Published: 21st March 2022
The plight of Indian MBBS students enrolled in Chinese universities who are now stuck here
The last two years have been tough for students who travelled abroad to pursue MBBS. With the arrival of the pandemic, those enrolled in colleges in China, the Philippines and Russia had to come back
As Aasutosh Kumar, a fourth-year student of China’s Youjiang Medical University for Nationalities, sits for his online class conducted by his Nepalese teachers, he can’t help sparing a thought about what the COVID-19 pandemic has taken away.
It’s time. The time when he was supposed to have practical classes. It’s an essential part of securing an MBBS degree. Without this, one can’t become a doctor. Although online classes are happening, there is no scope for practical lessons in this mode of learning.
The colleges in China are taking practical classes through videos, but that is not enough.
The National Medical Council has already said that a medical degree without actual, practical learning will not be considered as MBBS in India.
Aasutosh had gone to China after he was unable to get a seat in a government college of his choice in India. Private college was out of his budget. After waiting for two years, he took admission to a Chinese university. Then, COVID-19 struck. He had to come back. He has been taking online classes for two years.
The 24-year-old has started hearing caustic comments from close quarters. People are asking what kind of a doctor would he become, without practical experience.
“Sometimes, it becomes embarrassing and affects my confidence. Being an MBBS student, I am not able to get practical knowledge,” he says. Aasutosh has started exploring options and preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) in Delhi’s Gautam Nagar and also seeking an Indian medical licence.
Thousands of MBBS students who had to return from China in 2020 are facing this problem. And with the war in Ukraine forcing 20,000 Indian students back home, there will be more staring at an uncertain future.
Two tough years
The last two years have been tough for students who travelled abroad to pursue MBBS. With the arrival of the pandemic, those enrolled in colleges in China, the Philippines and Russia had to come back.
Around 23,000 students who were in China are now attending online classes. There is a temporary visa ban on Indian students returning to China, which started in March 2020.
The students are demanding that they should be sent back to finish their degrees. Senior year students from Pakistan, Singapore, Mongolia and Thailand have gone back to China in limited numbers gradually after their governments collaborated with China to provide relaxation for the students.
Indian students are running Twitter campaigns, protests outside the Chinese embassy and writing to the government.
On Saturday, several of them pursuing MBBS in Chinese universities staged a protest outside the Kerala secretariat seeking recognition of their training in India.
The protest was held under the banner of the Foreign Medical Graduates Parents Association (FMGPA) — an association of parents of medical students in foreign countries.
According to Shahnawaz Khan, a final-year student of Anhui University in China’s Anhui Province, MBBS cannot be taught online.
“While other countries are sending their students back to China, we don’t know what the Indian government is doing. While this may take time because COVID-19 cases have again started increasing in China, we should at least be given a chance for practicals in Indian colleges. We are even ready to pay for it,” Shahnawaz says.
Another student named Sharib Khan, a resident of Shahdara in Delhi, says things like dissection, section anatomy and so on cannot be done virtually.
“They are teaching subjects like pharmacology, forensic biology that cannot be taught online,” says the 21-year-old, a third-year student of Wenzhou University in Zhejiang. He says the NMC should do something about arranging practicals for these students.
Shahnawaz thinks this delay will have serious implications.
“Some universities in China have told the students that practical classes will be conducted once they come back. But if students are unable to travel, they will not be able to attend these practicals. Their provisional certificate will get delayed and this will eventually result in not getting internships,” fears Shahnawaz.
Things getting complicated
The universities in China have also said that the hours students have spent taking online practical classes will have to be spent for offline practical classes as well and they will get the degree only after that.
In a recent order, the NMC has allowed these students to pursue internships in India, but if they don’t get degrees, they will not be allowed to continue with their internships.
There are a number of students who took admission in various Chinese universities in the initial months of 2020 and also in 2021, thinking that the COVID-19 pandemic will subside and they will go back to their universities.
Stuck in India for longer than expected, they have no option but to take online classes. Making things worse for them is the NMC order stating that completing their degrees completely in online mode will not be recognised in India.
