The call to analyse the impact on social justice due to the imposition of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to MBBS has once again put the spotlight on the uneven challenges aspiring medical students from different strata of society face.
Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has called for examining the legality and feasibility of alternatives to entrance exams in the State for the admission process.
For students, the concern is how the admission process will evolve now that the State government has cancelled Class 12 exams, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Union Education Ministry is yet to declare whether NEET and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) will be held. Data for 15 years, including from the Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University, show that government school students find it challenging to enter medical colleges. Between 2006 and 2016, 340 government school students were admitted to government medical colleges. The best year for government schools was 2007 when 62 students were admitted. The worst year was 2013, when just 18 students made it.
Similarly, in the decade 2007 to 2016, 74 students from government schools were admitted to aided/private medical colleges, with admission being in single digits each year, except in 2014, when 12 students were admitted.
In 2017, the State got an exemption from admitting students through NEET in government medical colleges. For self-financing medical colleges though admission was through NEET, and only two government school students got admitted.
In 2018-19 and in 2019-20, of the around 700 government school students who qualified through NEET, only nine were admitted to government medical colleges, The Hindu had reported earlier. Things drastically improved in 2020, when the State government came up with 7.5% reservation for government school students in medical seats. This enabled over 300 students to realise their dream of getting into medical colleges. This included 237 students in government medical colleges and 97 under government quota in self-financing medical colleges.
General secretary of the Doctor’s Association for Social Equality G.R. Ravindranath goes one step further, pointing out that while students from CBSE schools had an edge earlier before NEET, after its introduction, students who were coached in residential private schools fared better.
In the last two years, the Kilpauk Medical College Alumni Association has managed to fund a few seats in government medical colleges. The association has a motivated group of students from the first year who mentor aspiring medical students. “The 7.5% quota system helped ensure seats. Without that it will be challenging. KMC alumni will facilitate the government, whatever the process,” said Prasad Manne, secretary.
Manickavel Arumugam, an independent analyst, believes that the issue of government school students “was well addressed” through the reservation. “Even if you go back to marks-based admission, we never had such a huge representation from government school students in medical admission. If you look at the data from 2006-2016, we had an average of less than 1% students from government schools,” he says.
With an estimated 1,650 seats likely to be added this year from new government medical colleges, more students could benefit if a certain number of seats are reserved for government school students.