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A NEAT PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEET TANGLE

WHAT HAPPENED ?

In 2010, the Board of Governors of Medical Council of India (MCI) proposed that a Single National Medical Entrance exam called NEET for all Medical colleges in India must be implemented across the nation. However, the decision was challenged by Private Medical colleges by filing over a 100 petitions in various High Courts of the country. The matter was combined into one unified petition and was adjudicated by the Supreme Court in July 2013. The NEET exam was struck down by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2013 in a 2:1 split judgement citing the reason that though NEET was good in intent, the MCI constitution did not empower it to conduct Entrance exams. Hence, NEET was not conducted in 2014 and 2015 and admissions to Medical colleges were done on the basis of various CETs and AIPMT exam.



However in a dramatic turn of events, the NEET was reinstated by a 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Dave on April 11, 2016. The Supreme Court ruled that NEET exam shall be the Single National Medical Entrance exam for all Medical colleges in India including Government, Private and Deemed Universities. Only 2 Medical Colleges were exempted from NEET-UG viz. AIIMS and JIPMER. The Supreme Court stated that NEET would streamline the Medical Admissions process, eliminate corruption & high capitation fees culture and save students the labour of writing multiple Entrance Tests. The Supreme Court also clarified that constitutional, regional and minority quotas will remain unchanged and the only change introduced is that NEET exam shall replace all other existing exams. Between April 11 to 27, 2016 everyone assumed that the NEET ruling was valid from 2017 onwards. However, a clarification was issued by the Supreme Court on April 28 stating that NEET exam must be implemented from 2016 itself.  This clarification came as a shock to lacs of medical aspirants, their parents and teachers across the nation as students had prepared for State-level CETs whose syllabi, exam pattern and level of difficulty are significantly lower than the NEET exam.



The emotional and mental turmoil that students and parents were facing was reflected in street protests and numerous headlines and media debates and reports across the nation. The broad theme of the protests was that NEET was a welcome move but ill-timed. There would not have been any hue n cry due to this decision if the NEET decision were to be implemented from 2017 onwards. But this decision to implement NEET from 2016 meant that students in States like Maharashtra, Gujarat etc. who had prepared for State-CETs for 2-years and were to appear for the CET exam were suddenly told that the State-CET would be null and void. Instead, they would have to appear for NEET exam to be held 2.5 months later on July 24, 2016. The burden to prepare for NEET in 2.5 months was too much for these students as the difference between the State-CETs syllabi and NEET takes over a year to cover. Coaching classes were puzzled too and so were the State Governments over the decision.  



All attempts made by various petitioners to modify the April 28 order were quashed by the Apex Court. In this background, a concerted effort was taken by several media groups like Lokmat, Times of India, Indian Express, Sakaal etc. in Maharashtra with the backing of educationists (of which I too was a part), parents bodies and teachers and also political parties to create a pressure group on the State & Union Government to defer implementation of NEET by a year. This was a sensible campaign to relieve the undue stress on students appearing for 2016 medical entrance exams. A good idea must be implemented at the right time. If it is implemented at a wrong time, there are possibilities of the baby being thrown out along with the bath water due to the consequent opposition.  



The State Governments held meetings with the Union Health Ministry and on May-20, 2016 the Union Government promulgated an Ordinance to defer implementation of NEET for admission to Government Medical colleges to 2017 onwards. However, admission to Private Medical colleges and Deemed Universities was to be on the basis of NEET only for 2016 as well. This was a welcome move by the Union Government to provide relief to lacs of Medical aspirants from States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Punjab etc.  



In another sensational turn of events, the NEET Ordinance was challenged in the Supreme court on May 24 by the original petitioner, an NGO called Sankalp Charitable Trust. The Supreme Court accepted the challenge petition but refused to stay the NEET Ordinance on July-14. The Supreme Court however rapped the Union Government for issuing an Ordinance which went against the Supreme Court ruling of April 28. The Apex court said the Ordinance was in bad taste and was not on sound legal ground but in order to prevent further chaos to students, the Apex Court wisely chose to not stay the Ordinance.  This final judgement from the Supreme Court completes the tumultuous drama over NEET which was triggered by the April 11 judgment.  



In many of my articles on this blog, I have argued strongly for the implementation of NEET across all Medical colleges in India. However, as events unfolded between April 28 and May 20, various voices and opinions by teachers, parents and eminent personalities were audible thanks to different media outlets of which many of them opposed NEET not just from 2016 but from 2017 onwards as well. The arguments used by them to oppose NEET from 2017 onwards must be analysed and rebutted if found specious. The remaining part of this article is dedicated towards this end alone !  



WHO OPPOSES NEET from 2017 onwards?

