India students examination (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • If India needs more and better doctors, NEET is not the way out. Here’s why:

You can judge how mature a society is by looking at its education sector. The Indian state even after 70 years of Independence is certainly not looking good from that angle. So how exactly are doctors made in the worlds largest democracy? What is the NEET (National Eligibility and Entrance Test) ? Why is this the subject of so much misinformation ? Here is a shot at clearing the air.

First, this is not about the legal issues surrounding NEET. The legal issues are at a lower level and not very interesting.The two main legal issues are 1) does the MCI have statutory authority being merely an administrative agency using delegated powers to run roughshod over the states ? 2) can NEET be imposed on minority medical colleges? I have already covered these in an article written immediately after the NEET judgment “On Justice Kabir’s correct NEET judgement

In this article will try to plug what I consider to be the main information gaps in the NEET debate. Let’s try a Q&A format.

How many seats for MBBS in India?

The rough stats are as follows. India has about 50,000 medical seats at the undergraduate level. Roughly 55% are in private colleges and 45% in government colleges. Of the 55% in the private sector, 50-60% are with minority private colleges and the rest with non-minority colleges. Of the 45% in government colleges the vast majority are with state government. The notable ones with the Central government being AIIMS, AFMC.

Believe it or not getting this basic level of information is hard work. The collation and disclosures are not being done by any ministry after the ‘pull model of the Right to Information Act’ took hold.

Can private medical colleges admit purely based on money?

India hasn’t been able to solve the central problem of education at school or college level. It has a love-hate relationship with the private providers. The main issue is if you granted a free pass to the minorities (linguistic and religious) due to the way the constitution is interpreted you simply have to do so for the others. This dilemma has not been resolved to this day and is currently the site of the main strategic battle in India.

In the 90’s there were two landmark cases you need to know about that shaped the current situation. The first wasMohini Jain vs Govt of Karnataka. In that case, the court ruled that private colleges could charge no more than what government medical colleges did. Obviously, that kicked the private institutes hard and it was clear they were all going to go bust and the government was in no shape to pick up the demand. So they retried it in another case called Unnikrishnan vs State of AP which established “cross subsidy” as a principle that exists to this day. The idea is you could split the seats into ‘free seats’ and charge a higher fee for some other students and use that to subsidize the former category.

Contrary to what people think private colleges cannot take all their seats and simply sell them to the highest bidder. Transparently or non-transparently. This is how it works, roughly with minor variations across states.

  1. About 40% of all seats are given to state governments – they are filled by merit list created by a state government-administered test. The fees are comparable to government colleges.
  2. About 30-40% are filled by another test – usually as a result of a consensual agreement. This is COMED-K (in Karnataka) and MCET (Andhra) similar tests exists everywhere. The fees are fixed and are much higher than the government seats.
  3. About 10-20% are with the managements to be allocated via a transparent process.
  4. 15% is the quota for Non Resident Indians !!! (believe it or not) The rationale for this quota is that foreign Indians are usually rich and can afford to cross subsidize the others!

So only the 3) and 4) intake can some hanky panky happen. Let us go a little deeper.

What is scope of NEET ?

NEET is an eligibility and entrance test. The test would create a single merit list nationwide. From that single list states and colleges can carve out their own lists based on categories. The rule is that within a category the inter-se ranking is preserved.

NEET would remove quota system for OBC

Absolutely not. NEET has nothing to do with the caste quotas. What will happen is they will take the NEET merit list remove all the non OBC students and voila you have a OBC Merit List. This will be used to fill the Vertical Quotas for OBCs in all state and central medical colleges.   Similarly for SC/ST/OBC-1/OBC-2A/ what not. You take one list and derive many lists. I was surprised to see so many Delhi students think that NEET would do “merit wise” medical seats and not caste based !!

Are you saying “meritorious” students cant access thousands of new seats after NEET?

So tragic that this lie is being spread to gullible students by some vested interests in the establishment. This is the truth.

NEET will not add a single extra seat.

All the seat sharing arrangements I talked about earlier stay as it is. All the state government domicile quotas stay in place. All the caste based quotas also stay as is. The NRI quota which is outside NEET also stays as is.

There are so many students in Twitter thinking that after NEET they would get to access a whole lot of new seats in other states, private universities,etc. Stop. Please.

