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Indian students protest against decision to postpone new national exam for admission to medical school

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f773 (Published 05 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f773
  1. Mohuya Chaudhuri
  1. 1Delhi

The hope among aspiring Indian medical students that they might gain admission to medical colleges through a new national entrance test has been quashed, at least temporarily, by the Supreme Court.

The central government’s first nationwide Common Entrance Test, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical school, which was meant to begin in 2013, has been stayed by India’s senior court.

The new test was considered by many to be a breakthrough in medical education in India because students would not have to pay to take the examination and success would be on merit. It would mean that students would be able to get into medical student on aptitude rather than their ability to pay.

In an interim order, the Supreme Court said that, until a final decision was taken, state medical colleges could conduct their own entrance examinations but should wait for the court’s decision before announcing the results.

The order is in response to a public interest litigation suit filed by students from Surat, Gujarat, who said that too little time had been given for preparation for the new national exam as the syllabus was different from the state examinations.

Many states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Jammu and Kashmir, have also opposed the move.

The court was forced to stall the introduction of the new test because the Medical Council of India, the body regulating medical education and practice in India, did not get the relevant clearances from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Unless notified, states cannot be asked to implement the new entrance examination.

But the Supreme Court’s decision has left those students and parents who were looking forward to the introduction of the new national test upset and angry.

The new exam would offer a way for students to get admission based on merit and their performance. In India, private medical colleges charge aspiring students—or, in most cases, their parents—extremely high capitation fees to secure a place, whatever the student’s marks.

A frustrated parent, who spoke anonymously to the BMJ, said that she was asked to pay one crore rupees (£120 000; €140 000; $190 000) for her daughter’s admission to a top medical college in Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The parent was a teacher, and such a sum was out of her reach.

Another parent said that she had encountered a similar problem when dealing with a leading medical college in Bangalore, Karnataka. She said that even though her son is a top student at his school, he had a very small chance of making it under the current system. Nor could she afford the exorbitant fees to buy him a seat. She was angry that merit no longer had any meaning in medical education.

The story resonates across many states in India, where students pay enormous sums to become doctors. Those who can’t afford to pay fight for a few seats in government medical colleges.

There is an acute shortage of government medical colleges. Currently, there are only 273 medical colleges recognised by the Medical Council of India. They have a capacity to train just 32 000 students.

On the other hand, private medical colleges have mushroomed all across the country. Some are not even genuine colleges, existing only on paper, with no trained teachers or proper curriculum. Students join just to get a document saying that they have a degree. Many of these colleges have now been shut down, but it is an indicator of how lucrative medical education has become. It is perhaps one of the most successful commercial enterprises in the country.

Every year, thousands of students apply to study medicine. Those who don’t pass the entrance test get admitted by paying capitation fees.

To curb the unethical practice of charging hefty capitation fees, the Medical Council of India announced the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test. Angry and disappointed students claim that lobbying by the private medical colleges has led to the decision to postpone the introduction of the new test.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f773