There are 3 principal groups in society which oppose NEET from 2017 as under :

  • Private Medical Colleges :NEET lends transparency to the admission process and monitoring by Government agencies which prohibits Medical colleges from earning exorbitant capitation fees. The modus operandi of Private Medical colleges was to conduct a dubious Entrance Test which could be easily manipulated. Students were deliberately failed and vacancies created in Merit quota which were transferred to Management quota. Capitation fees can be legally charged from any student applying for Management quota. As per estimates published by some media outlets, about Rs. 25000 crores in capitation fees exchange hands for Private Medical college admissions every year.   The introduction of NEET has ruffled their feathers and they are opposing the decision tooth and nail.
  • Coaching Classes & teachers who are NOT capable of teaching for NEET : A majority of teachers in the coaching circuit in States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Karnataka etc. are not comfortable teaching the NEET syllabi. Their expertise and experience lies in coaching students at the level of State-level CETs or XII Boards only.  The introduction of NEET has placed these teachers in an awkward position and naturally they are opposing NEET strongly often by pushing students and parents to speak out. Essentially, their strategy is to shoot from the shoulders of Parents and Students. Instead of taking up this as an opportunity to upgrade themselves, these teachers choose to oppose NEET and wish to perpetuate the pre-2016 status quo of State-level CETs for Medical admissions.
  • Lazy students : It is a fact that out of about 12 lakh Medical aspirants in the nation, barely 50000 secure a Medical seat. This means a mere 4% students secure a MBBS seat every year. Those who secure a seat are no doubt intelligent and hard working students. There are atleast 2 lac more students who too were hardworking but could not perform on the day of the exam and hence lost out. Please note that the remaining 9.5 lakh students were the insincere students who may or may not be intelligent but certainly lacked the key elements of sincerity and hard work during the 2 crucial years of their preparation. As you can see clearly, 4 out of every 5 medical aspirants is in the lazy students category. And let me tell you as someone well-entrenched in the coaching circuit, even this is an extremely optimistic estimate. Now, lazy students are bound to oppose any exam like NEET which has a greater syllabus, higher level of difficulty of questions and a tougher exam pattern. As you can see, all the 3 groups above have vested interests and must be ignored. They do not realise the long-term implications of NEET on the overall health sector of the nation. They are only concerned with their short-term selfish interests. Hence, their opposition must fall on deaf ears. Supreme Court deserves praise for doing exactly that !!!

    Now let us examine some arguments employed against NEET by different personalities who are apparently not part of the above 3 groups.


SPECIOUS ARGUMENTS OFTEN EMPLOYED AGAINST NEET :

1. Rural – Urban inequality :

  • Argument : If NEET is introduced, urban students shall gain an unfair advantage over rural students as urban students have access to quality coaching whereas rural or poor students do not.
  • Rebuttal :When MHT-CET was prevalent from 1999-2016, most of the Top performers who secured admissions in GMCs were from urban non-poor backgrounds who had access to quality coaching.  Even for MHT-CET, quality coaching is available in select cities and towns of Maharashtra and not in rural areas. The fees for MHT-CET coaching is also not affordable to poor students. So there is no argument against NEET as the status-quo does not change.


2. Vernacular students suffer :

  • Argument : NEET is in English and Hindi language only whereas State-level CETs are in local languages too.  Hence, students studying in vernacular medium shall suffer due to introduction of NEET.
  • Rebuttal :It is not difficult for CBSE to set NEET papers in vernacular medium too. Having said that, it must be understood that all Medical Education after Std.12 in MBBS / BDS courses is in English medium only. Hence, a reasonable proficiency in English language must be checked at the Entrance exam level. Since there is no separate English section in any Medical Entrance exam, the language of the exam being English is good enough.


3. CBSE gains :

  • Argument : NEET is based on CBSE syllabus and hence CBSE students shall gain a competitive advantage over State Boards students if NEET is introduced.  
  • Rebuttal :Questions asked in NEET are not directly from the NCERT text books but need application of the concepts. That needs special coaching and a different approach which no college going student develops. A CBSE student is no better position therefore than a State Boards student. To prepare for NEET, a student needs to take specialised coaching from experts and only the intelligent and hardworking student excels. The performance has little or nothing to do with what Boards the student is studying in.


4. State students lose out :

  • Argument : By introduction of NEET, the students of a particular State will suffer. Students of other States with better NEET scores will occupy seats in Medical colleges of that State. This is gross injustice on State students. (This argument has lead to mass protests orchestrated by various regional political parties in many states of India especially in TN, Pondicherry etc.  
  • Rebuttal :Admissions to Medical colleges of a particular State happen on the basis of fixed quotas reserved for State students and out-of-State students. There is a 85% State quota in Government Medical Colleges and 65% State quota in Private Medical Colleges. These State quota seats are only for students of that State and no outside State student is given that seat. The introduction of NEET does not disturb the quota system (based on constitutional, State, regional, girls etc.) at all. Only the exam has changed. It was earlier a State-level CET and now it is NEET. So the argument that State students shall lose out due to NEET is baseless.

    Thus, there is no sane reason to oppose NEET. From 2017, the Supreme Court has made NEET compulsory for all the Medical colleges in India except AIIMS and JIPMER. Students must take cognizance of this phenomenal change in Medical Entrance rules and prepare for NEET properly by taking professional coaching for the same.

    The uncertainty over NEET is over. The time to prepare for NEET neatly is now.



Durgesh C. Mangeshkar

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