Private medical school still on

Private medical school still on

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) said it was continuing to work with the government to establish a private medical school in Malta even tough it would not open as planned in September.

The aim of the school is to offer an international graduate entry programme in medicine.

Graduate entry programmes are increasing in popularity. They are typically four years long and open to students who already have either a sciences or humanities first degree, and lead to an undergraduate degree in medicine. They have the advantage of giving an opportunity and a different route for more mature students to become a doctor.

On September 26, 2007, the then Education Minister Louis Galea and Health Minister Louis Deguara had jointly announced that talks "were at an advanced stage" with the RCSI to establish a medical school in Malta to start offering the graduate entry programme in medicine as from this September. A memorandum of understanding was subsequently signed between the government and the RCSI on December 20 paving the way for detailed negotiations.

RCSI associate director for academic affairs Fintan Foy confirmed that while the programme would not start as originally planned, "the RCSI is very pleased with progress to date and the support and co-operation that it has received from the government".

When asked which institutions were involved in the talks and what obstacles had hindered progress, he replied, "Last week I held high level discussions with (Social Policy) Minister Dalli and his officials. Additional meetings were also held with the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) and Malta Enterprise, all of whom have been extremely cordial, efficient and helpful."

He added that the college was also very pleased with the reception it had received from the medical profession. Besides establishing the graduate medical school, the RCSI "will be working with the minister and the relevant postgraduate bodies to assist in the development of postgraduate training structures, which would allow trainees to spend a period of time in Ireland as part of the overall programme."

Sources said the RCSI hopes to develop ties not only with the government but also full collaboration and consultation with the the University and the various local professional specialist associations and colleges that exist and that are responsibile for clinical postgraduate education.

However, contacts with the University appear to have hit a brick wall. When the University was asked about the discussions taking place with the RCSI it replied dryly:

"RCSI representatives paid a courtesy visit to the University in September 2007. To the best of our knowledge the RCSI is proposing to set up a private medical school, independent of and distinct from the University."

The University had announced on February 29 that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with St George's, University of London (SGUL), with a view to launching its own graduate entry medical programme as early as next January.

When asked what was the difference between the RCSI's proposal and that of SGUL, and whether there was space for both to be run in tandem, the University skirted the issue.

However, Godfrey Laferla, dean of the University's Medical faculty, was reported to have expressed his faculty's enthusiasm for the proposed joint venture with SGUL, saying that it "would be a true partnership between two equals where responsibilities and benefits would be shared," adding enigmatically: "This is unlike the franchises previously proposed by other institutions."

Asked about the stage the discussions with SGUL had reached, the University reported that they were "at an advanced stage" and that it was working on an agreement to launch (the) programme as a joint venture between the two institutions."

It added that details of the course structure and curriculum were currently being ironed out and the business and financial plans are being refined and that both parties are working towards a final partnership agreement which it hoped to sign shortly.

Two weeks ago the University announced that senior SGUL academic staff are expected back in Malta as early as July 9, and that the agreement between SGUL and the University would be presented to a University council meeting on July 17.

Meanwhile, Mr Foy revealed that in the coming weeks, officials from the minister's office would be visiting Ireland for talks, and that the college would open an office in Valletta to act as a base for those travelling from Ireland to work on the project and also for its local colleagues. "By having staff in Valletta we feel this will help to us to progress even further," he added.

The RCSI held it 10th Overseas Meeting at the Malta Hilton last March, which was attended by over 200 RCSI delegates. During the event Social Policy Minister Dalli had said the RCSI's plan to set the medical school in Malta to offer the graduate entry programme fell within Malta's plans. "It is in our interest that these negotiations will be concluded positively in the shortest time possible.

"This will also make it possible for us to retain our professionals and even to reverse the brain drain that we had over the years, as we will be providing them with rewarding activities in our country."

Asked where the medical school would be located and the courses to be offered, Mr Foy said "more details will be forthcoming once discussions with the government have been completed and a specific location identified.

"Our involvement with Malta is very much a long-term initiative which we hope will cover the whole range of medicine and the allied healthcare sciences both at an undergraduate and postgraduate level ," he said. Once the school is established it is expected to also offer programmes in pharmacy, healthcare management and dentistry. Sources said the RCSI was proposing to invest heavily in the project.

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