Thousands of international students who have opted to study medicine in China are concerned about their academic plans. China has not yet opened its borders for foreign students enrolled in its universities, and those pursuing an MBBS programme in that country claim to be at a greater loss due to a lack of practical experience.
Sanjeev Gupta*, 21, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, is pursuing an MBBS programme at the University of South China since 2018 and returned to India during the winter break in January 2020. Since then, he, along with hundreds of Indian students, has been waiting for any formal communication from the authorities.
“Universities are clueless about our return, and the embassies are unable to provide any update. We wrote to the authorities around six months ago and we are yet to receive any response. The new semester at our university commenced on February 19 and we don’t see ourselves returning to the campuses anytime soon,” Gupta said.
According to the data released by the Indian Embassy in China amid the covid outbreak, over 20,000 Indian students were enrolled in medical degrees. One of the reasons for Indians to flock to China for pursuing MBBS degrees is the affordable tuition fee. Gupta told that the average annual fee for MBBS courses in China is 21,000 Chinese Yuan (~2.5 lakh INR), which ranges from INR 4 lakh to 20 crore per annum at an Indian private medical college.
Another reason could be the cut-throat competition to get a high rank in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test – Undergraduate (NEET-UG) where over 16 lakh students take the entrance exam for over 83,000 MBBS seats.
Indian students claim they are suffering more than their counterparts from other countries due to New Delhi’s decision to ban Chinese apps. Gupta agreed and said that Chinese universities, just like all institutions around the world, are functioning remotely. However, instead of globally used applications like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, Chinese universities use homegrown apps like WeChat, SuperStar, and DingTalk (Ding Ding).
“The ban on Chinese apps is hampering my learning process. Connecting to a VPN to access these apps makes the system slow and the audio/video often hang. If going back to offline classes is not an option, removing the ban on these apps will at least provide us with the basic theoretical knowledge that our classmates are receiving,” said Rohit Kumar Yadav, a fourth-year MBBS student at Shihezi University.
He added that his batch has not undertaken any lab classes to date and there is a possibility that the total duration of his degree could extend to incorporate practical training. “Ideally, we have to gain on-duty experience of physical clinical training of around 1 year. While the theoretical components have been covered during the last two years via online learning, universities may extend the duration of the degree from 6 years to 7-8 years to provide hands-on experience. This could impact our professional as well as financial planning,” said 21-year old Yadav.
When asked if Indian students are facing the brunt of the worsening Indo-China bilateral relations, Gupta refused and said, “If it was a political issue, China would have granted entry to students from other countries.”
Abhay Pathania from Rajasthan is a fourth-year MBBS student at China’s Xinjiang Medical University. He said that return of those who joined medicine courses in 2017 and 2018 should be expedited. “It is peak time now, we cannot wait any longer to get back to China… going back to China will be of no use after this year, especially for the 2017, 2018 batch. These batches are in their third and fourth year when practical training becomes a primary concern. Both the batches have zero knowledge of real hands-on experience,” 23-year old Pathania said.
Apart from the issues faced in accessing Chinese apps, Pakistani students are also sailing in the same boat and have no clue about their return. Muhammad Harram, 22, from Pakistan’s Lahore, is also pursuing an MBBS from the University of South China and returned to his home country in January 2020 after the semester exams.
“When I returned to Pakistan, there was no coronavirus pandemic. The Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) had released an official statement that any foreign medical or dental degree acquired through an online medium without clinical training will not be valid. If we don’t return soon and continue with online learning, my degree may become invalid,” Harram told indianexpress.com.
The PMC on November 8, 2021, released a statement that read, “Any application submitted for the purpose of licencing or recognition, based on an online qualification, without submitting proof of actual and physical clinical training, shall not be considered and will be rejected.”
Non-Recognition of Online Foreign Qualification by Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC). pic.twitter.com/BDM1x3lEze
— Pakistan Medical Commission (@pmc_org) November 8, 2021
While the Pakistan government has not banned any app from China, Harram said that students require their Chinese mobile SIM cards to log into the apps if they are signed out for any reason.
“A night before an exam in 2021, I updated my mobile phone, and all the saved passwords were gone. In Pakistan, I could not access my Chinese mobile SIM and ended up being marked absent on that paper. Similarly, we are unable to talk to any teacher directly and have to go through the class representative,” Harram said.
In the second week of February 2021, the Chinese foreign ministry reportedly agreed to arrange for Pakistani students’ return to campuses. The foreign ministry said it was considering the return of thousands of international students to China in a “coordinated manner”.
Abhishek Jaiswal, 23, who completed his 12th grade at the Capital College & Research Center in Kathmandu, Nepal, is experiencing similar difficulties. Jaiswal’s degree will be completed in 2024, and he did not wish to name the university he is attending.
“In our hometown, there is no learning environment. MBBS is a degree based on practical experience that we are losing out on. Covid restrictions are being eased out across the world. All of us enrolled in Chinese universities are hoping that we return to the campuses as soon as possible to save our future,” he said.
*Name changed on request