Over the last 10 days, desperate students from India have been asking to be evacuated from Ukraine, as the fighting there gets increasingly worse. On Tuesday, a 21-year-old MBBS student from Karnataka was killed in the eastern Ukranian city of Kharkiv, reportedly by Russian firing, when he was waiting outside a grocery store. As of Wednesday evening, at least 2,000 Indian students are believed to still be stranded in the country that is in the midst of an invasion by Russia.
Students from India, have, for many years now, gone abroad to study. But apart from the destinations one usually thinks of – such as the United States, UK, Canada and Australia, an increasing number of students are also studying in Russia, China, Ukraine, the Philippines, Kazhakastan and other countries, many for medical degrees. An estimated 18,000 Indian students were studying in Ukraine when the conflict broke out, again, a majority of them at medical universities, many from tier-2 and tier-3 cities of India.
Students, parents and educational consultants say the primary driving factor is the costs – while a medical education in Ukraine is estimated to cost around Rs. 20 lakh for the entire course, in India, costs at a private medical college can range from Rs. 50 lakh to upwards of Rs. 1 crore. And how many medical aspirants get into Indian medical colleges? As per government data there are 88,120 MBBS seats available in the country as of December 2021, but only around half of these are in the government sector, where the college fees are relatively low. Just last year, over 15 lakh candidates registered for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET, which determines admission to medical colleges – which means that a majority of those who attempt the exam will not be able to secure a seat. And the distribution of medical colleges in India too, is skewed – most are in the southern States and Maharashtra, with very few colleges in many northern parts of the country.
Even when students do come back after obtaining a medical degree in Ukraine, they cannot immediately practice – they have to write the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination, the pass percentage of which, as per reports, is only around 15%. Over the last five years however, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of candidates attempting this exam.
So why is it that medical education continues to remain unaffordable to thousands of our students? Prime Minister Modi, a few days ago, asked why the private sector couldn’t get into this field, and why States couldn’t allot land for medical colleges as many our students were going to small countries abroad to study. Are more private medical colleges in the country the answer or do State governments need to do more to set up government colleges? Are our regulatory frameworks too stringent in the norms required to set up medical colleges? Is capping fees at private colleges, as the National Medical Commission has proposed, for at least some seats, the answer? And can India achieve its commitment of having 1 doctor per 1,000 people as recommended by the World Health Organisation later this decade?
Guest : Dr Rajib Dasgupta, Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Host: Zubeda Hamid
Edited by Reenu Cyriac