The war in Ukraine has drawn attention to the predicament of Indian medical students in the country, as well as their rising presence overseas.
Over the last five years, there has been a threefold increase in the number of candidates sitting the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE), which is required of all Indian students studying abroad for an MBBS degree in order to earn a license to practice medicine in India.
The number of medical graduates who took the test climbed from 12,116 in 2015 to 35,774 in 2020, according to the National Board of Examinations (NBE), which administers it. This is despite the fact that India added approximately 30,000 more medical seats during the same time period. Since 2014-15, the number of students taking the foreign medical graduate examination has more than tripled, and Indian medical students from Ukraine have outperformed the national average in FMGE assessments.
In 2014-15, India had 404 medical colleges, with 54,358 MBBS seats available each year. The administration notified Parliament in December that the number of medical colleges had expanded 1.5 times to 596 since 2014-15, while the number of medical seats had increased 1.6 times to 88,120.
With the news of hundreds of Indian students, the vast majority of whom are studying medicine, stranded in Ukraine, India is gradually waking up to the reality of the situation. Every year, thousands of Indian medical students choose Ukraine as a destination, and it is estimated that 20,000 of them were in Ukraine when the crisis began. A simple scan of the National Medical Commission’s website, which has replaced the troubled Medical Council of India as the top governing organization for medical education in India, revealed that there are 605 medical institutions in India, with a total of 90,825 MBBS seats available each year.
While this may appear to be a large amount, it pales in comparison to the reality that over 1.6 million candidates took the National Eligibility Cumulative Entrance Test (NEET) for MBBS admissions in 2021. This situation, in which only one of 16 candidates is chosen for medical education in India, raises various intriguing dynamics. The medical entrance test tutoring industry thrives on this demand-supply imbalance, and many have made a fortune by opening ‘coaching centers.’
At the same time, this creates a situation in which wealthy parents are willing to go to any length to fund their child’s goal. Some private medical colleges meet their demand for medical seats by ingeniously tweaking the system to admit non-meritorious students for a fee. Because of the cheap money in medical education, it became a shelter for thieves and corrupt personalities ranging from mining barons to former chief ministers. The Medical Council of India was well-known to be in cahoots with these bogus medical college operators.
Countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, China, the Philippines, and Trinidad and Tobago become relevant. Every year, an estimated 20,000 students leave India to study medicine. These countries provided comparably high-quality medical education at a fraction of the cost of private medical school in India. Despite language obstacles, most of these schools provide students with adequate exposure to basic components of clinical practice.
When they return to India after completing their medical studies, they must pass a Foreign Medical Graduate Examination, which serves as a license to practice medicine in the country. Previously, the proportion of students who failed this examination was relatively large, but it has gradually decreased over time.
Considering that 20,000 students leave the nation each year and that close to 100,000 students are at various levels of their medical study, the total FX outflow will be close to $1 billion per year if a student spends Rs 5-6 lakh per year. This demonstrates that reforming and investing in India’s medical education makes economic sense.
Although the military operation and bombing continue, multiple TV channels show images of Indian students gathered together in cellars, hoping for a safe passage to Poland and Hungary. There have also been claims of prejudice against students of Indian and African ancestry at European Union borders.
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