The proposed National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to the MBBS and postgraduate medical courses is likely to streamline the admission process. But there are many questions in the minds of parents, candidates and college managements that remain unanswered.

The proposed National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to the MBBS and postgraduate medical programmes have at one stroke heightened expectations in Kerala of a smooth, nation-wide ranking system of candidates and raised concerns about how much of an adjustment would students and college managements have to make to fit into the new system.

The most obvious advantage of a NEET is that candidates wishing to enrol for medical courses need to write only one examination. The need to submit multiple applications for different entrance examinations in different States, the tension of waiting to see whether any examination date coincides with another, the bother of having to prepare — albeit not in a radically different manner — for different kinds of entrance examinations… all these would then be a thing of the past.

Would such a test become reality this year? By all available indications, no. The Medical Council of India (MCI) would have to do back flips to draw up a syllabus and a question paper for such an examination, identify an agency to roll out the test, and also decide on the date.

But then, there are also other questions to which only the MCI knows the answers. And these unanswered questions have turned into gnawing concerns and fears in the minds of quite a few parents, candidates and college managements.

After a NEET how would the admissions play out? Would each State be asked to draw up its own eligibility list from the national roster? Would there still be a national quota? A very likely scenario would be for each State to draw up its own list based on the national rank-list. This is because the eligibility conditions differ from State to State. Prestigious institutions too can then draw up their own eligibility list based on their own existing criteria. Only, they may have to seek the prior sanction from the MCI for that. In other words a student from Kerala can find himself in the list for the State and in the list for, say, JIPMER.

The MCI will also have to make it clear whether the NEET would be the sole basis of admissions or whether the NEET rank list can be taken as the base factor and additional criteria applied later by different States or institutions, including minority institutions. If the NEET rank is going to be the sole criteria, Kerala's idea of factoring in the marks scored in the Plus Two examinations would remain on paper.

A NEET rank-list may also have implications for the seat-fee talks that have become a fixture in the engineering/medical admission process in Kerala. In a post-NEET scenario there can be scope for a 50:50 seat-sharing agreement between the government and college managements. Consequently the fee for the management quota seats would definitely be higher. But then, what happens if after five or six rounds of admissions to Kerala colleges there are vacancies in the management quota in different colleges?

Under the existing agreement between the government and the consortium of managements such vacancies can be filled up by the managements themselves. And here is the catch. The agreement says that such vacancies can be filled up by taking candidates from the CEE's rank-list or through a combination of the marks in the entrance and in the qualifying examination.

The managements even have the right to admit a candidate who has not written the entrance at all. If NEET is the sole admission criteria, this clause would have no operational validity.

Spokesman of the medical colleges run by the inter-church council George Paul told The Hindu-EducationPlus that he wholeheartedly welcomed the idea of a NEET. The 50:50 agreement between the government and some colleges has only succeeded in introducing capitation through the back door, he argued. “We have been admitting students after factoring in the marks of the qualifying examination. Once a NEET is in place, that rank-list would be the sole basis of admissions. Then the admissions would be totally transparent,” he said adding that it was unlikely that the NEET would be implemented this year.

The finalisation of a national syllabus would impact Kerala students in another way too. Currently the State entrance is based on the syllabus of the higher secondary courses. A syllabus for a national test would most likely be based on the NCERT syllabus.

This means that in the short term students from Kerala would have to re-orient their entrance preparation tactics and in the long term it may mean that Kerala would have to re-orient its higher secondary syllabus and align it with that of the NCERT. Serious observers of the educational scenario in the State see such an alignment as a step in the right direction.

Then those are those who vehemently hold that the NEET is a bad idea. The president of the Muslim Educational Society P. A. Fazal Gafoor is among those who hold that the present system of State-wise entrance tests should continue. “Educational standards across India are not the same. A uniform syllabus for a nation-wide entrance would hit educationally backward communities the hardest. Even in Kerala this problem would be felt hard. Then, need one speak about places such as Bihar or UP where disparities are even wider?”

The MES is waiting for the MCI to come out with more details about the national test. After that the society would in all likelihood challenge the NEET in court. “And that is one more problem relating to a nation-wide examination. Already the High Court in Chennai has granted an interim stay for the NEET in Tamil Nadu. Tomorrow, even if one person in the country files a case against this test the entire admission process in the country may be held up,” Dr. Gafoor pointed out.

One thing is very obvious. The last word — including judicial — is yet to be said on the NEET. The ball is now in the MCI's court.