Rising cost of medical studies
It is quite an irony that while higher education in the government sector remains practically free, the costs of education in private schools and universities are hitting the roof. When it comes to specialized professional courses, such as engineering and medical studies, the cost can be prohibitive and out of reach of a greater section of the society. This is becoming so especially in the case of medical courses. As a welfare state it is the responsibility of the Government of India to keep education at all levels universally accessible therefore it is only to be expected that government run educational institutions should be heavily subsidised by tax money, but given the aberration we are witnessing today in regards to private educational institutions, it should also be the government’s responsibility to moderate and ensure that even these are not given to undue profiteering, excluding in the process, the deserving amongst the larger masses.
In the past few years, National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, NEET, qualification has been made mandatory even for private medical institutions thereby restricting the practice of admitting any student of whatever merit whose parents were ready to make astronomical “donations” to these institutions. While the standard set by NEET has somewhat ensured a degree of quality amongst students who qualify to pursue medical studies even in private medical institutions, the latter to make up for the lost revenue source by way of these donations, have resorted to hiking up their tuition fees in quantum leaps.
This trend has left the county’s better known private medical colleges charging anything between Rs. 12 to Rs. 36 lakhs per year, or Rs. 1 to Rs. 3 lakhs a month as tuition fees, quite effectively eliminating meritorious students belonging to families with no means to afford such inflated costs. For students thus left out, the resort has been to opt to study abroad, the preferred destinations being China, Bangladesh and East Europe where the costs for medical studies are still in the vicinity of Rs. 3 to Rs. 5 lakhs a year.
The fact before the nation today is alarming, between 11 and 12 lakh aspirants give the NEET exam for medical studies each year. Of these, only a little over 56,000 in the top positions will win seats in government institutions where costs are very affordable, but a majority will be left either to make another attempt the next year or else look for other available avenues for the pursuit of their, as well as their parents’ aspirations for their future. The rich will seek admission in the prohibitively expensive private institutions, while those not so well endowed will, as noted earlier, opt for studies abroad.
According to an estimate, each year from Manipur alone, there are about 700 students seeking admission in institutions other than government run ones. A good number of them would also invariably be left to seek admission in foreign institutions, and a good majority of this section land in Chinese institutions for various reasons, but mostly affordability.
There are obviously many questions left to be answered in the face of this reality. The first is, why is the India unable to accommodate most, if not all of the qualified aspirants? Surely the answer cannot be about the government deciding there are already too many health professionals in the country and is now thinking of progressively discouraging students from opting for a career in the health sector. On the contrary, the Indian Journal of Medical Research says India today has a whooping shortfall of 6 lakh doctors to be abreast with the World Health Organisation recommended standard of one doctor for every 1000 patients. The journal also says that India will have to set up at least 200 medical colleges in the next ten years to be on course to bridging this ratio gap. The challenge obviously is huge, and it is also certain that the government will not be able to do this alone and will have to seek participation with private enterprises. However, it is in the area of defining this relationship that the shadow is already falling.
The other interesting question is, how are Indian students able to get admission in China and other countries with relative ease and for a fraction of the cost they would be spending in private medical colleges in India? It cannot be a question of quality alone, for as far as innovative researches in new fields of medicine are concerned, countries like China and South Korea are emerging at the top to give even the most advanced countries a run for their money? In studies of genetics, stem cells and artificial intelligence assisted diagnostics, China is already a front runner.
While the problem is true of the whole country, the situation in the Northeast states is somewhat unique. Given the region’s lack of industries, government jobs remain the best bridge to a respectable and secure future for its youth. Again, the best guarantees of a respectable career come from the medical profession therefore the rush for it. Since the government cannot meet this demand, private players have now entered the scene in a big way, but they have proven to be heartlessly profit motivated, and are eager to make money even if it means bleeding their students and their parents white.
Since the government cannot afford to create more medical colleges overnight without compromising quality, the question is, should it not begin thinking in terms of introducing a regulatory mechanism to check profiteering by private medical colleges. The government could for instance reasonably subsidise the running costs of these private colleges and then put a ceiling on the fees they can charge from students. This subsidy should be enough to make the colleges meet their overheads comfortably, and the fee standard should leave a profit margin for them so they will have the capital reserve to reinvest and nurture the growth of their business. At all cost however, they should be strictly forbidden from unfair profiteering.
In the long run however, what is needed perhaps is a reorientation of the entire education system of the country. At the moment, the fields of knowledge and skills students can seek are too tightly structured into water tight compartments and students have to acquaint themselves early to be able to enter these courses and excel. This also often requires students to know if he or she must opt the science or art streams when as young in Class 10, and know the professional streams they prefer to make a career in.
Life choices made at Class 10 understandably are not always indicative of mature inclinations, but the students are left with no way of turning back once they have made the leap. Choices of subjects and their combinations students are given at this age should therefore be more liberal, and all subjects combinations should also leave equal job openings. If this were so, the rush for medical and engineering courses should drop to a limit that can be defined as reasonable. Probably this is the case in countries like China already, which is why any bright student, not just Chinese but even Indian and other foreigners, can go to the country and pick the professional courses of their passion and pursue them at reasonable costs.
(This article was first published in Assam Tribune)
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