The only thing NEET does is force all the existing seat sharing arrangments to draw from a single national merit list by categorizing it. For example : a TN State government would take the national merit list and throw out all non-TN students and derive a state merit list. Not a single new seat will be added.

Will NEET break the Mafia Nexus and throw open seat to poor students?

First of all the “mafia nexus” as alleged by some activists in a letter to the President is an interesting beast. The real question is WHY there is a politician and “mafia” nexus in such a high echelon & knowledge based sector like medical colleges? The reason for this is the sectarianism and capture of this vital sector by malafide players. The sector is not seeing participation from eminent philanthropists rather by those with the political connections to get this, that ,or the other license approved. NEET does not address this at all. So let’s take it easy o the Mafia , they are here to stay. NEET or no NEET.

Will NEET allow poorer students to access seats denied to them ?

Well, the jury is out on this one too.

See this from the angle of a poor or middle class student. If you rank high enough in the state entrance tests, even today you can afford an MBBS seat. If you don’t kill it in the state government exam but make it to the private exams (COMEDK etc) you can still become a doctor if you can scrape together about 6-10L/year. If you are poor and you fail to make the grade in either of these types of exams – essentially the door is closed.

Now if you are rich, things could be different.   If you screw up the state exam as well as the private exam, you still have a shot using the ‘management quota’. There are very few seats totally at the discretion of the management that they can just give to anyone with the cash. Still you could play some games , such as dummy candidate vacated spots, lack of enforcement in politically powerful private colleges, and buy a seat for yourself. This is what they mean when they say ‘Donation seat”. This I would admit is rampant and despicable. The thing is NEET is not the way to kill this. Better laws that don’t grant these guys any monopoly status and better police is the way to nail them.

NEET and transparent process and middle class

Be careful when you use the term ‘transparent process. A process could be fully transparent and still be of no use to you because you cant afford it. There is a very famous medical college on the west coast of India which has a transparent exam, fully clean fees (cheques only) and cost 25Lakhs/year. NEET will not change this. If you cant afford something pre-NEET , you will not be able to afford it post-NEET.

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What are the arguments against NEET in principle vs the way Supreme Court is pushing it

The touch stone for me is the so called ‘doctrine of legitimate expectation’. Lakhs of kids across the country have prepared for the exams in a certain way, using a certain method, inside a certain syllabus. They are able to invest so much effort into the preparations only because they assume institutional stability. This is not just a peripheral issue to them, but the main focus of all their activities over 2-3 years. You cant just walk in and disrupt like that with a diktat from top. Especially when the new exam is designed to favour students of a particular board (CBSE). There are tiny nuanced differences even between boards of high standards like AP and Bengal and CBSE. Maybe Physics goes a bit further in one side in NCERT, maybe Biology is slightly different in one. These tiny matters may not rock the boat of these clueless activists but could mean the difference between doctor or not for these kids.

The next objection is imposition of one syllabus, NCERT. Before a single exam regime like NEET is imposed there needs to be concerted effort to bring up all the states to a single or atleast comparable academic standard.

NEET destroys institutions.   For Andhra students, EAMCET is a way of life, a pivotal institution around which their entire high school life is planned. The exam itself is not just a piece of paper, there are actual people, rules, psychometrics, exam logistics, counselling. An entire ecosystem that has seen decades of real world use and absorbed and adapted to various local pulls and pushes. Think about it. Why would you lose this? Or if you wanted to lose this – why would you do it just because of some spite over how rich kids get in easy?

Will NEET lower fees?

Not really. NEET by itself has nothing to do with fee regulation. In fact, my bet is that NEET will increase fees. I predict the following rearrangement.

  1. Category 1 : NEET (low fee merit list)
  2. Category 2 : NEET (high fee merit list) for the current 30% under private exam
  3. Category 3: The mgmt quota will take from NEET but hike fees substantially for all. So will accept 40Lakhs/year and take in NEET order.
  4. Category 4: NRI quota (outside NEET anyway) – this monstrosity needs a separate post by itself


Therefore what will likely happen is due to the loss of selection autonomy, private colleges will simply hike the fees across the board. Remember they can do this because you admitted they also have political backing. As an illustration. Imagine that the mgmt quota hiked the fees to 30L/year and then used NEET to pick. Is that such a momentous improvement over the old method where the nominal fees was 10L/year but you could bribe your way in with 40-1Cr. This is the real benefit of NEET.

Next some poor analogies I saw on TV

IIT exam is based on NCERT. Why you no complain?

