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Jan 21, 2011 at 04:24pm IST

Medical entrance in India faces a test

After years of being plagued by corruption, the process of medical admission in India is now getting a face lift. This is being done by the Medical Council of India (MCI) which is now being headed by a six-member panel.

The new panel was formed after Ketan Desai, who was the president of MCI was caught taking a bribe in April 2010 and the regulating body was dissolved for a while.

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One of the first things that the MCI, in its new avatar has done is to propose one common entrance test on an all-India basis for undergraduate medical science. Even as this proposal was tabled, it faced opposition from some states and private colleges.

Medical entrance in India faces a test

A single exam for medical admission will ensure that merit will not be sidelined.

In early December, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of MCI’s proposal. Since then, MCI has swung in action, and so has the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE). The CBSE already conducts entrance tests for 15 percent of the seats and from academic year 2011-2012, it will conduct tests for all the 32,000 seats in the country.

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According to panel member Ranjit Roy Chaudhary, the central point here is equity and transparency. By ensuring that only students taking a common exam become eligible for a medical seat, MCI is trying to create an Indian brand of MBBS, not a Vellore or a Kakinada or an Allahabad brand.

Right now, what happens is that if five people graduate with an MBBS degree, they all try for a seat in orthopaedic surgery and the seat goes to the person who pays more, although he may not be the best candidate.

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The benefits of a single window test are evident: A student will not need to approach a dozen and more colleges; the colleges in turn will get better quality students as MCI will not allow admission if the student has bypassed this test. “Even if you pay a capitation fee, you still will have to take this central test,” says Chaudhary.

Should there be any concern that this will trigger a mad rush for high scores, panel member Devi Shetty alleviates that fear .

“We only expect a student to get 50 percent in these tests, the rest of the procedure will continue as before, the state lists, quota allocations, etc. will continue as before.”

Still, despite the Supreme Court verdict and these assurances, states and colleges have their misgivings. For instance, Tamil Nadu, which has done away with medical entrance exams in the last five years for the government colleges, thinks the plus-two level (12th standard) exams and their grades are good enough to award an MBBS seat.

“As a policy we are opposing it. This will affect rural students as they might not be prepared to answer the exam at a national level,” says Dr. J. Mohanasundaram, dean of Madras Medical College in Chennai.

Others interpret it as a mismatch between the syllabi of state boards and the CBSE. If CBSE sets the exam paper, students studying under state boards are at a disadvantage, argues M V Prabhu, associate dean of Kasturba Medical College in Mangalore. He suggests a national level entrance that draws from the state boards’ syllabi.

Those like R.V. Rananavare, dean of Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai worry that in a national test the candidates from one region might go to another region which might not help in their training. “Medical science is different from engineering,” he says. “The candidate needs to communicate with the patient, who, more often than not, speaks the local language”.

These worries are misplaced, Dr Shetty says. CBSE has a bank of questions and the MCI panel will help it fine-tune it to address the mismatch in syllabi. The exams will be conducted in English and Hindi; other languages are not being considered as plus-two exams are held in English in most states. As for uprooting the students, the question doesn’t arise. The state governments and private colleges can grant admission to students — local or otherwise — as before, provided the student has written the central test and has the minimum stipulated marks.

But given the fact that many colleges still don’t get the rationale behind it, maybe the MCI could hold more discussions. Says A K Agarwal, dean, Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi: “This is a wonderful decision but the proposal still requires a lot of discussion. Nothing should be brought [in] practically unless we have achieved 100 percent professional discussion.”

Since institutional change doesn’t come easy, can private colleges still choose to stay away from this?

The MCI hopes the colleges will participate, as most have had their questions addressed and apprehensions allayed. “If they are not [part of this new system] then we will have to see what to do, whether we will even recognise the doctors that come out of such colleges,” says Chaudhary.

And he means it. He already has plans in place for getting the post graduate exams under this central system as well, since the Supreme Court has already approved it. But that may come into effect from 2012.

Students are in a quandary, too. Anjali Ollapally, an MBBS student seeking a PG seat, says it could go either way. “It is good to have just one entrance exam as you study for just one; but at the same time, it is scary since you put everything into one exam, and if you do not get a seat, you could lose a year.”

Maybe the MCI should simply put up a list of frequently asked questions on its Web site.

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