By Jahidul Islam Khan

In the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces around 14,000 Indians, including a large number of students are still said to be stranded in the war-torn country. While some are unable to move to western areas, which are less affected, others have reached borders but were not allowed to cross and were reportedly facing a shortage of food and water. As per the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science, there are around 18,095 Indian students in Ukraine and in the year 2020, 24% of its overseas students were from India.

The data further reveals that Ukraine ranks fourth in Europe for having the largest number of graduate and post-graduate specialisations in the field of medicine. The state-run universities provide quality education at a low cost. In comparison, lesser-known private medical colleges in India tend to demand much higher fees. The medical colleges in Ukraine fill in the gap for Indian students who find themselves unable to get seats in government colleges or afford the heavy fees charged by private institutions in India.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS

In the wake of escalating military crisis in Ukraine, thousands of stranded Indian students find themselves engulfed in fear in the war-torn country. While India’s efforts to evacuate its citizens from the war zone continue in full swing, an important observation that has come to the forefront is: why is Ukraine so popular among the Indian medical students? Caught in the crossfire are thousands of Indian students who went to study in the country and now are finding it difficult to get back home with Ukraine shutting down its airspace following Russia’s attack. To ensure a safe evacuation of these stranded students, the Indian government has initiated ‘Operation Ganga’ to bring them home through alternate routes via Romania, Poland, Hungary and the Slovak Republic.

But help awaits many who are located far away from the border posts and have no wherewithal to reach there. As per latest reports, so far only 4,000 Indians have been able to get past Ukraine’s borders while 14,000 are still stranded without food, water and basic amenities in bunkers, bomb shelters and metros.

Even as the present is riddled with chaos and fear, let us understand why scores of Indian students flock the eastern European country in thousands every year.

UKRAINE COLLEGES AS ALTERNATIVES

The students who don’t get seats in government medical colleges in India or are unable to afford the steep fees of private medical colleges, find better prospects in Ukrainian medical colleges, getting admissions to which are comparatively easier and cheaper. While the fee to study in private colleges in India may range between Rs. 60 lakh and Rs. 1 crore, pursuing a six-year course in medicine in Ukraine would cost Rs. 15 lakh to Rs. 22 lakh, which is considered affordable for middle class parents. India also has fewer medical seats, making MBBS a far-fetched dream for many aspirants who do not qualify NEET. As many as 1.61 million students registered for NEET in 2021 while the country has a total of 84,000 medical seats.

QUALITY EDUCATION

Most of the Indian students in Ukraine are pursuing medical studies and one of the reasons for this is that the country is well-known for providing high-quality education. Ukraine reportedly ranks fourth in its continent for having the largest number of graduate and post-graduate specialisations in medicine. Russia and Ukraine are very popular academic destinations among Indian medical students. The reason for this is simple and clear: private medical colleges in Russia and Ukraine are affordable as compared to colleges in India.

Ukrainian and Russian medical colleges are even recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The degrees are very much valid in India as the Indian Medical Council (MCI) too recognises them. These medical degrees are also recognised worldwide; especially the European Council of Medicine, other global bodies help these students with further opportunities. The Ukrainian medical degrees are also recognised by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, European Council of Medicine and General Medical Council of the United Kingdom and others.

Ukraine ranks fourth in Europe for having the largest number of graduate and non-graduate specialisations in the field of medicine. Another reason why Indian students choose Ukraine or Russia is that there are no entrance exams to get admissions there.

TUITION FEES

The tuition fees of private medical colleges in Ukraine is cheaper in comparison to that in colleges in India. The low cost of education, along with the fact that courses in Ukrainian medical colleges are recognised by the World Health Organisation and are also valid in India, along with the European Council of Medicine, General Medical Council of the United Kingdom as well provide children with wider opportunities.

FEE STRUCTURE IN INDIA AND UKRAINE

Private medical colleges, say in states like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, charge almost Rs 1 crore for an MBBS degree and almost double for the NRI quota students. The second is our regulatory framework that is highly prescriptive and restrictive.

The model is designed for high upfront investment such as the need to own a 300-bed hospital. This is followed by the minimum size of land, rooms, and infrastructure etc. that require a lot of capital. Though some relaxations and accommodation have been made yet we need far more radical reforms to make medical education affordable. In April 2019, a NITI Aayog report found out that out of 89 new medical colleges that were approved in 2011-2018, 39 failed to clear inspection by the Medical Council of India. In most cases, the functioning of the hospital was found to be deficient.

According to MCI rules, a medical college with 100 seats needs to have a functional teaching hospital with at least 300 beds, with 60% occupancy at the time of submission of application to the MCI.

It is anywhere between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore, depending on the state. While West Bengal and Bihar are the cheapest, Karnataka and Gujarat the costliest. Reputation of the college is also a matter. If it is not so well reputed, charges may be less than Rs 10 lakh a year. But then one needs to compare it with government colleges while AIIMS-like institutions charge ridiculously low fees, in the states, government colleges charge about Rs 1 lakh or so a year.

The Supreme Court of India did try to bring in some moderation in fee structures by asking states to constitute fee fixing committees. Barring Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where such committees have been able to moderate the fees, no other state seems to have implemented the Supreme Court guidance. However, the recent Act of the government, allowing private medical colleges to charge market rates for the 50 per cent seats falling under management quota, will make it difficult for the government to intervene in capping fees or regulating them without appropriate legislative amendment to the Act. This is likely to take a long time as most medical colleges are ‘owned’ by politicians and their proxies. And if the government seeks to intervene without amendment to the laws, it will result in litigation. So the government has needlessly got itself into a bind. As a result of the National Medical Commission Act of 2019, fees have gone up further.

NO ENTRANCE EXAM

Indian students choose Ukraine also because several famous medical schools don’t take an Entrance Exam. to provide a seat. Recently, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Pralhad Joshi,  had also stated that about 90% of Indians who study medicine abroad fail to clear qualifying Exams. in India.

GLOBAL ACCEPTANCE

There is no mandate to clear any entrance examination to get admitted to medical colleges in Ukraine. The standard of education is high, with Ukraine ranking fourth in Europe in having the largest number of graduate and post-graduate courses in medicine. The country has almost 33 medical colleges equipped with standard infrastructure. Almost all the universities are accredited by the World Health Organisation and UNESCO.

Kharkiv National Medical University, located around 480 km from capital Kyiv is one of the most sought-after institutions in the country. (Kharkiv is one of the first places attacked by Russia.)

The medium of instruction in these colleges is English, which makes it easier for Indian students to enrol as they do not have to learn a foreign language.

These students are required to take the National Board of Examinations’ Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE) to receive licence to practise medicine in India. While 4,000 students take the test every year, only 700-odd pass it. Medical colleges in Ukraine are also said to be heavily reliant on theoretical aspects while lacking in providing students with practical exposure. However, these factors do not deter Indian students from applying to study in Ukraine.

[The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Uttar Barpeta College, Dhanbandha, Barpeta, Assam. [email protected]]

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