BITTER MEDICINE

  • Haroon Mirani
  • Publish Date: Oct 4 2017 10:57PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Oct 4 2017 10:57PM
BITTER MEDICINE

                                                      Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

Unscrupulous ‘consultants’ are making big bucks sending unsuspecting students to do MBBS at dubious colleges abraod - at the cost of precious careers

 

No sooner had Lateef Nazir, 20, passed high school that his family asked him to become a doctor. Lateef tried but couldn't crack the pre-medical exam. Nope problem. His family had the money to send him outside the country to fulfil their dream.

Lateef’s father went to many consultants and talked to his friends. One consultant persuaded him to send his son to the Philippines as he could get an MBBS degree there for “only Rs 12 lakh”. Soon, Lateef landed in the Philippines. It did not take long for his and his family’s dream to come crashing down. From the airport in Manila, Lateef was driven to his “Medical College”. It was just a large hall. There many many candidates there but nothing in the name of infrastructure. Later, he came to realise that in the Philippines, MBBS was an entirely different ball game. One has to study general biology for three semesters and then appear in the local MBBS entrance test. Only if the candidate clears this test will he be admitted to the MBBS course. Frustrated with the whole experience, Lateef returned home after a year, dejected. His father is still doing the rounds of consultant to get back his money.

Lateef’s isn't a singular experience. A girl from Pampore was sent to pursue MBBS IN China on the advise of a consultant. Barely a month later, she called her home crying and pleading with her family to get her out of the country, where her admission was not confirmed and she had been thrown out of college along with two other students. Another candidate was sent to Iran on a “scholarship”, only to end up home after a year as the scholarship proved to be a farce. 

Such stories have lately become common in Kashmir, where the so-called consultants have ruined the careers of many gullible students. “It is a huge mess here. The people who are not even graduates themselves are counselling students about their future,” said GN Var, chairman of Coaching Centres Association of Kashmir. “We have documented hundreds of students whose lives were destroyed by these consultants for their own monetary gains.”

The experts say the involvement of huge amounts of money has drawn people from dubious backgrounds into the trade. “The market is dominated by former contractors, government employees, some of whom are just clerks, advertisers, college dropouts,” said an insider. “There are people who have never cleared even a graduate level exam counselling students.” 

A study done by the CCAK in 2014 revealed that the sector was worth Rs 1,130 crore. “As of now, if we add to other factors like inflation, the bad situation in the valley due to which more students opt for colleges outside, lack of seats here, the market can be worth around Rs 1,600 crore a year,” said Var. “So it is natural that people will be drawn to it.”

This consultancy sector has two two sub-sectors. One deals with admissions in colleges in India, the other abroad. The latter is extreme lucrative and, for the students, quite risky.

In Kashmir, medicine has long been a cherished profession. It is a secure and respectable career, so a family with the means often doesn't think twice about sending their son or daughter abroad to study medicine. In India, getting an MBBS seat under the management quota, popularly known as donation seats, has become quite difficult, and exorbitantly expensive. Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Ukraine provide cheaper alternatives. “The first choice of Kashmiri students and parents for doing MBBS is Bangladesh due to its proximity to India, similar syllabus, similar teaching methods, matching culture, and above all the same religion. People think it is the safest foreign country for their children, especially girls, to study” said a consultant, who asked not to be named. “It is the most lucrative market too as the MBBS package can cost upto Rs 40 lakh and a consultant easily earns upto Rs 2.5 lakh per seat.”

Much of the money that flows into this market is black, and that is one of the reasons many parents who feel cheated do not approach the police. “There was an incident with a high-level government official whose son couldn't be given an MBBS seat in China by a local consultant despite getting a payment of Rs 8 lakh in advance. The said official never approached the police as the money was his illegal income,” said an insider. “He put pressure on the consultant through various quarters to get the money back but never approached the law.”

Pakistan too provides good business for consultants. “Some of the consultants have close links with Hurriyat leaders and they manage the seats for their candidates. The seats are free but the candidate is charged around Rs 12 lakh. Where this money goes is anybody’s guess,” said an educationist. "Most of the seats are for people who have lost somebody at the hands of the security forces, preferably orphans, relatives of militants and such persons. But such is the money power that we have seen even wards of police officers sent to Pakistan for MBBS in the name of tehreek.”

A few years ago, when the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme was launched, several NGOs and self-styled education counsellors jumped into the arena, claiming to be representatives for the scheme. They took money from hundreds of students and got them admitted in professional courses at various colleges outside the state. Ninety percent of the candidates didn't get the PMSSS scholarship as they had not followed any rules; the NGOs had duped them.Cases were filed against the NGOs but none was prosecuted. Careers of hundreds of students were ruined.

The education consultancy sector is not regulated and that is a big problem. “There are no checks and balances. Anybody can become a counsellor. He can earn crores of rupees and not pay a single penny in tax” said Var. “There should be some mechanism to regulate the sector.”

Some experts blame the state government for the exodus of Kashmiri students. “Every year our state loses thousands of crores in admission and other fees to different states and countries. It wouldn't have been so if the government had allowed the establishment of private colleges and universities in the state,” said an educationist. “If anybody wants to open an educational institute, he is made to run from pillar to post and obtain dozens of NOCs, which are impossible to get. Everybody knows what happened to the transworld university or a certain private medical college. Some people in the government simply sabotaged them.”

Since the market is unregulated, there is no data about students who go out of the state to study medicine. Recently, a Bangladeshi official said that at some 500 Kashmiri students were studying for MBBS in that country. “It is difficult to guess but according to our estimates 300-400 students go outside the state to pursue MBBS every year” said Var. “BTech and paramedic course aspirants are in the thousands.”

Because of the sheer numbers, and money, involved, this whole enterprise is fraught with great risk. “No doubt people have been able to achieve their dreams by going to study outside but those are exceptional cases. Cheating is quite high in this sector and it is heartbreaking to see careers of young people getting destroyed even before they start,” said Var.

Educationists demand that the government constitute career guidance cells in universities, colleges and higher secondary schools so that students are better aware of their career prospects and don’t fall prey to unscrupulous consultants. But is the government even bothered?