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Indian Students Returning From Ukraine May Face A Tough Battle Back Home, Here's Why

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has left over 24,000 Indian students who had been studying in the war-torn nation with no option but to leave their studies midway and flee to India.

Indian students returning from Ukraine
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Over 24,000 Indian students, who had gone to Ukraine to do their undergraduate medical courses, are facing an uncertain future now. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has left them with no option but to leave their studies midway and flee to India.

While most of the students have safely returned, about a thousand or so are still stranded and efforts are on to evacuate them.    

Returning to Ukraine to continue their studies anytime soon looks highly unlikely as the military conflict doesn’t seem to be getting over soon. Even if it happens in near future, it will take years to rebuild the country and return to normalcy due to large scale destruction.

Resuming Studies in India Not Easy

Many politicians have demanded that the government should accommodate these students in the medical colleges in India. Even the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a body of private doctors in India, has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded that these students should be "adjusted as a one-time measure in existing medical schools in the country."

National Medical Commission (NMC), the regulator of medical education in India, has also recently issued a circular in which it has allowed such candidates who couldn't complete their one-year mandatory internship in their respective foreign countries due to war or the pandemic, to apply for the same in India. However, these students will have to first clear the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE).

The NMC’s circular will help only those students who have finished their studies but haven't completed their one-year internship abroad. The circular doesn’t address the problem of a large number of students who are in different years of their courses and have to leave in the middle.

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Students from India studying in Ukraine that fled the conflict from neighbouring Ukraine take a selfie at a refugee camp in Voluntari, Romania | AP Photo

Why Students Go Abroad

Before dealing with the issue, it is important to take a look at how and why these students go abroad to study. The two main reasons are they either don’t qualify to get admission in any medical colleges or cannot afford to pay a high fee in private colleges in India.   

As per the earlier process, for going to study abroad, students had to take an eligibility certificate from the erstwhile regulator Medical Council of India. Only those students who secured 50 per cent marks in physics, chemistry and biology; and passed marks in English used to get the said certificate. 

However, after 2019 when National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) was introduced, it became mandatory since then to clear NEET for getting admission to a medical college abroad.

More Students Less Seats

In India, there are about 80,000 seats in medical colleges but over 16 lakh students appear in NEET and about 50% of those qualify for it. Due to stiff competition, only those who get high-ranking get admission in India.  

So, those students, who don’t get high ranks in NEET fail to secure a seat in affordable government colleges. Such students might get admission to private colleges but they cannot afford to pay high-fee and look for options abroad. The minimum cost to study MBBS in India is above Rs 60 lakh while the countries like Ukraine offer the same course for Rs 15 lakh only. 

Another category of students, who go abroad, are those who are capable to pay the fee of private college but rank so low that they don't get admission even in private colleges and have to move abroad to study. After their return, to practice as a doctor in India, these candidates have to first clear the FMGE and do an-one year internship. From 2024 onwards, the FMGE will be replaced by the National Exit Exam.

Even if the Centre makes an effort to accommodate these students in the existing medical colleges in India to pursue their remaining studies, it will throw open several unforeseen challenges from an administrative and academic point of view.

The demand for Parity: Over 40 thousand students, who had to return to India from China in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are also victims of unforeseen circumstances.

“If the government considers relief to students returned from Ukraine, we have also suffered due to pandemic for no fault of ours. We also deserve a similar relief,” A second-year student, returned from China when the Pandemic stated, said.

Any move by the government to accommodate students returning from Ukraine will prompt these pandemic-affected students to demand parity. So, the number of students would cross 60,000 who deserve relief on compassionate ground. This is as huge as 75% of the existing medical seats in India.  

Academic assessment: It is imperative to assess their academic standard before offering seats in medical colleges. Students, who have completed the first 18 months of studies, need to be assessed for their theoretical knowledge while those who have finished their 36 months in college should be tested for their clinical skills.    

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The government or the regulator NMC will have to identify an appropriate body to hold the exam and the manner in which it should be conducted. Neither the National Testing Agency (NTA) that conducts NEET nor NMC have the competence or experience to hold this type of undergraduate test.  

Subject to the legal challenge: Seat distribution in India is merit-based and there are thousands of such students who rank better than those who have gone to Ukraine or China to study. “By no argument, you can allow a candidate to become a doctor with low merit ignoring those who have ranked high in NEET or are more meritorious. A doctor deals with the life of an individual which is not the case in many other professions,” a senior government doctor, said who is not willing to be named.        

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Also, the time-bound counselling to grant seats in a college is a Supreme-court mandated process under which all admissions be over in an academic year by August 31. It is better if the government keeps Supreme Court in the loop before offering any relief to aggrieved students.    

Overburdening of resources: As suggested by IMA if these students are given admission without any assessment on the basis of their geographical locations, medical colleges in India are not evenly distributed. So, it will overburden several colleges even beyond a stretchable limit as the number of aggrieved students is quite high. Many experts think that this will suffer the quality of education and training of the existing students in a big way.   

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High fee in private medical colleges: Despite all the challenges even if the government goes ahead and makes a provision to accommodate them in India, the question is, "Can they afford to pay anywhere between Rs 60 lakh to over a crore which they were unable to pay earlier?" 

The Private medical colleges would love to give them admission as they see the situation as an opportunity to make money but the paying capacity of the parents of these candidates might discourage many of them to go ahead and studying in India. 

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