“I was the first person in my family to step out of the country to study. Everyone was very proud of me then,” says Rachita Kurmi, a third-year medical student of Shandong University in Jinan, China.
But now she is among the 20,000 other students who are stuck in a limbo over the future of their foreign medical degree. They do not know if their online MBBS degree will be recognised in India or if they will be eligible to practise in the country at all.
After her first semester, Rachita had come back home to Mumbai for winter vacations in January 2020. It was then that the pandemic struck and she has not been able to return to college till today.
Her sister – Yogita, who followed in her footsteps and went to pursue MBBS in Ukraine was also forced to return to the country.
I agree that our situation was not as dire. My sister came back from a war-torn region. But our plight has completely been ignored. All we are asking for is to return to China or to have internships, workshops or seminars here, in India.Rachita Kurmi, MBBS Student in China
Students Say MBBS is Not the Same Without Practicals
For the last two year, online classes have been held via DingTalk, WeChat and SuperStar – all apps that are regularly used for communication in China.
Later as India announced a ban on Chinese apps in 2020, some universities shifted to Microsoft Teams.
While their classes are on, students say that they are missing out as MBBS requires some amount of practical training. Rachita said that they are being deprived of practical knowledge and that they should ideally get some training, even if it is just for exposure. She added that medicine cannot be studied without interactions with teachers.
Gaurav Soni, a student of Guangxi Medical University in Nanning, a city in Southern China said, "Doctor-patient interactions are very important for us. In the first year, we did not have to go to labs but after the first year, we were supposed to go to the biology and anatomy labs but we did not get a chance to do so."
What Has Happened So Far?
Data released by the Indian Embassy in China reveals that around 23,000 Indian students were enrolled in Chinese universities before the pandemic began. Of these, more than 18,000 were pursuing medical courses.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, prior to the war with Russia, around 18,000 Indian medical students were enrolled in various universities in the country.
To be able to practice medicine in India, these students will have to pass the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) — a mandatory licentiate test for all Indian students with a foreign medical degree.
Students that passed out from the recent batch, from Chinese universities, who had around three years of offline classes before they had to switch to online classes, were allowed to sit for FMGE in December 2021.
However, in what appears to be a U-turn, in a notice published in February 2022, the National Medical Council (NMC) said that it "doesn't recognise or approve medical courses done only by online mode".
As Chinese universities start inviting admissions to various courses for the upcoming academic year, the circular also cautions students to refer to FMGE regulations before applying to Chinese or other foreign medical universities.
This has left third and fourth year students in the lurch. They were able to attend offline classes for barely some months to a year at best.
Moreover, the most recent guidelines for the FMGE exams, released in December 2021, stated that students should submit evidence that establishes the results of their final examinations.
The document submitted must confirm that the candidate has successfully completed all required courses of the primary medical courses with eligible results as per requirement of the institution concerned.Recent FMGE guidelines
Since practicals and clinical rotation are among the required courses, students who are unable to complete these courses, are unsure of whether they will be able to appear for the exam.
No Clarity For The Way Ahead
Since February, many students have reached out to the NMC and have received mixed replies. Some say that they were told that they would be able to sit for the exam while others were told that they would only be able to take the test, if they go back to China and complete their course.
NMC members did not respond to The Quint's queries on the same.
Recently on 25 March, the University Grants Commission (UGC) too released a notification stating that prospective students must exercise ‘due diligence’, while applying to courses as the online courses will not be recognised.
On the same day, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue of the return of Indian students to China with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
After the meeting, Jaishankar told reporters that Wang Yi had assured him that he would speak to the relevant authorities on the matter.
Meanwhile, the NMC has allowed Ukraine-returned students to complete internships in India. The NMC circular stated that foreign medical graduates with incomplete internships due to compelling situations such as COVID-19 or war, will be considered eligible for internships in India.
However, it also states that students have to clear FMGE in order to sit for internships.
Why Students Choose China As A Destination
Every year, lakhs of medical students from across the country apply for NEET, to compete for 83,275 medical seats
Out of the total available seats, 43,435 are in government colleges, NMC data shows, where the entire course may cost somewhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 7.5 lakhs.
Unable to pay the high fees at Indian private colleges, which costs between Rs 60-70 lakh for the entire course, many students turn to other countries to study medical courses where the cost of a medical education is affordable. Popular destinations for students include Ukraine, China, Philippines and Russia.
However, their future seems bleak now. Rachita said, “If we are not qualified to take the exam and cannot practise, all of these years are going to waste. But there will also be a shortage of around 20,000 doctors since we will not be able to practice.”
Students Have Nowhere to Go, Some Drop Out
Saumya from Patna in Bihar, a student enrolled in Nanchang University, said that students have been running helter-skelter to get their voices heard. They have written to the PMO and a few have written to the Karnataka Health Minister. They have also started a petition online.
She said that there are talks of ‘taking a transfer’ to another country. “That means that we would have to start from scratch — prepare for NEET again and then pay the fees all over again as well," she said.
A few students had taken bank loans to pay their fees and even the banks need proof that they will go back to physical classes, in order to process the education loans. All we are asking for is some practical training in India until we can go back to China for offline classes.Saumya, a student of Nanchang University
The students that spoke to The Quint said that a majority of their batchmates are Indian. They said that there are a few students from countries like Iran, Bangladesh, South Africa and Egypt.
Gaurav Soni said that some of his friends have even dropped out of college. He said, “One of them has taken admission in a private college in India and started from the first year. A few others went to Georgia and started from scratch… some are sitting at home. Those of us who cannot afford to start all over again, are stuck in the middle.”
Soni said that a few of his seniors have managed to go to private hospitals for observation. They are more likely to be eligible for the FMGE examination since they have attended a stipulated number of offline classes.
Only few students took admission in the 2020 and 2021 batch and some universities stopped incoming students after China tightened curbs. As of now, the country is not issuing visas to Indian students.