The number of medical students headed abroad is rising fast. Here’s why

Steep fees in private medical colleges, limited seats in govt ones, and the increase in IB schools are some of the factors responsible.
Updated on Feb 20, 2019 02:10 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

The number of students applying for admission to medical courses abroad is high, and rising steeply. A response to a recent Right to Information (or RTI) application stated that the Medical Council of India (MCI) has issued 3,386 more eligibility certificates to foreign medical aspirants in 2018 than in 2017, a rise of about 24%. The year before, the number had nearly doubled.

The mandate of getting an eligibility certificate to study medicine abroad came into force only from January 2014 and ever since the numbers have been rising sharply every year.

“One set of students applying abroad are those aiming for top colleges in countries like the UK, but a chunk of aspirants are those who could not manage a seat in a government medical college. Private medical colleges are sometimes so expensive that students prefer to study in China, Russia and more recently in countries like Nepal and Bangladesh,” says Dr Jayashree Mehta, former president of the Medical Council of India.

These students usually pick institutes and countries recognised by India so that, on their return, they can clear an eligibility test and begin practising. “A lot of the colleges that students opt for in Asia have ties with Indian institutions. Hence, these places also prepare the students for the eligibility test back home,” says Dr KK Agarwal, president of Heart Care Foundation of India and former president of the Indian Medical Association.


Here are the number of certificates of eligibility granted by the Medical Council of India to Indian students wishing to study medicine abroad

March 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016: 3,398

2016- 2017: 8,737

2017- 2018: 14,118

January 2018 to December 2018: 17,504

For Dr Abdul Mateen, who studied medicine in the Philippines in 2011, it was just a cheaper option than a private medical school in India. “Also, the spectrum of disease there, unlike in Russia, is very similar to the spectrum of disease in India,” he says.

Agarwal points out that, as the number of medical colleges in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh grows, the number of students applying to study medicine there will likely rise too.

“With the kind of technology and connectivity we have now, there’s little difference between moving cities within India and moving to a neighbouring country like Bangladesh to study,” Dr Agarwal says. “Moreover, there are employment opportunities in these countries too.”

For students studying in the growing number of IB schools, applying abroad is often the simpler and surer path.

“To be eligible to study medicine in India, a student needs to have a combination of physics, chemistry and biology. IB students cannot take more than two science subjects, except with special permission,” says Kimberly Wright Dixit, CEO of study-abroad consultancy Red Pen.

A student must apply to the Board saying they’d like to study an extra Science subject, or do a non-regular diploma, if they want to qualify for India’s medical entrance exam. “For many students, this is a daunting, time-consuming and uncertain prospect; it’s easier to just apply abroad,” Dixit says.

Raashi Shah, a Class 12 student at the Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai, for instance, has applied only to medical colleges in the UK. “The special permission from the Board can take a lot of time. Then you have to study an extra subject, and you may end up not qualifying anyway, because you didn’t score well enough,” she says.

Given the steep competition and limited seats, many students feel it is better to focus on the board results, whether SSC, ICSE, IB or other, because to study abroad, your Board results count for a lot, Dixit adds.

For the rest, Dr Mehta points out that the only way to arrest the trend is to have more affordable medical colleges in India. “That way students from all sections of society can study medicine,” she says.


    Dipanjan Sinha is principal correspondent, weekend features in Mumbai. He has been a journalist for seven years now and worked on the desk, news and features teams

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