By K Raveendran
Operation Ganga, the evacuation drive launched to bring back Indian students from Ukraine, is by no means comparable to Vande Bharat mounted during the Covid pandemic, in which over 1.8 crore Indians were evacuated from various parts of the world. But the heart-wrenching stories about the journey through hell that Indian students have had to endure before they could be flown back to safety from the war zones of Ukraine have led to more national attention being telescoped on the latest drive.
According to external affairs ministry, 20,000 Indian citizens have been evacuated already and there are still over a thousand of them, desperately waiting to be airlifted. The situation is grim for over 700 students, mostly from Kerala, who are trapped at Sumy University and whose appeal for help so far has not produced any positive response due to the extremely dangerous situation there. Reports coming from various locations in the conflict zones are by themselves depressing, but the crisis has brought to light a sordid story that has so far remained hidden from public knowledge about the hapless situation of the Ukraine-educated medical students even when there is no war.
A degree from an Ukraine university, or any other university in the erstwhile Soviet republics, is only the beginning of a long struggle that awaits medical students from India as these degrees are not recognized here. Before such doctors can practice here, they have to pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination. But only less than 20 percent are able to pass this test, which means that the majority, already under a debt trap on account of medical loans, have a real struggle to find a job.
The father of the student who was killed in Russian shelling while venturing out for food for himself as well as his peers going without food and water for days together has blamed India’s botched medical education system for his son’s sad end. While dealing with a petition filed by a parent, the Supreme Court the other day expressed shock at the manner in which medical education was being conducted in India. The court noted that the parents and students were forced to opt for Ukrainian universities because of the unduly high cost of medical education in India as well unfair admission policies followed by the now replaced the Indian Medical Council, which acted as a tool in the hands of unscrupulous medical college managements to fleece their victims.
The managements have been exploiting the greed for money and the false sense of prestige on the part of parents over a doctor in the family, which drive them to go to any extent to secure an MBBS admission. But unfortunately, there is so much competition that only a small percentage manage to make it to an Indian medical college. According to data provided by the newly-instituted National Medical Commission, which replaced the dubious national Medical Council, only one person out of 16 who seek admission achieves success. For instance, about 16 lakh aspirants appeared for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for MBBS admissions for less than one lakh seats on offer.
Within days of the students registering for the entrance exam, they begin getting messages about cheaper and admission-assured medical colleges in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Russian, Georgia, Armenia, China, the Philippines, and Trinidad & Tobago. There are thousands of agents throughout India that connect the students to these universities, which offer a medical degree for the price of a third of what it would cost here. No need to waste time at coaching centres, which are by themselves fleecing centres. Nor is there the need to pass NEET. Everything, including the visa would be organised by the agents for anything up to Rs 25 lakh less than what a normal MBBS degree would entail in India.
It is estimated that on an average 20,000 students get admitted to medical colleges in Ukraine, Belarus, Russian, Georgia, Armenia and further east in the Philippines and China. There are a few language issues for the students initially, but there are also East European universities which offer their basic course in English. Added to these are the additional prospects of job migration to one of these countries. (IPA Service)