Sameer is a second-year student of Soochow University in China’s Suzhou province.
“When I took admission in 2020, I was not very worried. Gradually, uncertainty started increasing. I was hoping that things will become better. Now, with the NMC order, I am only praying that I get to go to China for offline classes. Otherwise, I will not have much left to do,” he says. Sameer’s parents, farmers by profession, are praying that he gets to complete his MBBS.
Recently, some students also moved Delhi High Court, seeking permission for physical training.
The matter was filed before the bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Jyoti Singh, which has issued notice to the Centre and NMC. It will be heard on March 21.
As per data released by the Indian Embassy in China amid the COVID outbreak, over 20,000 Indian students were enrolled in medical colleges.
These students flock to those colleges because of affordable tuition fees. The average annual fee for MBBS courses in China is around 21,000 Chinese yuans (Rs 2.5 lakh). In Indian private colleges, this ranges from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 2 crore per annum.
The 23-year-old Shahnawaz says he had rented an apartment near his university in China for which he is still paying rent.
“It was on a contract basis made for five years and cannot be terminated. I am still paying the amount along with three of my friends,” adds Shahnawaz. He says several students took loans to study, but online classes are undoing a lot of things they were expecting.
The students are also unhappy with the Indian government for ignoring their issues.
“Students who came back from Ukraine are being given special attention. States like West Bengal, Telangana and Kerala are writing to the Central government regarding their career. No one is paying attention to us,” says Shahnawaz.
In the same boat
Students who are attending online MBBS classes conducted by Ukrainian colleges are no different, as far as the plight is concerned. Back from a war-ravaged country, they are in a dilemma.
With Kharkiv and Kyiv damaged badly, they don’t know for how long colleges in these cities will continue online classes.
Ritika Dhankar, a student of Kyiv National Medical University, says her classes are on but she does not know till when.
“If the online classes stop, we have to buy online courses but it will be a red flag for our degree because the university will give us a degree only if we study according to their study plans,” says the second-year student who lives in Jhajjar in Haryana.
She doesn’t forget to express gratitude to their teachers who have continued to take online classes amid the turmoil.
Aman Doharey, 21, is a third-year MBBS student of Bukovinian State Medical University. He is not optimistic about returning to Ukraine in the near future and wonders how will he go about it.
“If we get a transfer to an Indian medical college, that would be good for everyone. But in case we don’t, then we will have to move to Poland or Hungary,” says Aman.
He is taking online classes, but is not sure how long they will continue. Aman says he does not have much hope, considering the prevailing situation in Ukraine.
He says the NMC should prepare a plan for them. In many cities, classes have stopped and students have not been able to take online classes either.
Suraj Kumar Tiwari, an MBBS student from Ayodhya studying in Ukraine’s Uzhhorod National Medical University, has not been able to attend online classes as the city is under attack. His exams were due in June, but he is not sure if they will be held or not.
What’s the way forward
While the doctor fraternity is in full support of these students, they also are speaking against the students’ demand of getting admitted to Indian colleges without clearing the NEET UG examination.
“The demand of students from Ukraine and China who are asking to get admission here is not practical. They can appear for NEET and get admission to an Indian medical college. Our association supports them genuinely, but we cannot support the idea that they should be accommodated here,” says Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) president, Dr Rohan Krishnan.
He adds that online courses are not enough for an MBBS student.
“If you see in the past two-three years, the world has gone through a major setback. But the government can take some steps to ensure that these students go back to their colleges in China and complete their clinical teaching programmes, including practical training,” Krishna says.
However, Krishnan also wonders how this will be done.
“Demands of the students from Ukraine and China to allow them practical classes in India is going to create a very difficult scenario. It’s impractical to suggest something like that because the number of seats allotted to medical colleges and the ratio of the students and teachers has to be managed. A teacher cannot teach thousands of students. It is impractical, but again I will say that MBBS is not something that can be learned over a computer. It’s something you have to practise in hospitals,” he said.
He has some advice for the junior year students.
“I think they should consider whether they have made a good choice or should they prepare for the NEET UG exam.”