Educating doctors

On 23rd March, the Ministry of Education announced rules on the recently approved medical scholarship grants (see the rules). The rules clarified how the government will implement the grants. But we should be concerned at least on two counts.

One, on the impact on current private students. According to the rules private students currently studying in universities recognized jointly by RCSC, MOH and MOE in the SAARC region, Thailand and Cuba are eligible to apply for the scholarship. Of them 15 will be awarded the medical grant.

Obviously, every private medical student by now expects the grant. And convincing them that they may not be eligible or that their universities are not recognized will be difficult. We’ve already upset most other private students. Now, it appears, that we may upset many private medical students as well.

And two, on the impact on future students. According to the rules, medical scholarship grants will be awarded to 15 private students each year selected on the “basis of academic merit and competition”. This is good. But there is one catch: to be eligible, a student must have already secured “their own placement/admissions to medical institutions/universities deemed reputable.”

The problem is this: a student having the best possible marks (among those who couldn’t get the full government scholarships) but without the financial backing or the connections to apply for admission privately, will not be eligible for the grant. So the grant is not based solely on academic merit; it favors the rich and the well connected.

And that could also be unconstitutional. Article 9.16 of our Constitution states that “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

But it’s not enough to say it’s unconstitutional and do nothing about the shortage of doctors. So what’s the solution? I don’t know about current private medical students – we are already in this mess.

For the future, however, the solution is quite straightforward: Just do away with the grants for future private medical students. And, instead, create additional full scholarships that will be “equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” It can’t be that difficult to create 15 more full scholarships. The government is obviously willing to make the money available. So all that’s really needed, is to convince other governments or medical universities to reserve a certain amount of admissions for our students each year.

Medical grants

Many of you have commented on the government’s decision to provide financial assistance to private medical students. And some have telephoned me.

I don’t know enough about this sudden development to comment publicly. So I’ll talk to people who do know. And learn.

I notice that all the comments I’ve received so far denounce our government’s decision. So I urge those in support of the decision to share your views.