First Covid, now war; Indian students stare at bleak future

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It all started in 2020 when students of Chinese universities started returning to the country leaving their studies behind as the Covid-19 pandemic started engulfing the world. … writes JAISON WILSON

The recent pleas moved in the Delhi High Court revealed that all is not well with Indian medical students who have returned from foreign universities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. While they are safe at home, their future however remains uncertain.

It all started in 2020 when students of Chinese universities started returning to the country leaving their studies behind as the Covid-19 pandemic started engulfing the world. The beginning of the medical students’ exodus started from this tipping point, only to get more complicated with the war.

According to petitioner Pravasi Legal Cell, they have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on behalf of 20,000 Ukraine-returned Indian students for allowing them to join medical colleges in the country.

Another plea, filed by a group of Indian medical students studying in China’s Ningbo University, argued that the careers of about 18,000 students are at stake as they are stranded in India due to the pending restrictions imposed by the government in Beijing.

Since their return to India in early 2020, they have not been able to go back to China.

Students who were evacuated from Ukraine, arrival by Indian Air Force Plane at Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad on Thursday, March 03, 2022 (Photo: Wasim Sarvar/IANS)

Future at stake

As per the provisions of the National Medical Commission (Foreign Medical Graduate Licentiate) Regulations, 2021, the entire course, training, and internship or clerkship shall be done outside India in the same foreign medical institution throughout the course of study.

The provisions also state that no part of medical training and internship shall be done in India or in any country other than the one from where the primary medical qualification is obtained.

At present, there are no norms or regulations in India to accommodate medical students, who were studying abroad and had to return to midway.

Both the groups of students who have returned from China and Ukraine have referred to a circular dated March 4, allowing payment of stipend to those who qualify for the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam in India.

However, it is not of much use to students who have been evacuated from Ukraine as many of them are in the second, third or fourth year of studies and have not completed their degrees yet. To qualify for the stipend, one has to complete the degree, appear for the exam, qualify and then get the internship.

NMC’s stand

The National Medical Commission (NMC) has allowed foreign medical students with incomplete internships due to the ongoing situations, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, to apply and finish their apprenticeship requirement in India but with conditions.

However, the Commission has said that the candidates must complete their Foreign Medical Graduates Exam (FMGE) before applying for internships in India.

“It has been observed that there also some foreign medical graduates (FMG) with incomplete internship due to such compelling situations like Covid-19 and the war. Considering the agony and stress faced by these foreign medical graduates, their application to complete the remaining part of their internship in India is considered eligible,” the NMC said in a notice.

“Accordingly the same may be processed by the State Medical Councils provided that the candidates have cleared FMGE before applying for the completion of their internship in India.”

The Commission is expected to issue the guidelines for State Medical Councils soon in this regard.

“The commission decided to issue the detailed guidelines and process which is required to be followed by State Medical Councils for grant of registration of FMGs till further instructions from the commission or implementation of NEET exam whichever occurs earlier.”

The Commission further directed the State Medical Councils to follow these conditions while processing for registration of FMGs.

Court interventions

The division bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh on February 10 had issued notice to the Centre through the Ministries of Law and Justice, External Affairs, Health and Family Welfare, and the NMC, and posted the matter for the next hearing on March 21.

While issuing notice in the matter, the Delhi High Court asked the respondents to consider the issue sympathetically as the petitioners are just praying for the arrangement of their study.

Regarding the petition filed by Ukraine-returned students also, the court agreed to hear it on March 21.

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