo, Kelaniya and Peradeniya in Sri Lanka

More than 70 students have returned to Bhutan while others are still in Sri Lanka waiting for the strike to end.

DAHE’s circular of August 16 states that all medical students of the three universities should prepare for departure by early November if the strike does not end by October this year. “The students will then have to wait in Bhutan until the situation in Sri Lanka improves or some alternative arrangement is made,” the circular stated.

Senior Program Officer with the Scholarship and Student Support Division, Dolay Tshering, said, there is no point staying idle in Sri Lanka if the strike continues. In coordination with the national referral hospital and Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, DAHE is working on a proposal to have the senior students attached to hospitals so that they continue to learn.

The circular also advises students whose visas are due for renewal in October and November to renew their residence visa. “Arrangements will be made for the renewal of visa for other students if the classes resume in respective universities.”

The circular also states that all payments for the medical students would be suspended while the students wait in Bhutan and would resume when the classes resume.

A final year medical student in Sri Lanka said that most of the students are returning to Bhutan after receiving the official letter stating that their stipend would be cut off. “We are disappointed by the fact that the students who were supposed to be cream of the country are now a bunch of unemployed youth.”

A third year student from the University of Kelaniya said that without the stipend, there is no way to pay for their rented accommodations. “If we come in November and if the strike ends in December then, we have to come back again which would be a waste of money on air tickets. It’s hard especially for the private students.”  The student said that the circular does not state any solutions to address the students’ dilemma.

She said the third and fourth year students of Kelaniya have not taken their examinations, for which the students are doing researches and preparing for the examination. “Most of them have to sit for the examination as soon as the strike ends.”

Karma Cheki