Published: 05th October 2021
Medical education and regulation has become a business: SC raps NBE for changing NEET SS 2021 question paper pattern
Hearing a plea against the 'last minute' changes made by the NBE to the NEET Super Speciality exam, the SC said the hasty nature of the decision calls to question the board's motives
The Supreme Court on Tuesday flayed the National Board of Examination (NBE) for the "last minute" changes to the syllabus of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Super Speciality (NEET SS) exam. Hearing a petition filed by 41 doctors who are eligible for the NEET SS exam, the three-judge bench, comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna said that the NBE was intent on simply filling up the seats instead of giving students the time to prepare well for the exam. The judges have not passed an official order on the matter yet as the court was adjourned and the hearing scheduled for October 6.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan appeared for the petitioners, and said, "The new pattern is disruptive for the ones who are appearing for the NEET SS 2021." The initial dates for the exam were announced on July 23 this year. On August 31, the NBE released a NEET SS notification, and aspirants discovered that the question paper, which had up until then asked 40 per cent of the questions from General Medicine, and 60 per cent of the questions from a specific stream under the three-year Doctor of Medicine or Master of Chirurgiae courses, was now streamlined to 100 per cent of the questions falling under General Medicine. It is to be noted that the two courses are the most advanced PG courses in surgical science, and unlike general medical PG, or UG, NEET SS is the only recognised qualifying exam for these courses in the country.
The petitioning students contested that they spent years studying for their speciality, and the sudden change in the pattern would mean that they would have to shift their focus to General Medicine at very short notice. The NBE had filed an affidavit in the court yesterday, stating that the changes were brought in with the intention of making the exam more flexible for the students. It also said that the exam would be postponed from the scheduled date of November 13-14 to January 10-11, 2022. However, when Senior Advocate Maninder Singh who presented on behalf of the NBE, brought this to the attention of the bench, Justice Chandrachud did not think too highly of the move, remarking, "You announce the changes in August for the exam in November. And when the students come to the court, you change the exams to January. This doesn't augur well for the future of medical education in the country."
Advocate Singh said that the changes were proposed after speaking to a panel of experts, and were done in the best interest of the students, in order to ensure more aspirants got the opportunity to clear the exam. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, who appeared on behalf of the Centre said that the changes would provide "comparative ease and flexibility" to the aspirants, and urged the court to consider the changes since the NBE has postponed the exam by over two months, thus giving the students more time to prepare. However, the judge brushed aside this plea, saying that medical students spend years learning their subjects, and two months is hardly enough additional time.
In fact, the court took strong objection to the implication that the centre cleared the changes in order to fill up vacant seats, which it speculated were in the private colleges. Stating that "heavens would not have fallen if 500 seats had remained vacant this year," the judge suggested that the NBE could think of introducing the changes next year. It has given the board a day's time to show that these changes weren't just made to fill up seats.