Thank god I do not have to travel to six different cities to appear for medical entrance tests and then apply to each of these colleges separately," says Swastik Agarwal, a Plus Two student of Calcutta, who will be appearing for her medical entrance exam next year.
NEET or no NEET? Bringing an end to what had seemed like a never-ending dilemma of medical and dental aspirants in India and their families, President Pranab Mukherjee signed an ordinance last week making clear the following - NEET or the all-India National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test stays. From 2017 it will apply universally, but for this year, the states have the option of holding their own entrance examinations.
The ordinance upholds a Supreme Court ruling that there should be a single gateway to medical education in the country and not 35 (for 412 medical colleges), as is the case now.
So, apart from ensuring that Swastik does not have to travel needlessly, how else is a single exam useful?
"Students do not have to take into consideration the syllabi of various types of exams," points out educationist and former University Grants Commission chairman Yash Pal.
With one syllabus, a single exam means focused preparation. According to Aakash Educational Services Pvt. Ltd, which prepares students for medical entrance examinations, a candidate appears for 10 entrance examinations on an average.
"A single window will provide relief...as they [students] will now be able to focus on a single exam instead of multiple exams," says its director Aakash Chaudhry.
Sometimes, because of overlapping of test dates, students find it difficult to choose between exams, points out Dr H.S. Ballal, pro-chancellor, Manipal University, who is also a member of the Medical Council of India.
According to him, a single entrance test will also put a brake on malpractices in state medical entrance exams such as the long-running Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh. "If this common entrance exam is done in a transparent manner, taking all necessary precautions to see that influence and impersonation and other malpractices are taken care of with the help of biometry and CCTV cameras, corruption in medical admission will be reduced considerably," says Ballal.
Not only will this check the play of hefty donations and bribes, it will also provide some relief to medical aspirants' parents. "It will help them save considerable amount of money, which they had to spend on application forms of different entrance exams," Chaudhry says.
Finally, experts feel a common entrance exam will work towards establishing one uniform country-wide standard.
"The disparity between colleges is ruled out once they have to come on a common platform to admit students on the basis of a centralised selection process," says Ramesh Batlish, dean and Noida centre head of FIITJEE, which coaches students for various engineering entrance exams.
NEET will be similar to JEE Main, which is the common entrance examination for engineering college aspirants in most states barring a few, he adds.
But NEET also poses some problems. "A common admission test, while being theoretically attractive, can disadvantage students who are not trained on the CBSE syllabus or not comfortable with English," says cardiologist K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
Others, such as, Bidyut Majumder of JIS Engineering College and convenor, Common Entrance Examination, Association of Minority Professional Academic Institutes, West Bengal, feel a single entrance exam will be inconvenient for state board students who will find it difficult to cope with a centralised syllabus.
Reddy feels special care must be taken while framing the questions so that disparities are removed.
NEET gain or NEET loss, the coming days will tell.
Story so far
The controversial history of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test
2012: The Medical Council of India (MCI) and Dental Council of India (DCI) come up with the concept of NEET.
July 18, 2013: The Supreme Court announces that private medical institutions need not conduct their admissions on the basis of NEET.
April 28, 2016: The Supreme Court okays a single common medical entrance test just two days before the All India Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Test (AIPMT). A fresh exam called NEET 2 for those students who had not applied for AIPMT.
May 1: CBSE conducts the first phase of NEET
May 25: The SC announces that private colleges would not be allowed to conduct separate exams for medical admission.
May 9: SC rejects the appeal of the state governments and minority institutions to allow them to hold separate medical entrance exams for the current year.
May 20: The NDA government clears an ordinance to defer implementation of NEET.
May 23: The Delhi government makes NEET compulsory.
May 24: The President of India signs the NEET ordinance.
May 27: SC refuses to hear petition challenging the NEET ordinance, says such a move might create confusion.