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Indian hopefuls flock to 'cheaper' China for MBBS degrees

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:01 IST

The predicament

  • Out of over 5 lakh aspirants, just over 4,500 get into govt medical colleges
  • That pegs each individual\'s chance of qualifying at around 9%
  • In India, 85% of medical seats are in the private sector, which costs a lot

The trend

  • Indians are now making a beeline for countries like China and Russia for their MBBS degrees
  • However, the quality of medical education in these countries is poor

The trouble

  • Some doctors trained in these countries don\'t even know basic antacids
  • Three-quarters of returning MBBS graduates fail a mandatory screening test, the FMGE

Aspiring to be a doctor in India is a difficult task. After all, only 15% of the total seats in all medical and dental colleges in the country are run by the government machinery. The other seats, in private institutions, make you pay through the nose.

To make some sense of how difficult it is to crack the government institutions, consider this: out of 5.23 lakh aspirants who took the PMT exam, only 4,627 made it. That gives any individual approximately 9% chance of qualifying.

But like every other predicament, Indians have found a way around this too.

Rushing abroad

The National Board of Examinations (NBE) conducts a Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) for all Indian citizens who possess a medical degree from abroad and wish to practice in India.

The FMGE screens a high number of candidates each year. In 2013, for example, over 9,000 candidates appeared for the exam.

The test is important for provisional or permanent registration with the Medical Council of India or any state medical council.

According to NBE data, 11,825 people who appeared for the FMGE between 2012-14 pursued MBBS courses in China.

An additional 5,950 studied in the Russian Federation, while 3,163 candidates studied in Nepal.

China's cheaper

According to various educational consultants which guide MBBS aspirants, the cost of a medical degree in China is much less than in India or other countries.

The Indian consulate in Shanghai has listed out some recommendations on its official website, for students who aspire to study in China.

Of the 5.23 lakh aspirants every year, just over 4,500 make it to govt medical colleges

In some of the country's best medical schools, the basic fees are about Rs 10 lakh for the entire course. Along with internship costs, travel and other expenses, the entire course can be completed within Rs 25 lakh.

Even though costs vary from one university to another, the Chinese government subsidises the cost, and therefore, the fee is considerably lower than private universities in India.

The quality question

However, that is not to say that the MBBS graduates from these foreign lands are well-equipped to handle the medical profession in India. The FMGE itself is a major impediment - only 25% of the candidates pass.

The Medical Council of India argues that the screening test needs to be difficult, as universities abroad do not teach what is required to deal with the challenges of India's healthcare system.

"During my internship, I had met with doctors from Russia and China. Some of them did not even know the names of simple antacid drugs," says Anshuman Mishra, an MBBS graduate from Grant Medical College, Mumbai.

The NBE has also ranked universities according to the performance of their students in the FMGE. China's Zhengzhou University takes first place in terms of successful Indian attendees, having schooled 786 Indians who cleared the screening test.

In the Russian Federation, Yerevan State Medical University tops the list with 524 candidates appearing for the test with the highest pass percentage.

Lessons to be learnt

What can India learn from all this? The success of relying on a functioning and reliable public healthcare system.

As Amartya Sen wrote, government expenditure on healthcare in China is nearly five times that of India. While the Chinese government spends nearly 2% of its GDP on healthcare, the proportion is a little above 1% in India.

Not everyone who opts to study in China is happy though.

"I expected my initial expenses to be of the tune Rs 15 lakh, but with various hidden costs, the number crossed 20," says a student from Hubei University of Medicine. However, the student asserts that this was still cheaper than pursuing the course in India.

But even with the multitude of problems - from scrupulous agents trying to lure students, to lifestyle adjustments and the language barrier, students are willing to pursue their dreams of becoming doctors from Chinese universities. The forecast is that these numbers will only increase.

First published: 26 September 2015, 10:57 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.