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Indian medical students in Chinese universities are stuck: Why, and what next?

In February 2022, the National Medical Commission (NMC), which regulates medical education in the country, issued a warning to students seeking admission in foreign colleges that it would not recognise medical courses taught online.

NMC, MBBS, Chinese universitiesNearly 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine, came back from China. (File image)

Indian medical students studying in Chinese universities, who have been stranded in India since January 2020, recently held a protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, demanding immediate action to allow them to obtain practical training, either in China or in Indian medical schools.

Why are the students stuck?

The outbreak of the pandemic in China in December 2019, followed by the lockdown, led to an estimated 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine, coming back to India. These are the students who are now stuck. While most countries such as Australia who locked down during the pandemic have since reopened their doors to international students, China’s tough Covid Zero strategy has meant that students from across the world studying in Chinese universities are yet to go back to their campuses.

Though China is gradually opening its doors to students from friendly countries such as Pakistan, Thailand, the Solomon Islands, and, most recently, Sri Lanka, it has remained silent on allowing Indian students and family members of Indians working in China.

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Aren’t the students attending online classes?

Yes, but with India-China hostilities leading to New Delhi banning Chinese mobile apps, the students have been struggling. Besides, Chinese universities only use homegrown apps such as WeChat, SuperStar, and DingTalk instead of the more common Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.

Medical students face an added layer of complexity: Online classes deprive them of practical training and hands-on experience – a crucial part of their curriculum. They now want the Indian government to allow them to do their practical training in the country, or facilitate their return to China.

Students who are in their final year of MBBS or those who are set to begin their final year in July 2022 are among the most concerned – a mandatory one-year internship, after the final year, is part of the MBBS course, and a degree without the practical training, they fear, will be futile.

“In July-August, I will appear for my fourth-year exams, after which I’ll only have a year left to finish my degree, and will have to take up compulsory practical internship. After living here for over two years, I am not sure if I want to return to China for just the practical training and get into the whole hassle of visas,” said Ghanshyam Yadav, who has been studying medicine at the University of South China, Hengyang, since 2018.

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For students with foreign medical degrees to pursue their internship in India, they have to pass the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE). “Instead of going back to China, I would rather spend my time here, preparing for the licensure exam,” he said.

Does India recognise online medical education?

In February 2022, the National Medical Commission (NMC), which regulates medical education in the country, issued a warning to students seeking admission in foreign colleges that it would not recognise medical courses taught online. “As per the extant rules, National Medical Commission does not recognise or approve medical courses done only by online mode. Students are advised to exercise due diligence in choosing where to pursue medical education,” the commission said.

What next?

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Earlier this month the Supreme Court ordered the NMC to draft a scheme within two months, allowing foreign medical students to complete practical training in medical colleges in India. Indian students, mostly enrolled in MBBS courses in war-hit Ukraine, had also returned to India and the scheme is most likely to cover those students as well.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian recently said, “China attaches high importance to Indian students’ concerns about returning to China for studies. We have shared with the Indian side the procedures and experience of other countries’ students returning to China.”

China’s announcement was followed by the Indian Embassy in China asking all students stranded in India to fill out a Google form by May 8 with their academic and vaccination details. The embassy said the data would be shared with the Chinese side, following which it would be seen if the identified students are eligible to travel to China to complete the course.

Three weeks since they filled the form and with no word from Indian or Chinese authorities, students took to the streets, including recently at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.

First published on: 02-06-2022 at 18:03 IST
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