As Indian students make their way back to the country after fleeing strife-torn Ukraine, the Indian government is saddled with a pertinent question — where will these students continue their education? The answer to that question is being scoured in Ukraine’s neighbours like Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan as the government explores continuation options. The new norms set by the National Medical Commission (NMC), the country’s apex medical education regulator, however, might make things murky.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a statement in the parliament on April 6 on the situation in Ukraine which mentioned that the Indian government was in touch with the aforementioned countries for the admission of Indian students in universities there as these countries follow similar education systems.
While this move might help some students sustain their medical journey in some way, medical and legal experts fear that it will not help students who left for Ukraine for their degree after November 18, 2021 — the day the NMC brought into force the National Medical Commission (Foreign Medical Graduate Licentiate) Regulations. Through the norms, the NMC has incorporated conditions that deter Indian students from going abroad with several conditions that run contrary to the interest of foreign medical graduates.
As per the new regulations, medical education in foreign countries should have — (i) A minimum duration of 54 months; (ii) An internship of a minimum of 12 months in the same foreign medical institution; (iii) English as the medium of instruction; iv) The same curriculum as prescribed by the NMC in India; (v) Mandatory registration of medical practitioners in the country from where they have obtained the foreign medical degree; and (vi) Additional internship for a minimum of 12 months after returning to India.
“Even if, with government efforts, these students get admission in Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, those who have gone abroad after November 18, 2021 cannot become doctors in India because of new regulations made by the NMC,” says Viraj Kadam, a lawyer in the Delhi High Court. Kadam is appearing for the students who have challenged the norms in the High Court.
Experts say that the prescription of such norms falls under the domain of the destination country's regulatory body. With the norms, the NMC has curbed the rights of Indian citizens to obtain medical education from abroad and has made it inaccessible to them.
“Can the Indian government ask the professional regulatory body of Poland or Hungary or any other country to register these students — once they graduate — to practice in the respective countries? It is like asking a country to give jobs to Indian doctors to practice, which is diplomatically improper,” says Kadam.
“If this is so, then what is the point of sending Ukraine returnees to other countries? They cannot come back to India and take the exit exam to become certified medical practitioners at home,” he adds, talking about the test that medical graduates from foreign universities have to take once they are back in India. Only the ones who clear this test get registered as doctors in India. The clauses in the new regulation have to be fulfilled for the students to even be eligible for the test.
Education counsellors say that medical colleges in countries like Kazakhstan are already advertising their courses and are willing to admit Indian students. The problem, however, is the new regulations set by the NMC, they say.
“The regulations must be scrapped to give relief to students,” says Rohan Singh, co-partner at education consultancy firm Get My University.
He also points out the loophole in one of the clauses which makes it mandatory for students to complete a one-year internship in the foreign country to be eligible for the exit exam back home.
“Some countries such as Kazakhstan have a two-year internship but they do not allow foreign students to participate in it and send them back to their respective countries once the undergraduate programme is over,” Singh adds.
“It is very strange that our own norms are such that we cannot give admission to our own students. Then how can we ask other countries to change their own norms for Indian students? I think what the External Affairs Minister has said is more like a political statement with no academic importance,” says an education counsellor who does not wish to be named.
The language of instruction is another bone of contention. While the NMC’s new norms say that students going abroad must get an education in the English language only, a lot of teaching happens in the local language in many countries like Poland, Kazakhstan, among others.
“Indian students do a crash course in the local language and the teaching medium is bilingual in many colleges in these countries. These students will be barred from taking the exit exam if they come back to India,” says the counsellor.
Sources in the NMC say that the purpose of the regulation is to stop Indian students from going abroad and doing any course. It wants them to stay in India and do medical studies here. However, the limited number of seats in government colleges and high fees in private colleges leave helpless medical aspirants with no option but to travel abroad.
“I think the only solution is to make medical education accessible and affordable in India,” says Kadam.