Thursday, May 26, 2016

Decoding NEET: Is it really a bad idea, and what is the solution?

The National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) controversy continues to hog the headlines with even the Ordinance issued by the Centre earlier this week failing to put a lid on the debate.
Here is the NEET Controversy demystified.
What is NEET?
The National Entrance cum Eligibility test is a common entrance exam proposed for admission into all Medical and Dental Colleges across India (separately for both for UG and PG). If you want to be a doctor or a dentist in India the Centre says that you will have to take this exam and qualify with a rank. Efforts have been on to have NEET implemented since 2010 and have been hampered by various flip flops by Govt. and by Court orders. Finally last month the SC ordered NEET to be held from this year onwards.
The Govt. first said they would implement the Court order and then came up with an ordinance to partially nullify the SC order for this year by giving selective exemptions from NEET for this year alone.
Is NEET good for India?
Yes, undoubtedly it is. An exam that seeks to ensure that those aspiring to become doctors and dentists in India are of a certain minimum academic standard cannot be faulted.
Is NEET in its present form fair?
Clearly, No. In its present form with the CBSE/NCERT syllabus as its backbone the NEET exam is clearly an unfair one for students from State Boards and from rural areas where the standards may be lower. The major grouse of various states opposing NEET is that a common syllabus must be worked out before implementing NEET and this is a valid argument.
Further the exam must be held in multiple languages and this has been acceded to by the Government
Is NEET an infringement on the rights of States?
Yes and No. While States are to some extent justified in arguing that the conduct of the exam should be their prerogative as they are the admitting authority, Medical education being in the concurrent List gives the Centre the right to involve itself. Also the fact that a medical degree obtained allows one to practice anywhere in India and not just in the State where the degree was obtained means that the Centre has a right to insist on minimum standards.
Will NEET end the Capitation fee menace in Medical education in India?
A resounding Yes. NEET will strike a body blow to the Private medical colleges who illegally charge in excess of 50 lakh in many states as capitation fee alone(in addition to the annual official fee) for an MBBS seat. Now they will be forced to admit students as per the NEET merit list (even for Management quota) and these students will naturally enough refuse to pay anything other than the tuition fee. We could see the official tuition fee go up in the coming years but eventually medical education will still be less expensive than what it is now. Also the generation of a huge amount of black money would be stopped.
Will NEET impact on reservation putting OBC and SC/ST students at a disadvantage and will it impact on Domicile quotas in states?
No. Reservation and Domicile quotas will not be affected in any manner. The admission based on the NEET merit list will be as per existing reservation and domicile quota norms in each state. The only issue that needs more clarity is what will be done if there are not enough students in any category to fill the seats. Will the seats lapse or will they become General quota seats?
Does the Govt. ordinance provide exemption for Private Colleges from NEET for this academic year?
No it does not. The Govt.'s Ordinance only exempts various State Governments and also exempts the Govt. quota seats in private medical colleges from being filled through NEET for this academic session alone. This is a onetime exemption and from the next academic year all admissions are to be through NEET even for Government Colleges. In fact even the PG Admissions due to start in Nov-Dec this year are to be through NEET for all colleges including Govt. colleges.
Why are various State Governments opposing NEET?
State Governments see NEET as an infringement on the rights of States. They also feel that it will be disadvantageous to students from state Board schools and those from rural areas where the standards may not be as high as CBSE. So States argue that NEET may end up hurting their students and benefiting the CBSE students who may not be from their states or may be urban elite.
So what will happen to the students seeking Medical admission this year?
NEET-1 has already been held on 1st May and NEET-2 is scheduled for 24th July though this date could be pushed back a few days. Students who wrote NEET-1 can also try their luck by writing NEET-2 but only if they agree to give up their NEET-1 score. So their scores in NEET-2 alone would count. Any student who wishes to apply for admission to a private medical college in India will have to write NEET. If the student is content only applying for a Govt. seat in some states then he or she could avoid NEET but that too only for this year.(All this is assuming that the Supreme Court does not strike down the recent Ordinance issued by the Government).
What problems could candidates applying for private medical colleges face?
As a seat cannot be "guaranteed" by paying Capitation fee in advance anymore and “reserving” a seat we will see students having to apply to multiple colleges as the cut off ranks for colleges will not be known in advance. So students will have to spend time and money applying to dozens of private colleges.
What would be a good solution?
A common syllabus that does not discriminate against rural and regional (State Board) students is a must. Without this holding an exam like NEET would be grossly unfair on lakhs of students who may be meritorious but are not trained in the CBSE syllabus to be able to get a good rank through NEET or even qualify. Over the next few months such a syllabus needs to be worked out in consultation with the States. One of the major complaints of the States is that they have not been fully consulted on many issues especially the syllabus for the NEET exam. Perhaps the States could conduct their own NEET exams (based on the approved syllabus) for the first few years until students are able to adjust to the uniform standard specified. A state run counselling system for Private colleges will also be required to avoid students applying to dozens of private colleges. Once the issues are fixed NEET has the potential to significantly improve the standard of Medical education in India.
The key to the successful implementation of NEET is to make the States partners in its conduct and not thrust it down their throats without adequate consultation. Successful implementation of NEET would be a major achievement for the Modi Government and end the Capitation fee racket in Medical education in India. They still have some work to do to make this happen.