Ukraine medical education - Migraine for India

By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

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Malayali students from Ukraine at the Delhi airport | Mathrubhumi photo

The Russia-Ukraine conflict will resolve in some way or other in the coming days, but the Indian government will be saddled with an acrimonious internal dispute, trying to regularise the medical education of several thousands of students, studying in innumerable Medical Colleges in Ukraine. After the devastation in Ukraine, return to normalcy is going to be a time-consuming process, may even stretch to over a decade. What happens to the incomplete medical education of thousands of students? Should it be regularised? Already there is a chorus of demands from many politicians that these students should be accommodated in existing medical colleges in the country. What are the pros and cons to be considered as it is going to be a vexatious issue?

It is apparent that most of the students pursuing medical education in Ukraine hail from economically well-off sections of society. Ukraine was an easy option to overcome merit and reservation constraints, exorbitant fees levied by Deemed-to-be-universities, and as an attractive low-investment option for those seeking legal entry into Europe. However, the unexpected war between Russia and Ukraine has shattered the dreams of thousands of students in one stroke.

The Government of India did a phenomenal rescue operation, unparalleled, in bringing back all these students safely. But another intractable problem will emerge in the coming days, consider the following:

  1. Can these students go back to Ukraine in the near foreseeable future and complete their studies? Seems highly unlikely in the present circumstances. What then is the alternative? Most probably many would have lost their original certificates and testimonials also. If so how to solve this legally?

  • There are vociferous demands being made by politicians that all these students should be adjusted locally (obviously in Government Medical Colleges), as fees is very economical. Can this be legally permitted? Will this not be a rank injustice to lakhs of students who though NEET cleared, could not secure admissions? We should also not forget that many students committed suicide as they could not secure medical admissions even after appearing in NEET. How can priority be given to Ukrainian medical students, overlooking the claims of local students?

  • Even if a viable solution can be found for the above, who will certify that for each year of the MBBS program in Ukraine, the syllabus coverage is the same as in India?

  • Which will be the competent agency to certify the infrastructural adequacy of the Ukrainian Medical Colleges, the examination parameters, and the attendance adequacy of the students?

  • As the students are at various stages in their academic career, a decision will have to be taken by the Apex bodies as to how to regularize the truncated programs, partly conducted in Ukraine and the proposed completion in India.

  • Another crucial decision would be about the fees to be levied. Most of the candidates would be unwilling to go by the exorbitant fee structure of Deemed-to-be-Universities. There would be a clamour for government fee structure. Reconciling different fee structures will be a very challenging exercise.

  • According to newspaper reports, around 20,000/ students have been displaced and if they are to be spread over the 542 medical colleges (existing as on 21st May 2020) it is going to be a highly complicated exercise involving infrastructure availability, hostel facilities, teacher to student ratio, fee structure, adjustment to curriculum and teaching procedure.

  • PG facilities and availability of seats is presently a critical issue for Indian medical students. How would the additional intake of displaced Ukrainian medical students impact the already strained PG system? What are the remedial measures to be adopted?

  • Will the present teaching staff be able to handle the additional intake? Many managements of private medical colleges have already started expressing their willingness to absorb the Ukraine student returnees, without doing adequate homework. Obviously, they are eyeing only the additional revenue that can be raked in without expanding the existing infrastructure. Already there is a faculty crunch in many colleges, and this shortage is overcome by employing staff who are educated in other medical systems. A raging controversy is currently underway about the appropriateness of this teaching practice. All these issues need to be resolved before a decision can be taken.

  • Lastly, it is but natural that the existing students will view the incoming Ukrainian returnees as interlopers, resulting in ragging cases increasing, teacher-student conflict, and other social evils like alcohol drinking and drug consumption leading to strained relationships on the campus. Drug abuse and alcohol abuse are two major problems in Ukraine. Krokodil’(Desomorphine) is a cheap and effective home-made substitute for Heroin widely used over the territory of the former USSR (Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and others). It is known as ‘Poor man’s Heroin’. While in the majority of countries drug consumption is an individual matter, it has a group character in the Ukraine. Opium poppy straw extract is the main drug of choice for youth. All these factors need to be considered before taking any decision.

  • It is also reasonable to expect legal recourse by many local NEET affected students to thwart priority rehabilitation only for Ukraine returnees, whatever be the nature of the current exigency. Ukraine will be a migraine for the Indian government and medical institutions, in the coming days.

    (The author is former Director General of National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics.)

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