The difference is you can become an engineer without an IIT exam. You cant become a doctor without NEET. In other words, IIT (JEE Adv) is one of many exams and NEET is a single exam regime.

What loss of autonomy yaar? AIIMS did they lose autonomy?

This point was made by BJP Spokesperson Sambit Swaraj.   Firstly AIIMS uses a higher standard exam, secondly they did lose autonomy. What he is really saying is AIIMS is not complaining about loss of autonomy so private colleges should not complain.

USA does MCAT – why are you jumping ?

MCAT Is not administered by the US Government. It is a exam by a consortium of medical schools. The analogy is to COMED and other private exams. Second Medical schools use MCAT only as one marker. Almost all US medical schools have additional tests and interviews that can rearrange or disturb the MCAT merit order. This is not how NEET works. Colleges cant screen afterwards.

But surely a single test is better instead of dozens?

This is debatable. If a single test emerges out of a voluntary arrangement of various providers , such as in MCAT, that is desirable. The reason being it is Extremely expensive to create a test that conforms to certain statistical shapes. It is dead easy to create tests that simply result in thousands of candidates scoring 100% and the shape is generally flat and bunched at the top. This is what we are doing now. Given these costs, various colleges might decide on their own accord to come together and amortize the costs.

Given the diversity of boards, the availability and maturity levels of local access to coaching, and the knowledge gaps even within coaching centres — multiple exams like they exist today are the best. I frankly don’t see the problem – multiple exams also gives you multiple chances. Not just to convert failure to success but from success (low) to a high success (ace) – that gives you options. I know so many motivated kids who give so many exams even going to centres in bunches by train. I don’t see the issue here.

So what about Vyapam?

Nothing. I don’t understand how Vyapam can be a justification for NEET. Remember Vyapam involved government administered exams at the core. In fact I’d use Vyapam as an argument against NEET.

  • In 2015, AIPMT (now known as NEET-1) was leaked, in 2011 the AIIMS paper was leaked. Just because an exam is conducted by government doesn’t mean it is foolproof.

If you had multiple exams and institutions had control, then the effects of a leak in a single exam is not catastrophic. If you put all your eggs in the NEET basket then a leak in that exam will be calamitous and ruin the lives of many.

Grade inflation and NEET

Say all the states threw away such good exams like EAMCET, and many private exams, and we were merrily doing NEET for 2-3 years. There is nothing that will prevent a future government from making NEET dead easy to achieve social balancing. Once that happens, it would be impossible to extricate yourself because the states will be helpless against a hostile central government. Also the looming 93rd Amendment which is still not repealed can step in and completely destroy private medical colleges. Imagine this argument : You never complained about loss of autonomy when you agreed to submit to government assignment of student in admissions. Why are you jumping when we put 3 government babus on your board and ask you to give 25% quota to EWS output from RTE regime?

Finally , the grand daddy of them all – Idea of India

Justice Kabir pointed it out exactly. There is simply no way NEET can be forced on minorities without a dramatic and new reading down of Article 30. In true #IOI tradition right now they are passing an ostensibly secular order (NEET). But those like the #Core who know how the system works also know minority colleges are going to win out on a simple facial challenge.   NEET goes against well established minority protections starting from St Xavier’s vs Guj, St Stephens vs Delhi, the TMA Pai troika. People look for all kinds of flowery words in judgments, rather than simple logic and reasoning. Kabir figured out where the tension was and bailed early. Now the country is once again being led down this disastrous path by those who cant even write a proper analysis of why Kabir was wrong.

Also in true Idea of India fashion , we might well end up with an evil lie, (Tekiyyah in Hindi) a compromise that adds layer upon layer of anomalies to what is a simple judgment of Justice Kabir. One way in which that might happen is an extra step granted to some groups.

Say your college had 100 medical seats you would be allowed to invite 400 in NEET order, then administer a second test and shuffle. This is what is happening in DU where minority colleges can do a an extra screen after the board results. Indians are generally impatient and don’t tend to spot these kinds of cheap circumvention. Imagine you had a grade inflation scene and everyone of the 400 came in with a 99+% for your 100 seats. Then that whole exam CANCELS OUT completely and the real exam is what you administer on your own.

Unfortunately I could not make this post short. Because the media and opinion makers are assigning dozens of imaginary virtues to NEET. We have no choice but to play whack a mole.

This piece was first published at realitycheck.wordpress.com

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