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A Unified Medical Entrance Is A Great Idea But It Might Not Stick

29/04/2016 5:58 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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ROHTAK, INDIA - JULY 1: Post-graduation institute of medical science conducted the entrance exams for MBBS courses in PGI campus on July 1, 2012 in Rohtak, India. Students while taking exams at a exam centre. (Photo by Manoj Dhaka / Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

As I watched a briefer than brief discussion on the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) judgement in a TV show, I was struck by the opposition to a single common entrance exam for undergraduate medical courses.

World over, students get admitted to colleges based on a single test, more or less. It is only in India that on an average an engineering/ medical aspirant writes anything between 50-100 entrance exams run by different institutions/associations/state governments.

Logically, it makes eminent sense to conduct one entrance exam and allow institutions to devise an admission policy on the basis of the score earned. It saves lots of money, stress, energy and time. But 70 years after independence, we are nowhere near implementing such a solution.

What NEET would prevent is backdoor entry, and by extension the ability to take donations or additional fees.

The opposition comes from three major sources.

a) State governments like Tamil Nadu that admit students based on their score in 10+2 board exams and have abolished entrance exams. The stated reason is that an entrance exam would discourage the rural population, who do not have access to coaching.

b) Minority institutions that have been allowed constitutional protection under articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26, 29(1) and 30. With the exception of Article 30, all other institutions, too, get the same level of protection. Both minority and non-minority institutions argue that their rights under these sections are violated.

c) Select private and deemed universities as well as central/Institutes of national Importance (INIs) like JIPMER/AIIMS /KMC conduct their own tests. They argue that they have special needs.

The first argument does have some merit. But Tamil Nadu can circumvent the issue by reserving say 50% of its 85% quota for rural students. And the best among them then could get admission based on NEET. In fact, Maharashtra distributes its seats based on parameters ranging from home district and home university to caste and disability (multiple categories). It is doable.

One cannot blame the institutions fully. The ridiculously low fees set by stupid fee regulation committees leave no space for these institutions run their campuses professionally.

The other two arguments are fundamentally banal. In fact, Justice Dave said clearly in his dissenting judgement of 2013 that there's nothing preventing minority/central institutions from admitting students of their choice (including on the basis of language, religion or caste) from amongst those who qualify for NEET.

However, what NEET would prevent is backdoor entry, and by extension the ability to take donations or additional fees. Once NEET is in place, even within a minority, one can only admit a student who has scored sufficiently in the exam. This would close the door on the ability to generate black money. And that is the biggest elephant in the room.

One cannot also blame the institutions fully. The ridiculously low fees set by stupid fee regulation committees leave no space for these institutions run their campuses professionally.

Now, the question is, will the NEET order stand?

This order is an interim measure. It came because Justice Dave is hearing the petition. But the Constitution bench will hear the issues in detail.

This is a great opportunity for the central government to come up with a regulation that satisfies the conditions of equity, excellence and non-discrimination, but still uses a common entrance exam. Of course, considering the government we have, this might be wishful thinking.

What is the struggle of the 200 million youth of the country before the ₹8000-9000 crores of black money generated each year?

What the bench decides, one can never be sure. The best legal brains that money can buy will be brought to bear and the full ammunition of these luminaries are likely be used to get a verdict that nullifies the common exam. Too much money is at stake.

What is the struggle of the 200 million youth of the country before the ₹8000-9000 crores of black money generated each year?

The battle has only begun. NEET will only work if the state either funds all students or allows colleges to charge what the market dictates. Let us wait and see!

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