There is very low awareness among students in the State about allied health sciences

Though the demand for qualified professionals in allied health sciences has gone up in view of the growth and expansion of the healthcare industry in the country over the last few years, seats in the degree courses in allied health sciences offered by the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) are going abegging.

Colleges affiliated to RGUHS have been offering undergraduate programmes in a variety of allied healthcare services including diagnostic, technical, direct patient care and other support services for the last couple of years. Yet, the enrolment of students has not picked up.

The figures

Out of 455 seats on offer in different colleges during 2007-08, only 287 were taken.

During 2008-09, out of 597 seats, 359 were taken, and in 2009-10, out of 697 seats up for grabs, only 435 were filled.

Though newer courses were added and the number of colleges offering them went up during the academic year 2010-11, only 545 seats were taken out of the 942 offered.

The response of students for postgraduate programmes in allied health science courses too has remained poor. Out of the 415 seats available this year, only 233 seats were filled.

43 per cent vacancy

RGUHS sources pointed out that an average of 43 per cent of allied health science seats has remained vacant over the last four years.

A few months ago, as a response to the vast number of vacant seats, the Board of Studies in Allied Health Sciences, RGUHS, had held discussions with principals and lecturers of pre-university colleges across the State to identify the problems plaguing these courses.

With their inputs, RGUHS listed three main factors perceived to be behind the vast number of seats remaining vacant.

“The first was that there was a lack of awareness about the courses and the job opportunities available after completion of the course,” said Rajesh Shenoy, Chairman of the Board. “We also found that there was a social stigma behind these courses, similar to nursing. People perceive that only those who could not make it to other mainstream courses take these up. And lastly, there are a large number of arts and commerce colleges in rural parts of the State, and students from these institutions are excluded from these courses. Only those who had studied science in PUC are eligible to apply.”

To address these issues, the Board, in April 2011, submitted a proposal to start district-level camps to spread awareness about the salary one could get after completion of these courses.

Another important proposal submitted was to change the eligibility criteria to allow Arts and Commerce students to apply for the courses, albeit after a compulsory six-month foundation course in the core science subject.

However, these proposals remain only on paper, and are yet to be approved by the RGUHS Academic Council.

Previous proposals to increase demand for these courses have been moderately successful at best. RGUHS allowed lateral entry into degree programmes of students with diplomas, which was not recognised by potential employers. “Diploma students can join the course in the second year directly, saving one academic year,” Dr. Shenoy said, adding that this did little to fill up the seats.

Govt. needs to do more

“There is very low awareness among students in the State about allied health sciences,” said Mahendran P., Principal of Acharya Institute of Health Sciences, which has a vacancy of around 35 per cent for its allied health science courses.

“Of the 20-odd students studying in the college, hardly one or two are from Karnataka. While other States offer scholarships and incentives and promise government jobs for allied health graduates, the Karnataka Government or even RGUHS does nothing to promote the field,” he said, adding that students would rather take up courses in pharmacy, engineering or medicine which are promoted better in the State.

Motivation needed

He said the RGUHS should create more awareness about new allied health science courses. “Starting new courses doesn't amount to anything. RGUHS needs to motivate students, and conduct orientation sessions with the Headmasters on the new courses. We hardly get any communiqué from RGUHS in this regard,” the Principal said.

The lack of promotional activity has seemingly resulted in allied health sciences still being option number 3 or 4 for students. “It is unfortunate, but those who don't get into medical or engineering opt for these courses. Very few take them up because they like an allied health sciences field,” said an official in RGUHS.

Opportunities

The degree programmes offered currently — three years of study and six months of internship — are designed to make the students eligible for a career in the burgeoning healthcare industry.

“There is a big demand for technicians. A lot of hospitals are coming up, but they are not able to get qualified professionals. And we aren't able to meet the demand because of lack of candidates applying for the courses,” said Dr. Shenoy.

Apart from joining hospitals, graduate students can pursue higher education, research or join teaching, all of which have a good scope.

“All our students get good jobs because there is a dearth of qualified technicians said Dr. Mahendran.