The Supreme Court has thrown the system of entrance to medical and dental colleges in the country into some confusion by deciding on Monday to rescind its earlier order of 2013, which had restored separate entrance examinations for public and private teaching institutions spread across the country. This meant allowing for varying requirements in different states and at different colleges.
This decision revives the National Eligibility Entrance Test which aims to standardise entrance requirements and levels across the country. While the debate on the advisability of doing so is a wide one, there is a procedural question to be addressed right away.
Lakhs of students in different states — the figure tends to vary between five to six and a half lakhs in recent years — are preparing to take different pre-medical examinations for different colleges even as you read this, as per the 2013 order. The exams are to be held in early May. To return to the NEET, as the Supreme Court has now ordered, in a matter of just a few weeks is a tall order.
Therefore, there appears to be some merit in the government’s plea that the court’s order can only take effect from next year. It has come way too late to be adopted this year. In fact, courts need to be mindful that eleventh hour interventions do not sow confusion in the minds of students preparing to get into medical education, especially if the apex court is going to be changing its mind every so often.
The quality of medical education must be kept high as lives of people are involved. Instead of tinkering around with the issue of the system of examination, the top court should invite all stakeholders — students, their guardians, administrators of government and private medical colleges (the latter have a poor reputation, although there are exceptions), representatives of the Union and state governments, as well as the Medical Council of India and the CBSE, which can also conduct a common entrance exam across the country — to offer their considered opinion and arrive at a view that will be stable.
There are some 400 medical colleges in the country, offering only around 52,000 medical seats in all. Roughly half of these are in the private sector, where generally the quality of education is poor and study costs almost extortionist. Such colleges are also shot through will malpractice such as capitation fees.
As demand vastly exceeds supply, we are forced to accept this.
The MCI has been unable to ensure quality in such institutions. The urgent need is to expand the number of quality colleges, raise college fees by a reasonable amount so that promoters are not discouraged, and devise entrance exam systems by consulting the states.