The State government is planning to introduce an ordinance to set up the Kerala University of Medical and Allied Sciences in Thrissur district before December 31. ABDUL LATHEEF NAHA takes a looks at the scope of the medical university in bolstering health care in the State.

The much-talked-about Kerala University of Medical and Allied Sciences seems to become a reality soon as the State government is set to introduce an ordinance towards it in the coming weeks.

Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy told The Hindu-EducationPlus that the ordinance would be passed before December 31, and will be followed by the appointment of statutory officials of the university.

As much as 75 acres of land has been identified for the university on the Thrissur Medical College campus. "The land is not an issue at all,” said Ms. Sreemathy, explaining that the proposed university would bring about a sea-change in medical education as well as health care in the State. The government also plans to bring the medical and allied courses currently conducted by the four universities under the purview of the Medical University from the next academic year. “We hope that the Medical University will hold its maiden examinations in 2011,” said the Minister. But before that, all colleges under different medical systems, including paramedical colleges, will be affiliated to the university.

It was after several months' dilly-dallying that the government decided to set up the Kerala University of Medical and Allied Sciences, bringing different systems of medicine such as Modern Medicine, Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, Unani and Siddha under one roof. In effect, the proposed medical university at Thrissur will take care of all established medical systems being practised and taught in the State.

The government chose to set up a combined medical university after studying the reports of three separate committees headed by Dr. B. Ekbal (modern medicine), Dr. K. Sankaran (Ayurveda), and Dr. K. Janakikutty (Homoeopathy).

Dr. Ekbal, whose elaborate report became a talking point on medical education, had recommended setting up of separate universities for modern medicine and Ayurveda.

After considering the experiences of medical universities in other States, Dr. Ekbal had recommended that all modern medical institutions under the government—cooperative and private sectors such as medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy colleges and paramedical institutions that conduct degree-level courses—be affiliated to the proposed Kerala University of Medical and Allied Sciences.

He had suggested that the government should consider the establishing another university for other systems of medicine either jointly as AYUSH (Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) University or separate universities for each discipline.

Dr. Ekbal had pointed out that combined medical universities in other States had turned out to be bodies for mere affiliation of colleges and conduct of examinations. “Because of the mixing up of different systems of medicine, focused approach to the research and educational needs of the different systems could not be realised,” he pointed out in his report.

The possibility of mobilising funds from the Central government departments and institutions as well as from international agencies for research in traditional systems of medicine was another reason for mooting a separate university called AYUSH.

“There is considerable interest in the international and national circles to study and do research specifically in medical systems like Ayurveda and we can capitalise on this given the strength of Kerala in traditional medical systems,” Dr. Ekbal said. “If all the systems are mixed up, these possibilities will be lost as is happening in other States.”

According to Dr. Ekbal, there is a financial reason for establishing a separate university for Ayurveda. “Since the State government is facing financial problems, it would be prudent to establish institutions that can get funds from other sources. Universities like Ayurveda can definitely bring a lot of funds from Central Government and U.N. agencies.”

However, the State government has rejected this argument. “Funds are not a problem at all,” said Ms. Sreemathy. As much as Rs.10 crore has been set aside in the current fiscal for the medical university. There will be separate boards of studies, faculty, and boards of examination for different systems of medicines. Apart from affiliation of colleges, the medical university will give more importance to research and development.

The Minister said that the university would give thrust not only on improving clinical side of health care and medical practice, but also on academic excellence as well as research and development. She admitted that that research in medical field has been virtually nil in Kerala in the last quarter of a century. “We need to salvage the reputation we once had in medical research,” she said.

She said that different departments under different medical streams would be given the much-needed boost so as to raise them as centres of excellence. “We don't mean huge buildings and structures. What we aim is a high-tech institution that can take our State's medical education to a bright future,” Ms. Sreemathy said. The medical fraternity has high hopes on the upcoming university, especially as it promises to open up new vistas in integrated research. “That will be a wonderful initiative in research,” said Dr. Ramadas Pisharody, Principal of Thiruvananthapuram Medical College. “The interest in research is likely to be rekindled especially when you have an integrated system,” he said. However, Dr. Pisharody added that the whole idea would be lost if due importance was not given to research. “Priority should be given to research. We expect the university to be an umbrella to protect all medical and paramedical courses,” he said. Dr. Ekbal, however, has been cautious about his comments. “We can't say anything now. It all would depend on how things are handled,” he told The Hindu-EducationPlus.

As recommended by Dr. Ekbal, the government colleges will be treated as constituent colleges of the university with certain privileges and rights, especially with regard to larger representations in the university bodies like the Governing Council, Academic Council and Senate.

The government colleges will play a leadership role in the medical university so as to guide the private colleges to acquire the necessary capabilities to function with social commitment and administrative efficiency.

Most government colleges were established decades back and have academic and administrative traditions that stood the test of time. Private and self-financing professional colleges were established in recent years and are yet to prove their strength.

The government has already begun its move to lift the medical colleges to the level of university constituents. Their redesignation as referral hospitals was part of it. “We need to redeem the term and meaning of ‘college' in our medical colleges,” said Ms. Sreemathy.

The professors in government colleges affiliated to the medical university will be designated as university professors after a due selection process based upon their academic contribution, teaching skills and experience.

Ms. Sreemathy said that the government would do whatever it can to get a Medical Grants Commission established in the country in the model of University Grants Commission for funding the research and development activities in medical universities. According to Dr. K. Praveenlal, Principal of Thrissur Medical College and Nodal Officer of the university, the proposed institution will be the largest in the State. “We expect this university to offer 100-odd courses, besides opening new vistas in research,” he said.

Ayurveda and Homeo fraternities too have been upbeat about the Kerala University of Medical and Allied Sciences. Their long-lasting complaints of neglect are likely to be addressed to a great extent under the medical university. Proponents of modern medicine are, however, hopeful that due attention (80 to 90 per cent) would be given to Allopathic branches.