'High Airfare, Watching Surgery Online': MBBS Students Unable to Return to China

Students returned to India due to COVID-19 in 2020. Now they've to pay over Rs 1.5 lakh for flight tickets to China.

4 min read
Hindi Female

“Surgery classes have begun and here I am, watching videos of incisions online in India, instead of being in class in my university in China,” lamented Akshara Singh, a fourth-year student at Harbin Medical University in China’s Harbin. The MBBS student, who currently lives in Bharatpur in Rajasthan, returned to India in January 2020 because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, Singh has not been able to return to China.  

Then there is Shahroz Khan, a Delhi-based student enrolled at the Nantong Medical University in China’s Nantong city. “I am stuck in India because the flight tickets to Nantong are so expensive that I am unsure I will be able to go back for my internship. I might have to do it India only,” said Khan.  


He has been waiting to return to China for over two years now, like thousands of other medical students. In November 2020, China banned Indians from traveling to China because of COVID-19. On 22 August this year, China finally announced that Indian students will be able to apply for visas to China.  

The students’ excitement, however, was short-lived. They soon found out that since there are no direct flights to China, they will have to pay anywhere between Rs 1.5 lakh-Rs 2.5 lakh as airfare.

For instance, a flight from Delhi to Beijing on 15 October will take 40 hours 50 minutes. The ticket costs Rs 1,71,578. There will be two layovers – a 13-hour layover at Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh city and a 15-hour layover at China’s Guangzhou.  

This has put their travel plans in jeopardy. The Quint caught up with a few such students who are hoping that the Indian government will arrange chartered flights so that they can head back to China.   

'Took a Loan to Study in China, Now Stuck Here'

Khan had taken an education loan to do his MBBS in China. Despite the investment, he only got to spend his first two years there. He has spent the last 2.5 years studying online after being encumbered by several other challenges, such as the Indian ban on Chinese apps

He said, "Our classes were held via apps such as WeChat and DingTalk, which are generally used in China. But we could not use them because of the Indian ban on Chinese apps. Eventually, our classes moved to Microsoft Teams."


Khan said that the five-year course in India can cost up to Rs one crore in private universities in India. “There are very few government college seats here and that’s why many students opt for countries such as China for MBBS,” said Khan.    

Khan, whose parents are teachers, said that they had invested a lot on his elder sister’s education, which is why he decided to take a loan. He is in his fifth year, and it is not mandatory for fifth-year students to return if they can complete their internships in their home country.   

First, the long wait, and then the unaffordable flight tickets. People think that those studying in China are rich, but it is quite the opposite. We are mostly middle-class students. If we really had the money, we would have stayed back in India and gone to private universities.
Shahroz Khan, Indian student in China

But here’s the catch – Khan can do an internship in India only after clearing the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE). “I’ve started coaching to prepare for the FMGE, after which I can do an internship in India itself. The coaching classes are cheaper than the tickets to China,” he said.   

On the other hand, students of all other years are expected to return to China soon. Mridul Salaria, a fourth-year student of a university in China's Jiangsu, said, “Our universities have given us deadlines of 30 October. To go back, we need to shell out a large sum of money and that’s why I hope that the Indian government will arrange chartered flights. They could arrange private chartered flights specifically for the students, we are even ready to pay for that."


‘40-Hour Flights, Multiple Layovers to Get to China'  

In addition to the high costs, the flights also take several hours since they have layovers in other countries, as there are no direct flights.

Rachita Kurmi, a fourth-year student at Shandong University in Jinan in China, returned to Mumbai in January 2020. Ever since, she has been waiting to hear from her university so that she could go back.   

She told The Quint, “After so many roadblocks, we were finally hopeful. Now we have this additional issue of layovers. When we fly through a third country, we will have to get RT-PCR tests there. Since our flights are so long, our tests conducted in India will no longer be valid, according to the quarantine rules in some countries.” 

Kurmi said that the total travel cost, including getting tested and medical insurance from the university is between Rs two-three lakh. “It is around the same cost as the tuition fee of one semester, or in some colleges, the whole year’s fee.”  

My parents are worried about the layover. What happens if a flight gets canceled at the layover or if a student falls sick and tests positive in there?Who will bear the expenses?
Rachita Kurmi, a student at Shadong University

‘Missing Out on Research Work, Campus Life’  

The students say that ever since classes have resumed for other students, they have had a “fear of missing out”.   


Singh, the fourth-year student at Harbin Medical University, said that she is missing out on some of the most important aspects of an MBBS course – especially the surgery classes. “Since I am only watching all this online, when it comes to practical, I cannot tell how deep the knife goes or at what angle it should go in,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Kurmi said that she misses her room, which she left behind in January 2020. “I thought I would be back in a month’s time but it’s been over 2 and a half years.  I miss the canteen and the dorm. I hope my books are as good as new, and I also hope I get to attend the graduation ceremonies of our seniors. It is one of the most glorious things,” she said.  

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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