On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Handle controversy on varsity rationally

He said the ministry wanted to re-evaluate the medical degrees from the university, adding that the university was not as impressive as those in Malaysia and Western countries.

Pointing to the large number of Malaysian students there, Musa said there was a need to review the status in the interest of the students and the country, saying "we are forced to review it for our own good".

Chatting to the Malaysian students, I remembered telling my colleagues that these young people would be very unhappy when they read our news reports via the Internet the following day. None of us had the heart to tell them of the press conference by Musa earlier.

Last week, the Crimea State Medical University issue was hotly debated in Parliament, with dramatic exchange of words resulting in a verbal clash between the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Syed Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz and DAP MPs.

But it was Datuk S. Sothinathan, the Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister, who found himself being suspended from his government post for three months after he broke ranks with the front bench.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Sothinathan's action was not befitting his role as a member of the Barisan front bench and that he should not have taken the stand of criticising his own government.

Outside Parliament, the debate has continued among members of the public. Some arguments have taken a racial tone, which is unfortunate, as the matter should be examined from the country's national interest.

The dilemma of our students at the university, irrespective of their ethnicity, should be regarded as a Malaysian problem.

There are Malay, Chinese and Indian students in Crimea. In fact, in 2003, Selangor state government officials even visited the university and signed a memorandum of understanding to place Yayasan Selangor students there.

Questions have been raised over the manner in which the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) handled the issue as it had previously recognised the degrees from the said university.

Then, there is also the concern over why the Education Ministry had given "no objection" letters to Malaysian students, who are said to be Arts students, to pursue their studies there.

These are valid questions and it is best that they are handled in a rational manner. Our Malaysian students there must be anxiously waiting for the Government to address their worries now. All the angry outbursts and name-calling, which are unbecoming of our politicians, will not help them.

In all fairness, the alert from the Government came long ago. The MMC has the right to ensure that Malaysians abroad study at the best universities.

Among the reasons stated for the MMC's change of heart in recognising the university included the dubious qualifications of students admitted for the institute's medical studies, the difficulty of its medical graduates in using technical terms in English, and the strain on the quality of teaching due to the sudden increase in intake.

The MMC has stated that it would withdraw the recognition of the programme to any student registered and admitted after Dec 31 this year.

Some parents have appealed to the body to extend the deadline to another year, pointing out that when the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom withdrew its recognition of medical degrees from Universiti Malaya in the 1980s, it gave the university a five-year period to rectify what it saw as its weaknesses.

The fault of the MMC is the sudden change of heart after having given recognition  earlier and the manner it is now tackling this headache.

Unlike other degrees, doctors deal with human lives and none of us want to be treated by doctors with dubious medical degrees.

But all is not lost. Graduates of the Crimea State Medical University, it should be pointed out, can still sit for a qualifying examination when they come back to Malaysia. If they pass, they can still practise at home.

There are other options. For example, Kiev University is prepared to provide courses to Malaysians using English as a medium of instruction. Musa, who had visited the university, was impressed with the facilities there.

Here is an interesting historical anecdote: Crimea, now an autonomous region in Ukraine, has a long history of conflict. The Crimean War, which lasted two years from 1854-56, was fought between Russia and the alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia. It was the focus of Tolstoy's voluminous War and Peace.

Let's hope this medical university controversy ends quickly and does not generate unnecessary tomes of words, written or otherwise.