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Explained: Why is eastern Europe popular with Indian medical students?

Ukraine and other eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria are popular destinations for Indian students pursuing medicine. Here's why

The special evacuation flight carrying Indian students studying in Ukraine reached Delhi on Sunday morning. (Express photo/ Gajendra Yadav)

Among Indians waiting to be evacuated from Ukraine following the Russian invasion are students of medicine enrolled in colleges located across the country — from Kharkiv in the east to Lviv in the west. Ukraine and other eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria are popular destinations for Indian students pursuing medicine because of the easy entrance criteria in colleges there, relatively less competition, and the appeal of studying in Europe for less than what it would cost to study in private medical colleges in India.

However, practising medicine in India after studying from colleges in these countries can be challenging. All those who graduate from foreign medical education institutions are required to take a licentiate exam before they can practice medicine or pursue higher medical education in India. The test, called Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE), has a very low pass percentage.

Dr Sonali Vaid, a public health expert and an alumna of the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter: “I did my medical training in Bulgaria (cheaper than private in India + travel held an appeal) Better teacher-student ratio. Early intro to public health, student orgs, ethics, exchange programs to other countries & more. Saw a variety of health systems early on — [and had a] global outlook.”

Entrance requirements, costs, credit transfer

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Those who work with agencies that govern medical education in India say universities in Ukraine that offer medical education in English, and are meant for foreign students, do not have any test or criteria for entrance. Since 2018, India has made it mandatory for students going abroad for their MBBS to also give the NEET-UG exams.

“…If you see students travelling to east European countries, Russia or China, most of them score less than 20 per cent on NEET-UG. The cut-off for India, even in private colleges, is about 60 per cent,” said a senior doctor who has previously worked with organisations regulating medical education in India.

Dr M C Mishra, former director of AIIMS, said, “Anybody who pays the fees, gets in. Ukraine, Russia and China have been popular destinations for years now, and it is cheaper than private medical colleges in India.”

The cost of graduating in medicine in Ukraine is around Rs 15-20 lakh for the entire duration of six years. In India, fees of private medical colleges can range between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore for a 4.5-year course.

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Another reason students are attracted to studying in Ukraine is that universities there follow the European Credit Transfer System, which makes it easy for students to change institutions in Europe during their course.

The FMGE

All medicine graduates from foreign institutes returning to India will have to give the FMGE test, which most people do not pass. An analysis of FMGE results by the National Board of Examination — which conducts the test — showed that only 16.48 per cent of those who applied for the test in 2020 passed it. Only 16.6 per cent of students from Ukraine were able to pass the test. “There are thousands of medical graduates who are still waiting to clear the test. They are unable to practice medicine in India. They keep going to various coaching institutes and studying. What is the point? I feel bad for the students,” a senior doctor who has worked with medical education regulators said.

Competition in India

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Dr B N Gangadhar, president of the Medical Assessment and Rating Board, under the National Medical Commission, said: “There are nearly 90,000 MBBS seats in the country… We will soon have 100 medical seats for 1 million population, and that is enough for us. When there are so many seats in the country, why should children go abroad?”

However, even with India increasing the number of MBBS seats, getting through to a college, let alone a government college, can be difficult.

More than 16 lakh students applied for NEET-UG for 2021. This means that for every MBBS seat in the country, there are more than 16 applicants.

In Ukraine, a country of 4.4 crore people, there are at least 25 medical colleges where Indians study. This means the country has at least one medical college for every 1.7 lakh people.

On the other hand, in India, which has a population of 138 crores, there are around 536 medical colleges. This comes to one medical college for every 25.7 lakh people.

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First published on: 28-02-2022 at 03:10:54 am
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