Tamil Nadu

NEET nightmare haunts TN

With Tamil Nadu taking an aggressive stand against the National Eligibility- cum-Entrance Test (NEET) that conducting such an exam for admission to MBBS course would put its students at a disadvantage, there seems to be no clarity in how it will be implemented.

The State has to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, which means the exam will have to be conducted, but sudden pronouncements by people in government reiterating Tamil Nadu’s stand has thrown a spanner in the works.

Will NEET be held or not is the question practically every aspirant is fretting about.

Every year, Tamil Nadu produces over 5,000 MBBS graduates.

The State has one of the highest number of medical colleges in the country with 24 State-run medical colleges (including a college attached to Annamalai University) and an equal number of private/deemed medical institutes, as per the Medical Council of India’s listing.

As far as the State is concerned, it takes into account only the aggregate of marks scored by the candidate in the Plus Two examination. No entrance tests are conducted for selection into an MBBS/BDS course, and the cut-off mark, with the student’s standing in his or her community, will determine the possibility of getting a seat during counselling.

Why NEET?

NEET was conceived as a measure to curb the increasing commercialisation of higher education in medicine, ensure a transparent admission process in private unaided institutions, save students the trouble of writing multiple entrance examinations and ensure students of merit get a place in medical colleges.

Introduced in 2010 through amendments to existing regulations, NEET was struck down by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in 2013. However, the order was recalled this year, paving the way for the test to be held again.

Strong protests from Tamil Nadu and a few other States led to a central Ordinance exempting the State quota of seats in government and private medical colleges from being based on NEET for this academic year alone.

Confusion prevailed among students during the admissions process, as private medical college admissions were based on NEET as per the Supreme Court’s directions.

The entire process was delayed by more than a month and parents, whose wards were admitted to deemed or private medical colleges, paid at least twice the amount they would have paid last year for the same course.

Parents had hoped the State government would conduct counselling for these seats too. But State medical education officials had stayed away maintaining that “they are private colleges and we have nothing to do with them.”

The opposition

Up until 2006, Tamil Nadu had its own entrance exam — the Tamil Nadu Professional Common Entrance Examination — for admission to professional courses, both engineering and medicine. In 2007, the State government decided to do away with it, aiming at equitable access to higher education by basing admissions on class 12 results. NEET, therefore, would invalidate Tamil Nadu’s policy.

In Tamil Nadu, the number of students who take the State Board examinations is 60 times more than that of those studying in CBSE stream. NEET is based on the CBSE syllabus. Experts are concerned about how students from the State will fare in the test. The larger concern is that students from other States could get a bigger proportion of seats in government medical colleges in Tamil Nadu.

For students like E. Sankar’s daughter for instance, NEET could stand in the way of her dream of becoming a doctor.

“I earn Rs. 9,000 a month and cannot afford coaching classes. At least the State government’s counselling held some promise, but I am not sure any more,” he rues.

Syllabus mismatch

“While there is about a 60 to 65 per cent syllabus match between CBSE and the State Board, the depth of the subjects is dealt with differently – CBSE deals with subjects in more detail,” says Archana Ram, managing director, SMART Training Resources, a career-development company. The questions in NEET would be based on two or more concepts at a time, and conceptual clarity and strength in fundamentals would be required.

“Students in Tamil Nadu will have to prepare themselves and orient themselves towards what will be an application-based competitive test rather than a memory-based test which is what they are used to,” she added.

Strong case

Activists G.R. Ravindranath of the Doctor’s Association for Social Equality and P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu of the State Platform for the Common School System, Tamil Nadu, say the State can exercise its right to fight against NEET having made huge strides in medical education.

Academically, legally, and as a federal constituent, the State was in a strong position, they pointed out. Hundreds of students from poor and socially backward families were studying medicine, reaping the benefits of the State’s policy.

“Tamil Nadu has a strong case as even the interim order does not refer to the Act — The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Admission in Professional Courses Act, 2006 — that the State government passed to abolish entrance exams. Without equity in access, merit has no meaning. With the State having the most number of government medical colleges, a lot is at stake. The seats might end up going to students from other states under NEET. The State should appoint a senior counsel with conviction on social justice and take it up now and not wait for the end of academic year,” says Mr. Babu.

Dr. Ravindranath explains: “NEET is against the constitutional right given by the Supreme Court that every citizen has the right to start a medical college. That is why the government is not interfering in its right to fix fees. If NEET were to be introduced, then the fundamental right guaranteed by the court must be struck down. And that would require a constitutional amendment.”

What next year?

There is still uncertainty over the situation for the coming academic year. Earlier this month, the State School Education Minister said in Delhi that NEET was a certainty, leading to even more confusion as to the State’s status on the test.

Government sources said Tamil Nadu would be taking all efforts legally, and if required legislatively to protect the State’s stated policy of opposition to NEET as it was based on a policy decision to help students from rural background and to ensure equal opportunities for all, especially those who could not afford to enrol in coaching centres.

Despite the uncertainty over holding on to the State’s position against NEET, medical education officials had not taken any step to put in place a mechanism for admission if NEET were made the criterion for admission next year. A senior official said ultimately it would be for the CBSE to give directions to the State on how to admit students. As of now, States that accept NEET scores for admission had created a separate merit list.

A senior medical education official said: “It is true that we cannot go against the verdict of the Supreme Court. But we are going to present our case.”

This academic year deemed universities used the NEET merit list to draw up individual rank lists. A parent said this resulted in much stress.

“In Kerala and Karnataka, the State drew up its own merit list and students from within the State were given priority. After I paid the annual fee to a medical college in Chennai, my daughter was informed that a student from another State had opted out and there was a vacancy. She couldn’t consider the offer because I had already paid the entire amount.”

A State merit list would have helped students, he said. The government should conduct counselling for private medical college seats surrendered through NEET, said Dr. Ravindranath.


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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 6:24:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/NEET-nightmare-haunts-TN/article16668962.ece

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