IT wasn’t so long ago when we only had two public universities and no private medical university. The standards back then were so high and acknowledged even by the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom.
Then, in an impulsive move, the Government opened up health education to the private sector and now there are five times more private than public universities offering medical courses. They have become production houses from which about 5,000 doctors graduate every year. The motive of these private colleges is to just get money and some have sacrificed principles and ethical behaviour which are the hallmark of doctors.
Student admission to medical colleges has stagnated over the last year or two. There is cut-throat competition among the private colleges to secure higher student enrolment. Due to intense competition, colleges are giving almost 100% passes at all levels. The passing rate is now the chief consideration among parents and their children intending to pursue medical courses. Students go seat hunting and only enrol if they are guaranteed a pass in all examinations. They are a pampered lot.
I am a lecturer in one of these private colleges. I have been teaching in more than a couple of colleges for over two decades now. The standards are definitely dropping at an alarming rate. The students do not study as they realise all of them will definitely pass their examinations. This easy passage through medical college is the main reason why at least 30% of doctors who join the workforce upon graduation are unable to complete their housemanship.
We have been blaming substandard foreign universities for the drop in standard of our medical graduates, not realising that they are in our own backyard as well.
Heads of departments instruct lecturers not to “burden” students with work or to prepare for lectures. They are told to “just teach. If your teaching is good they will pass.” Students absent themselves regularly but are allowed to sit for the examinations even though the university rules require that they should have 90% attendance. It is a shocking truth that even the so-called respected colleges succumb to the pressure from administrators who want to see healthy coffers.
Administrators, including the dean, harass the professors and lecturers to pass all students. The so-called 2% who fail are given a cursory re-sit examination within a week and then allowed to pass, thus achieving the 100% rate.
A lecturer has to give lengthy explanations if any student is failed. All lecturers, including senior professors, are sidelined, lose their perks and allowances and even promotion prospects if they decide to fail a student who is really bad. Heads of departments are in cahoots with the administration and join in harassing the lecturers.
Sometimes midway during an examination, an examiner is relieved of his duties. The fate of foreign lecturers is even worse as their contract may not be renewed. You will not find a single student being failed by foreign examiners. Those who decide to fail candidates are blacklisted and treated as black sheep by fellow academics.
Adding to this tragedy are the external examiners who are actually selected by the university to give the examinations a semblance of being monitored by a neutral third party. It is farcical, to say the least. The external examiners are paid well, looked after and entertained so they are obliged to pass all students. The colleges shop around for “easy” examiners to appoint.
The Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) and the Higher Education Ministry are in charge of monitoring the examination conducted by these medical colleges. The colleges are instructed that they should have an above 95% pass rate in examinations. They claim that this level of passing is only indicative of the teaching standards. Apparently, the passing rate should be high to imply that the teaching standards are high. This practice is unheard of even in the best medical institutions in the world, where at best the pass rate lingers below 70%.
If this problem is not addressed immediately, there will be tragic consequences for all Malaysians. The MQA must appoint independent external examiners in consultation with the Malaysian Medical Council.
Examiners must be randomly selected and their payments made via the MQA by the colleges. Only then can such blatant bias be avoided and transparency and the quality of graduates maintained.
The Hippocratic oath has become hypocritical in private Malaysian medical institutions.