Studying on shaky ground

By Murallitharan M. 

ONE minute it's "Okay, this university is recognised by Malaysia, go ahead and study there".

And the next minute, or rather, two years and more than 600 students later, it's "We're reviewing the status of the university. It may not be suitable after all."

How would you feel if that happened to you?

For the more than 600 Malaysian students studying at the Crimea State Medical University, Simferopol, in Ukraine, life has just become one big question mark following Education Minister Tan Sri Dr Musa Mohamad's call for a review of their university after a visit there.

This was a nasty shock for the students as the university was only recently evaluated and added to the list of medical colleges recognised by the Public Service Department/Malaysian Medical Council at the end of 2001, one of the main factors that prompted students to enrol there.

"When I wanted to do medicine overseas, the first thing I did was to call PSD and check on whether the universities were recognised or not," says 20-year old Razaleigh Yusof, a 2nd-year student at CSMU.

"Only then did I check the cost of education at these universities, finally settling on CSMU because it is the cheapest foreign medical programme."

"The former countries in the Soviet Union are well-known for their medical capabilities and technology and even today, most medical universities in Russia and Ukraine are held in very high regard throughout the world.

"It's lucky that due to economic factors, the fees at their universities are cheap enough for us to afford, and that is why I jumped at the chance to go to CSMU," says 21-year old Wilson Wong Jun Jie.

"CSMU follows the traditional teaching method as opposed to the integrated approach used by other universities," says 21-year old Sheena Dhavaran, also a 2nd-year student.

"This university has small teaching classes of less than 10 students for each subject and that ensures a high level of attention that many other universities cannot offer."

Universiti Malaya biochemistry graduate Anand Raj Silveraju, 25, who is pursuing his second degree in medicine at CSMU says: "I have taken a course in a field closely related to medicine and I find that the teaching here is really hands-on.

"Unlike some universities which teach by graphics and theory, here we do everything ourselves, from cutting cadavers to doing physiology experiments.

We are tested every day in what we have learnt and these marks add up to our overall exam results." "What is even better," says Lee Fei Yi, 19, "is one must achieve 100 per cent attendance because if you miss a class, you'll have to retake the missed lessons in attarabotka.

This means, you'll have to pay a fee for a one-to-one session with a personal tutor on the missed lesson.

"Only when you have completed all your classes can you sit for the examinations." "This is the second scare we've had this year about CSMU," says Abd Sulaiman Jaffar, whose son is doing pre-medical studies in the university.

" First we were told of the problem of unqualified students studying in Russia and Ukraine and now they say that CSMU doesn't have adequate facilities.

If all these problems exist, then why did they (the Government) recognise the university and give us the green light to send our kids there?

Why the sudden turnaround from what they said less than two years ago?" "Many of us have spent our life savings sending our children to this university," says Chiranjeevi Ganesan, whose daughter is in her 1st year of medicine.

" Suddenly the minister says there may be problems with the university. What are we to do now? "We have limited options because we are strained financially, yet they may not be able to come home and work if their university is unrecognised."

"At the end of it all," says Jananee Sivaraman, 21, a 2nd-year student, "we may all have to work outside the country. Luckily the CSMU degree is recognised worldwide and if we have to, we will work in other countries.

"The government is forever calling for overseas students to come home and serve the nation, especially those in the field of science and technology.

It's ironic then that the Ministry of Education is putting all of us in such a spot.

"For a nation that has to recruit doctors from other countries to make up the shortage, it's sad that medical students who cannot wait to return and serve our country may never be allowed to do so."

Chronology of events

2000 - a small number of medical students from Malaysia are admitted into Crimea State Medical University (CSMU), Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine.

March-April 2001 - Public Service Department/MMC/Joint Technical Group of the Higher Education Department visit CSMU for evaluation purposes.

Aug 7, 2001 - CSMU gazetted as a recognised medical university by PSD/MMC. Announcement made by the Minister of Health. This means that graduates from this university will no longer need to sit for a qualifying exam upon returning to the country.

June 2002 - 1st batch of Malaysians graduate after recognition from CSMU and return to serve as house officers in various Malaysian hospitals.

September 2002 - A large number of Malaysian students enrol in CSMU

May 2003 - Visit by Selangor state government officials to CSMU and the signing of an MOU with the university to place Yayasan Selangor scholarship students at the university

July 2003 - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Education Minister Tan Sri Dr Musa Mohammad visit CSMU. At the university, Musa told reporters that "the Education Ministry will review the status of Crimea State Medical University, where about 500 Malaysians are pursuing medical degrees.

"Although the university's medical degrees are recognised by Malaysia, the ministry wants to re-evaluate them as CSMU is not as impressive as those in Malaysia and Western countries."