NEET nostrums

The national medical entrance test is here to stay; States must prepare their students better

June 09, 2018 12:02 am | Updated December 01, 2021 06:04 am IST

There was no uncertainty over the medical admission process this year in Tamil Nadu. There were no attempts to get an exemption from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET). And, willy-nilly, as many as 1.14 lakh aspirants took the examination that has been made mandatory by the Supreme Court as the sole admission window for medical colleges. Yet, the poor performance of students from Tamil Nadu in the entrance test has demonstrated that the State is still far from being ‘NEET-ready’. It is true that a well-intentioned beginning has been made to upgrade the syllabus and to make students more competitive. However, only 45,336 candidates, or 39.6% of those who took the test, qualified for admission. Along with Maharashtra, this is the lowest ratio in the country. What is important is that these candidates are merely eligible for admission, and far fewer students are actually likely to get admission. Further, the chances of many of the candidates in the lower percentiles gaining entry into a government medical college are quite low, and many of them may not be able to afford to pay for seats in private colleges. Proponents of NEET may maintain that its objectives — ensuring uniformity in standards of medical education by admitting students on the basis of a common national test and eliminating capitation fee for medical courses in private institutions — are being successfully met. However, it is a moot question whether the commercialisation of education has been really eliminated, and whether the admission policy is sufficiently inclusive for this large and diverse country.

Lavish advertisements, as well as interviews with toppers, make it quite obvious that those who can afford expensive coaching classes have a distinct advantage in this system. Like many other competitive examinations, NEET has spawned a coaching industry, with some parts of the country proving to be ideal locales for academic sweatshops. Many of those in the top percentiles have attended long-term coaching classes as well as crash courses, paying exorbitant fees. There is anger in Tamil Nadu against this perceived socio-economic asymmetry built into the medical admission process that keeps medical courses out of bounds for disadvantaged sections. Such feelings intensified as a result of at least two young women committing suicide after they failed to clear NEET. One of them had enough marks in her higher secondary examination to gain admission to a medical college, if the State government had its own admission system. But overall, there is no escaping the fact that the country is committed to having uniform standards in medical education, and that this can play a role in meeting the important objective of maintaining standards in health care. NEET is here to stay and State governments are now best-advised to upgrade academic standards and prepare their students better. This will help in seeing that India’s healthcare infrastructure continues to get a steady inflow of medical manpower drawn from all sections of society.

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