Russia, under Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine on February 24 2022 to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. To limit Western presence and weaponry in Russian neighborhood.

While NATO and the West imposed sanctions on Russia to enforce a withdrawal, India, for reasons best known to her abstained from voting in a UN Security Council resolution deploring Russian violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.

India’s predicament in the Russo-Ukrainian standoff did not stop there, though the ground zero of the conflagration was about 5,235 km away.

Ukraine had been a popular destination for Indians to study medicine, dentistry and nursing for over three decades. When the invasion began, there were about 20,000 Indian students enrolled in 30-odd universities. They made up 24 % of international students in Ukraine, the largest group of foreigners studying there. 20,000 families back in India spent sleepless nights worrying about the safety of their wards trapped in war-torn Ukraine, responsibility of which became the Indian government’s overnight.

The centre embarked on ‘Operation Ganga’ to evacuate Indians trapped in East Europe’s latest war theatre. The wily government of Prime Minister Modi decided to make the best of the opportunity by naming the operation ‘Operation Ganga’, as elections to state Assemblies of crucial states including Uttar Pradesh were being held. An ‘Operation Raksha’, or an ‘Operation Samraksh’ wouldn’t harvest votes as ‘operation Ganga’ would. That christening the rescue mission with a religious name had paid off was spectacularly evident when EVMs were counted after the grimly and intensely fought prestigious polls in Uttar Pradesh!

Operation Ganga was undertaken on war footing as Indian student Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar from Karnataka lost his life. The 21-year-old fourth year student at kharkiv National Medical University was standing in queue for food when the area was bombed.

In another incident, Indian student Harjot Singh pursuing Information technology was shot at, at a checkpoint in Kiev. He was lucky to receive medical attention after sustaining multiple bullet injuries. At the time of writing, the alive and recuperating Singh has been successfully evacuated.

As news of such dreadful events pour in from Ukraine and thousands of Indian students await evacuation from metro stations, underground war bunkers and hostels, reasons that have students pursue higher education in politically unstable Eastern European countries and even grumpy China are being debated back home.

These reasons known to all and sundry, including those responsible in having them reversed are numerous;  

  • The most glaring and telling reason is the cheap rates at which reasonably good courses are offered by these countries. Six-year MBBS course costs $ 35,000 in Ukraine, while the same course in India would cost four times. Medical specialty and super-specialty courses in Indian colleges, especially in the private sector runs up to crores per seat.  Blatant greed and audacity with which money-avaricious colleges, especially in the private sector fleece students under various categories viz; tuition fees, donations, hostel and mess fee, contribute to exorbitance of professional education in India. Such colleges have been rampant in Karnataka. But the cancer is spreading to other states as well.
  • Such colleges are patronized by politicians belonging to parties without exception. Individuals, religious bodies, trusts and even healthcare professionals constitute the Managements of such money-hungry ‘centers of learning’. The triumvirate of money-minting managements, regulatory bodies like the now-defunct IMC, and politicians who patronize these lucrative business enterprises, or even own them has sounded the death knell of medical profession. These corrupt halls of learning spew out graduates of dubious standards, who lack crucial knowledge, practical wherewithal, temperament, aptitude and empathy that doctors need to possess. The primary ambition of these graduates is to recover, by hook or by crook the huge money their parents invested in them. This has resulted in patients losing faith in the medical profession and healthcare providers. The sanctimonious patient-doctor relationship borne out of mutual trust and faith were eventually substituted by malice, suspicion and angst, often resulting in physical and verbal tiffs between patients and their families on one side, and doctors and hospitals on the other.         
  • Absence of grueling entrance exams to secure admissions to professional colleges in Ukraine is another attraction. Well-meant entrance exams like NEET were introduced in India to have merit circumvent money-power. In reality, these tests ultimately get embroiled in judicial wrangles, adding to delay and anxious uncertainty among aspiring students. After completing courses in Ukraine, students need to pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam to secure license to practice in India.
  • Medical degrees earned in Ukraine are recognized globally including the WHO, European Council and other bodies, while some of the fly-by-night colleges that sprout like mushroom after summer rain in India which offer courses at humongous rates aren’t recognized even by the National Medical Commission.
  • The dismal quality of education imparted by these colleges is another factor that have Indian students turn to other countries for higher education. There is a gross mismatch between money spent to secure admission to colleges in India and the quality of education imparted there. There are Medical and nursing students graduating from Indian colleges, especially in the private sector without having seen a single patient during their course, a far cry from students who graduate from colleges in the public sector, admission to which is tougher to secure than swimming across the Atlantic in winter. These substandard colleges lack basic facilities and quality faculty to teach students. These colleges ‘rent’ qualified faculty from other colleges at the time of inspection by regulatory bodies like the IMC to bag recognition. Influential managements secure crucial recognition by greasing the right palms the right way.    
  • Further, there are chances of permanent residence and settlement in Europe after completion of a study programme in Ukraine. This single factor has had Ukraine rank fourth in Europe for the number of graduate and post-graduate specializations in Medicine.
  • There are therefore a large number of colleges to choose from, in countries like Ukraine, while there is a yawning gap between demand for seats and their availability in India. The website of the National Medical Commission shows 605 medical colleges offering 90,825 MBBS seats per year. The number of students who took the NEET exam in 2021 was 1.6 million. This means 1/16 aspirants get selected for medicine in India.
  • This mismatch is taken advantage by numerous coaching centres which add to the grind of aspirants. Coaching centers have been charged with gaining access to  the question bank to competitive entrance examinations to professional courses by influencing officials with money and kind, which is then passed on to the students they coach to flout flashy results at coaching aspirants in the various entrance exams. Modern-day students don’t have patience to go through this grueling and corruption-riddled process rife with uncertainty and catch the flight to other nations offering cheaper courses with reasonable standards.
  • Even a state like Kerala, which until recently strictly restricted medical education to public sector has medical ‘colleges’ created out of every wayside kiosk, where students are fleeced a fortune for substandard courses imparted by faculty of dubious standards. The combination of unreasonably high fees and donations demanded by substandard private institutions, lack of quality faculty and facilities and dearth of recognition of regulating bodies or the lingering possibility of losing already secured recognition has pushed numerous engineering colleges to down their shutters in Kerala for want of enough students. Medical education in Kerala is sure to follow suit too if the current mess is allowed to persist under the very noses of people who are supposed to stop the decay.   
  • Reservation based on caste and religion denies students unable to claim reservation, precious seats to professional courses. This adds to the students’ tendency to turn to other countries to secure admission to professional courses. 20,000 students leave India annually to East Europe, Philippines, China, Trinidad & Tobago.

The fact of the matter is, higher education sector in India steeped in corruption, slime and sleaze merits a thorough and major overhaul through determined political will to prevent Indian students from turning sitting ducks in war bunkers in distant countries.