The fresh Tamil Nadu legislation nullifying NEET addresses DMK’s electoral promise to voters. Local sentiment is also heating up amid suicides by NEET aspirants stressed about their prospects in what is a knockout test. The bill, however, requires central assent to become law, which is unlikely to come. NEET, for all purposes, has become a fait accompli after the 2016 Supreme Courxt verdict overruling a 2013 precursor that had scrapped a common national medical entrance test.
The fragmented, chaotic medical education sector was crying out for reform on various fronts then. The plight of students appearing for multiple entrance tests by various state governments and public/private colleges and myriad criteria for admission had made NEET look a more elegant solution. But TN also highlights pitfalls of one-size-fit-all solutions. Before NEET, TN had discontinued its entrance examination in 2006-07, to facilitate inclusion of disadvantaged communities. TN now worries that urbanites predominantly securing admission in government medical colleges will shy away from rural postings and weaken its public health system.
This newspaper, in July, had reported the TN government-appointed Justice AK Rajan committee’s findings that in 2015-16, before NEET, 62.8% students hailed from rural areas and this had dwindled to 48% by 2018-19. The panel also found substantial reduction in the percentage of first-generation learners, those with household income below Rs 2.5 lakh and those schooled in state boards. Years of discontinuing competitive exams would explain this skew to an extent. TN should also look at altering science syllabi and board exam question patterns to suit competitive exam aspirants. Government-run coaching centres are another TN-innovation to meet the NEET challenge. With a supporting framework, there’s no reason TN students cannot adapt. Backward linkages to feeder schools to ensure quality shouldn’t be such a tough act for the state after its praiseworthy expansion of government medical education facilities.
But nationally, NEET must fix some glaring anomalies to uphold merit. Analysis by TOI has shown money compromising merit. Candidates with abysmally low marks in physics and chemistry in NEET are getting admission to private colleges through management and NRI quotas, while high fees excludes ordinary students. Given the uncertain quality of some incoming students, the National Medical Commission must pursue an exit examination for medical graduates to ensure quality. TN’s emphasis on equity and access is praiseworthy but a better course of action instead of insulating state board students from competition or passing the buck to GoI would be to focus on quality in school education.