Saturday, Nov 26, 2022

Concerns Over Health Ministry’s Scheme For Ukraine–Returned Students As It Mirrors Route Taken By Unscrupulous Agents

The Academic Mobility Programme evades the responsibility of safeguarding the careers of over 20,000 medical students who returned from war-ravaged Ukraine, say some education counsellors   

Ukraine medical students
Ukraine medical students AP Photo

Union Health Ministry’s Academic Mobility Programme (AMP) for Indian medical students who had to leave their studies midway due to the Ukraine-Russia war earlier this year begs scrutiny. Much before the government’s approval for the AMP, the scheme was being used by agents to earn commission from Indian students enrolled in Ukrainian medical Universities.

On September 15, the Health Ministry and the medical education regulator, National Medical Commission (NMC), informed the apex court in its affidavit that they have approved AMP for medical students who returned from Ukraine after the war broke out seven months ago.

Under the scheme, universities of Ukraine have tied up with universities in other countries where students can complete their remaining studies till the time situation becomes normal there.

The NMC had also issued a public notice on September 6 in this regard. The notice came after some students had filed a petition in the Supreme Court on August 3, 2022, demanding that they be allowed to pursue their remaining studies in medical colleges in India. In response to the petition, the NMC approved the AMP and informed the court in its affidavit. 

However, much before these developments, many students had already taken temporary transfers under the AMP to other medical colleges in countries like Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to maintain academic continuity and not waste a year. They are also paying the fee as raised by the universities in accordance with the fee structure.  

All of them did this at the behest of education agents working for Ukrainian medical universities. The latter devised the AMP to make money from the Ukraine-Russia war crisis and help Ukrainian colleges retain their students.

After over 20,000 students returned to India after Russia attacked Ukraine, colleges in that country were staring at the uphill task of keeping the students enrolled with them. They had to contend with the growing competition of education agents from various countries who had started doling out offers to poach these students.

Commission Before Education 

Things came to a head when the students demanded their marksheets and other educational documents from Ukrainian colleges to transfer to other countries. However, the latter refused to entertain such requests in a bid to hold on to its pupils. 

"Even their agents advised the colleges not to return these documents. If students shifted to other educational institutions, these agents would lose out on the hefty commissions they get for the semester fee paid by each student," says Rohan Singh, a Delhi-based education counsellor. 

He adds that some top agents, who annually send the highest number of Indian students to Ukraine, devised this scheme—to shift students to colleges in other countries temporarily. "Since they are common agents for educational institutions in other countries as well, they could introduce this scheme without much difficulty," Singh explains. That is how the concept of AMP came into being.  

Other agents soon followed this strategy to safeguard their interests. Under the programme, some medical universities in Ukraine came to an agreement with medical institutions in other countries to teach the remaining syllabus until the situation normalises in Ukraine.

"There is no guideline on how this programme will work as the medical education systems of the two countries are completely different. It is just an arrangement done by agents to retain students and safeguard their commissions," says another agent who works for some of The Commonwealth of Independent States countries, requesting anonymity. 

Leap Of Faith Boomerangs

Many students took transfers to other colleges on the advice of these agents without verifying from the NMC whether it was valid or not. However, some students and their consultants raised a query with NMC. They questioned whether the NMC approved the AMP offered by Ukraine.

To clarify these queries, the regulatory body uploaded an FAQ on its website on August 18, 2022. It clearly stated that the "National Medical Commission doesn't approve any such programme."    

When the students approached the Supreme Court demanding admission to colleges in India, the NMC, for the first time, issued a public notice on September 6, 2022. This stated, "It is informed that the mobility program offered by Ukraine has been considered in the Commission in consultation with Ministry of External Affairs, wherein it was intimated that the Academic Mobility Program is a temporary relocation to other universities in different countries globally. However, the degree will be awarded by the parent Ukrainian University."

"The Commission hereby conveys its No objection for academic mobility program in respect of Indian medical students who are studying in Ukraine provided that other criteria of screening test regulation 2002 are fulfilled," it further said.

Making Hay While Students Fret

Education agents inform Outlook Business that the day NMC issued this public notice, the fee for the academic mobility programme in some colleges shot up from $5,000 to $7,000 for a single semester. 

On September 15, while submitting an affidavit before the Supreme Court of India, both the Union Health Ministry and the NMC vouched for the AMP. However, the students, who are petitioners in the court, have rejected it in a counter affidavit as they said that hardly five to six universities have come forward for AMP and there are no seats available there.  

They also voiced their disappointment that on September 22, just a day before the hearing in the Supreme Court, the NMC issued another public notice where it suggested only three colleges in Georgia for the AMP. 

However, after the court hearing on September 23, Vineet Bhagat, a lawyer for the petitioning students in the Supreme Court, expresses hope that the government would consider the problem seriously. 

"The government categorically said that the petitioners are duly NEET-qualified students and that it is seriously considering solutions for them. The government has sought more time to come back with a concrete proposal. The matter has been adjourned for October 11," he optimistically says.