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‘Study medicine without practicals’: Tough road for Indians enrolled in China as visa ban stays

In light of Covid, China banned visas for international students, affecting 23,000 Indian students studying there before the pandemic. Medical students form bulk of this.

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New Delhi: Sonali Bhoyar, a 23-year-old medical student, had barely spent two years at a college in China when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Along with 30 other Indian classmates, Bhoyar — a student at Hubei University of Science and Technology in Xianning — had to leave her hostel and her college overnight in February 2020 and come back to India. Her family lives in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

Since then studies have meant online classes for her.

In light of the Covid outbreak, China banned visas for international students, affecting an estimated 23,000 Indian students who had been studying in universities across the country before the pandemic started. Medical students form the bulk of this number.

The students’ return to India had also brought home the country’s first Covid case — a medical student from Kerala, who had been studying at a university in Wuhan.

Virtual classes since 2020 have meant that these students have had no practical experience, something considered indispensable in medical education.

Speaking to ThePrint, Bhoyar, who is currently in the fourth year of her five-year MBBS course, said, “Most of the practicals begin from third year onwards and I have had no practical experience. Studying online is also not easy… sometimes there is a network problem, sometimes I am unable to understand the concepts in the online class and if I ask something during the class, the doubt gets resolved the next day.”

One of Bhoyar’s classmates, also a Nagpur resident, who did not wish to be named, spoke about missing out on the campus experience in general.

“When I got admission in MBBS, I had certain expectations of how my life would be, but everything has changed so drastically for us. When we left China in 2020, I had no idea that we were not going back for a long time…I am in my fourth year right now, who knows whether I will be able to go back before I reach my final year,” she said.

While the China government said earlier this week that it is making a “coordinated attempt for the return of foreign students”, it did not specify when the students are likely to get back in the country.

According to diplomatic sources, the Indian government has also been pushing China to allow students to resume their studies in person. India’s medical regulator National Medical Council (NMC), meanwhile, has cautioned students in the country against seeking admission in Chinese institutions amid the visa ban.

But for the medical students already enrolled in universities there, two years of online classes have raised serious challenges with regard to their career.

Also read: Covid is changing the way students pick foreign schools. How country handled virus is a factor

‘Not a financial worry’

Most medical colleges in China charge a course fee of Rs 3 lakh-4 lakh per annum. Hostel expenses amount to an additional Rs 50,000 per year (approximately), although many universities have waived that because of virtual studies.

The fees in China, comparable to the cost of studying medicine in India, is one of the things that make the county a popular destination for Indian students. The other reason is limited seats in colleges here — it’s believed to be much easier getting admission in China.

The students contacted by ThePrint are mostly from middle and upper middle class families. What’s causing them concern is not so much the money they spent on getting into a university in China, but the fact that they are losing out on crucial training experiences — such as practicals and internships — because of online studies. This concern is more immediate for those in their final year of MBBS.

Kirti Pathak, a resident of Jind, Haryana, who completed her MBBS from a university in China last year (more than one year of the course was virtual classes), said, “Pursuing an MBBS from China was not very expensive. What is problematic is the fact that even after completing my MBBS, I have no practical knowledge and no opportunity to practise as a doctor.”

Pathak had paid Rs 3.5 lakh per annum for her course from Kunming Medical University in Yunnan province.

Difficulties in getting internships

Mohd Nadir, a fifth-year student of Hubei University of Medicine in Shiyan city, too, returned home to Rampur, Uttar Pradesh in 2020.

Unable to return to college in China, he has been looking for internships in India as he’s in the last year of his medical course. However, no one is willing to offer him one because of his lack of practical exposure.

The fact that Nadir has not qualified the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE), an essential qualifier to practise in the country for those pursuing medicine from Russia, China, Bangladesh, Philippines, Nepal, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, is also working against him.

“Towards the third year, medical students are taken to hospitals and they see patients, analyse their symptoms and understand their ailment. For example, we have studied the theory of asthma, but I haven’t seen or met any asthma patients to analyse their symptoms. If I see an asthma patient, I might not know how serious his or her condition is. This is what all of us mean when we say that we lack practical experience,” said Nadir.

Nadir, and others in his batch, say they tried contacting the state government and local authorities to allow them to be enrolled for practicals in local medical colleges, but did not receive permission.

“We asked our university if we could enrol for practical classes in local universities or hospitals, but our university refused to help us get placed for practicals here and said that we should tackle the issue on our own,” said the student.

His concern is shared, he added, by about 100 of his batchmates across universities. While some of them were able to get some training at local clinics, unofficially, the experience has not helped them score an official internship, the students said.

Pathak, quoted above, has been looking for internships in India for the past one year, but has been unable to find one, both due to her lack of practical experience and because she has not been able to qualify the FMGE.

“Had I been in China, I would have automatically got an internship, but in India I will have to wait till I clear my FMGE, even to get an internship. But even to clear the FMGE, practical knowledge is very essential because it is a qualifier to ultimately practise medicine,” said Pathak.

On average, less than 20 per cent of those who take the FMGE are able to clear it.

Warning for students

Meanwhile, in a notice issued Tuesday, the National Medical Council (NMC) said “any prospective student needs to be aware that the Government of People’s Republic of China has imposed strict travel restrictions in the wake of Covid-19 and suspended all visas since November 2020”.

The notice followed some Chinese universities inviting fresh applications for MBBS.

“A large number of international students, including Indian students, have not been able to return to China to continue their studies due to these restrictions. Thus far, there has been no relaxation in the restrictions,” the notice added.

“As per the extant (existing) rules, National Medical Commission does not recognise or approve medical courses done only by online mode,” the notice said.

The commission, therefore, asked students to exercise due caution before applying for any medical institution in China or any other country. “In view of the above, students are advised to exercise due diligence in choosing where to pursue medical education from,” the NMC notice said.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: US sees 15% drop in global students due to Covid, Indian numbers also fall, report shows


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