The Medical Council of India has proposed an India-wide entrance test for all medical colleges. The examination suggested would cover 290 institutes of medical education; and the benefits of such a move are obvious. Currently a candidate hoping to get into medical school has to sit for an exhaustingly large number of examinations,with different schools often requiring different tests. The 50-odd seats at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences alone are fought over by more than 60,000 applicants. Those rejected by AIIMS will take a host of other exams. For them,the process is both stressful and messy. A proposal to streamline it is therefore welcome,signalling that the MCI,which is the regulatory body for medical examinations,is alert to the problems faced by students.
But this concern must be reflected in the blueprint for the actualisation of the MCI proposals. The council does not indicate who will design and conduct the single test; reportedly,that is left to the government to decide. But in the past,some state-run examinations have been of variable reliability. Not all state-level common entrance tests in engineering,for example,can compare with the IITs Joint Entrance Examination. The proposed single medical examination must be informed by this experience. This is why one mandated medical examination may be too ambitious to achieve in one go. Why not aspire to an examination that is one of many benchmarks? That would have the additional benefit of preserving institutional autonomy. Elsewhere in the world,such systems exist; in the US,for example,colleges rely on a standardised test for each level,but also on a host of other indicators (school grades and extra-curriculars are usual),that vary from institution to institution. Surely,these different combinations can all be fair. As they stand now,the MCI proposals are one-size-fits-all and dont leave that option open: they state that admission to all MBBS courses must be strictly,and solely,based on the common entrance examination.
The real test of the MCIs good intentions will be the actual system of assessment they yield.