Education has always been a hot topic in our country. Parents, in hopes of settling their children at comfortable posts and for financial security, push, shove and do everything possible for their wards’ college selection to happen according to plan. For a country with a fascination for doctors, lawyers and engineers, no stone is left unturned in the quest for the dream college.
From this arise the innumerable medical colleges across the length and breadth of the country; 412, as approved by the Medical Council of India which admits 52,765 students every year. Of these institutions, 190 are run by the government – 114 of the whole were set up in the time since 2010, increasing the seats by 11,000.
Admission for medical courses has historically been either on the merit of Class 12th Board results (in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala) or the performance of the candidate in any of the pre-medical tests held by CBSE or the state governments.
In 2012, the UPA led government introduced the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for admission to medical courses from that year. However, due to the strong opposition from several private institutions and state governments, CBSE and the Medical Council of India elected to defer it by a year. Reasons for opposition mainly revolved around the fact that the proposed single entrance test would only be available in English or Hindi and the difference in syllabus for the different state boards and the Central Board.
In the year it was deferred, 80 – 115 petitions were filled by private institutions and even state governments against the implementation of NEET. Differences over the syllabus and the validity of it for minority institutions brought the issue in front of a Supreme Court Bench, which found that MCI doesn’t have the legal authority to control admissions for medical courses. By a 2-1 vote, the bench voted to scrap the NEET examination.
The twist came in earlier this year when, while recalling the 2013 verdict on the NEET examination by the former Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, with a revival of the 2010 notification issued by the MCI on 11th April. For smooth implementation of the new single examination, the Supreme Court issued orders on 28th April for the AIPMT held by CBSE on May 1st to be considered as the first phase of the NEET, with NEET-2 to be held for all those who hadn’t applied earlier, on July 24th.
The Central government had moved the Supreme Court for a modification to its 28th April order on the basis of practical difficulties in implementing a single eligibility exam in a period of two days. State governments such as Jammu and Kashmir and private medical colleges had also filed pleas against the same. It was clarified that state governments and private institutions would not be allowed to hold their own exams for admissions as the provision for admission was only through NEET.
With the Supreme Court order including all the states into the NEET, the Centre brought up a Presidential Ordnance to allow states to defer the full implementation of NEET for one year at the Undergraduate level if they so choose, but would still have to fill 15% of their seats through NEET. Admissions for post graduate courses for the year 2017-2018 would be under NEET, which are scheduled to be held in December.
In a related news report by India Today, the Dental Council of India, which gives permission for establishment of new dental institutions, has decided to scrap all existing requests for setting up of new colleges for dentistry due to the surplus of dentists in the country, which is expected to reach over a lakh by 2020.
These happenings paint a grim picture for the overall education and medical sector of the country. Over 65 years since Independence, but as yet we do not have a single window access for medical education, instead we allow more and more variations in mode of entry. With the chaos which occurs every year to get admissions in some of the more esteemed colleges of the country, the private sector pounces on the haphazard manner and charges students exorbitant sums.
A single access, as provided by NEET, allows students from across the country to apply to just one exam to seek admission in any of the medical colleges of the country. It also allows better understanding of the drawbacks of the current system of administration by allowing a better insight into how the numbers work out; between the number of applicants and the number of seats available, the overall performance of any college in comparison to the national average in terms of benchmarks. At the same time, with a single body collating the results and colleges’ offering admission on the basis of the same allows for better oversight, to avoid any further scams for admission to medical courses in India.
The Supreme Court’s earlier decision to declare the test illegal came because of the lack of language options and the difference in terms of syllabus. The sudden overturn may raise quite a few eyebrows, not to mention the overturning of the same verdict within 3 years. While the argument of the government does seem to hold merit with regards to practical difficulties in holding a national examination for all medical aspirants, the court, in its order seems to be pursuing the changes which our netas should be proposing instead of rejecting and working around.
Single window for admissions allows the authorities to keep track of all the medical admissions in the country, thus also being able to plan for the future in terms of staff and infrastructure. On the other hand, it financially affects the private colleges who will no longer be able to take admissions as per their own criteria, like management quota.
Many may refer to the Supreme Court’s change of verdict and related orders as immature seeing the kind of logistical limitations in holding a nationwide single entrance test. But what we can’t deny is that the court finds itself forced to issue such hyperbole instructions due to the lack of initiative by the legislature. The legislature which, allegedly in many cases would find mention as beneficiaries from many private medical and dental colleges, is yet to show any progress in the tottering education of our society.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar