The controversy over the common entrance exam for aspiring medical students is not likely to abate soon. On Friday, a month after the Supreme Court ordered that the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test should be held this year across India, the central government moved an ordinance to stay the order and defer NEET for a year to give students more preparation time.
The ordinance still needs to be officially promulgated and approved by the President, but political backlash has already begun – both the Congress and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal have criticised the ordinance and accused the Centre of trying to serve the interests of the medical lobby.
However, those most directly affected by the oscillations over NEET are students preparing for various medical entrance exams in their respective states.
All these years, medical college admissions were based on the results of the All-India Pre-Medical Test or – in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and others – the Common Entrance Test. The Medical Council of India has been proposing an all-India NEET for at least five years, and on April 11, the Supreme Court’s order introduced NEET across the country this year itself, for admission into both private and government-run medical colleges. The All-India Pre-Medical Test that took place on May 1 was considered as phase one of NEET, while phase two was to be held on July 24 for those who could not appear for the first phase.
The Centre’s attempt to reverse this court order has come after hundreds of medical aspirants raised objections to the sudden, almost last-minute introduction of a new system. On Friday, however, students, parents and medical entrance coaching institutes had mixed reactions to the ordinance.
‘Happy if ordinance is passed’
“Our students will definitely happy if the government’s ordinance is passed, because the lack of clarity on NEET has been stressful for them,” said Ankesh Karn, a coordinator at Dr Bhatia’s Medical coaching centre in Mumbai. For nearly two years, students at the coaching centre had been preparing for the Maharashtra board syllabus for the state’s Common Entrance Test. “If they have to sit for NEET this year itself, they will find it very tough to compete with students from other states following different syllabi.”
Maharashtra’s Common Entrance Test was held on May 5, and nearly all medical aspirants in the state appeared for it. Some, according to coaching institutes, also appeared for NEET phase one on May 1, but most students chose to wait for a final decision from the central government before deciding whether to appear for phase two in July.
“Although students have given the state CET, the Supreme Court order caused confusion because they were not sure if their CET would still be valid and whether its results would give them a seat in a state medical college,” said Tushar Mishra, management head at Mumbai’s Rao IIT coaching classes.
‘The syllabus is not tougher’
In Madhya Pradesh, where the All-India Pre-Medical Test was already in use, students and parents are not too thrilled about the central government’s ordinance. “At present there are more than a hundred medical entrances being conducted across India, with each major private college holding its own exam,” said a parent of a medical aspirant from Madhya Pradesh, who did not wish to be named. “The Supreme Court’s order was clear that all of these exams would be replaced by a single NEET. But the ordinance does not specify whether private medical colleges this year will admit students based on the NEET or the any of the other tests.”
While this confusion will be clear once the ordinance if formally promulgated, the parent believes a common NEET will prevent malpractices and corruption in the admission process at medical colleges.
“Besides, I appeared for NEET phase one and the paper wasn’t tough at all – the syllabus is similar even in states with their own entrance tests,” said Harsha Sara Joseph, a medical aspirant in Raipur.
Tushar Mishra from Maharashtra happens to agree with Joseph. “I don’t know why students believe the NEET will be tougher to prepare for at such a short notice – the Maharashtra board syllabus is now in sync with the CBSE [Central Board of School Education],” said Mishra.