How Entrance Tests Help More Poor Getting Admission in Medical Colleges
Tamil Nadu government’s opposition to NEET does not make sense
The DMK state government had criticised NEET (all India entrance examination for medical students) and blamed the Modi government for its introduction.
Who recommended NEET? How did matter land up in SC? What are the societal reasons behind protests? This FAQ provides answers.
1. History of Medical examinations in Tamil Nadu (TN)
I spoke to resident Tamilians for insights.
Because of anti-Hindi agitation in the 1960s the word “Suicide” strikes an emotional chord in TN.
In the 1980s i.e. during MG Ramachandran’s rule it is the state government that mainly provided medical education in its colleges.
Supply of medical seats increased because of the increase in medical colleges. To filter students, an entrance exam conducted by the Department of Technical Education was introduced.
Around 2006-07, Jayalalitha Amma criticised the existing system, saying that it was detrimental to rural students who could not afford the cost of coaching.
Karunanidhi changed the system such that entrance to medical college was based on 12th standard marks.
To supplement the above is this excerpt from a Hindustan Times article, “Prior to NEET, Tamil Nadu used to hold its own Common Entrance Test (CET) for admission to medical colleges in the state for filling the state seats. In 2006, the Tamil Nadu government enacted the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Admission in Professional Courses Act, which said that admission to such courses shall be based on marks obtained by the students in qualifying examinations held by the State Board for Class XII. The CET conducted by the state was based on the State Board syllabus.”
A new board was appointed as the coordinator body for exams. In order to make children get higher scores the syllabus standards were changed around 2007. This boosted the marks percentage.
This way more students joined colleges, meaning more money for those who owned colleges. This system worked for about a decade.
TN students were so used to this system that they forgot the art of writing competitive exams. Thus, the introduction of NEET had everyone worried. Obviously, students did not fare well initially in NEET. This led to protests against the BJP even though NEET was a Supreme Court directive. In 2023, three of the six NEET toppers were from TN.
In 2017, S Anitha, a Scheduled Caste student who scored well in 12th but failed in NEET, committed suicide. For reasons explained above, suicide is an emotional issue in TN so protests erupted.
Gandhian and author Dharampalji went through British and Indian archives to reproduce reports, of surveys undertaken by the British in Madras Presidency (1800-1830), in his book “The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the 18th century”. According to the collectors’ reports reviewed by Governor Sir Thomas Munro on 10 March 1826, of the 30,211 male school students in Madras Presidency, 20 percent were Brahmins and Chettris, 9 percent were Vaishyas, 50 percent were Shudras, and 6 percent were Muslims. Others constituted 15 percent.
Deep down votaries of the anti-Brahmin movement in TN felt that Brahmins would do well in an open exam. So NEET was perceived to be a Brahmin conspiracy.
Actually, TN Brahmins started leaving the state decades ago moving abroad or to other parts of India. Some of the best Chief Financial Officers in India and Software professionals are TN Brahmins. Note there are no reservations in study of Chartered Accountancy.
TN has the highest number of medical colleges in India and state government established colleges. So NEET was perceived to be a tool to get non-Tamilian students admission in state medical colleges where the cost of establishing the college was borne by the state government. What is the reality?
A review of the National Medical Commission site on 22.10.23 at 4pm shows there are 706 medical colleges in India that teach MBBS having 108,890 seats. Indeed, at 74, the state of TN has the highest number of medical colleges and government ones at 38. Uttar Pradesh has 68 and is catching up.
The laggards are Bihar and West Bengal with 21 and 35 medical colleges.
Yet the DMK opposition to NEET continued. In a 2017 MINT article against one nation one tax P Chakravarty and P Thiagarajan (DMK member) wrote that NEET was against federalism, “One nation, one curriculum”-a “one nation” construct seems to be the cornerstone of many of the policy initiatives of the Union government. Efficiency gains through standardisation are often touted as the motivation for these policies. Such efficiency tugs at the heart of true federalism by implicitly demanding oneness.” The Modi government was blamed.
2. How are medical seats allocated under NEET?
In TN 15% of the seats in state government medical colleges are reserved for all India students (subject to reservation) and 85% for students from TN (state has reservations at 69%). For private colleges other than deemed universities 100% of seats go to students from TN.
Any student who wishes to join a medical college under any quota has to clear NEET. According to this Times of India article, in 2022 the minimum cut off was 147 in the unreserved category and 129 for SC/ST/OBC category. According to this link, corresponding cut-offs in 2023 are 137 and 107 respectively.
In private colleges there is a Management Quota. It “refers to the proportion of seats in Self Financing Medical/Dental Colleges & which are under Management Quota (35% or Less). These seats will have a higher fee structure compared to GQ seats.”
The lower the cut-off in NEET, the easier it becomes for students to acquire seats under the management quota. All in the name of the poor! It might be worthwhile checking if the seat acquisition cost has fallen post NEET.
20% of the seats in Christian Medical College, Vellore are for Christians. There is also a Special Category in TN. “It refers to seats allotted to candidates who belong to any one of the special categories (i.e Persons with Benchmark Disabilities, Eminent Sports Persons, Children of Exservice Men or Special Preferential 7.5% Reservation to Government School Students.”
Is fewer seats in the general category the reason why so many students go abroad to study medicine, even to countries like Ukraine and China?
3. Why was NEET introduced esp. with respect to Tamil Nadu?
In a 2023 petition to the SC, “The state government said that the 2020 judgement had upheld NEET on the ground that it was required to curb the evil of unfair practices-granting admission based on paying capacity of candidates, charging capitation fee, large-scale malpractices, exploitation of students, profiteering, and commercialisation-all of which do not arise with respect to admission to government seats.” Source Hindustan Times
4. What are the timelines?
A 2016 Indian Express article provides a detailed timeline. Here are excerpts-
“Before 2012: CBSE used to conduct All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT).
2012: The Government introduces the one-country, one-test, NEET for medical admissions.” Private and minority institutions went to court.
May 5, 2013: Test held for the first time.
April 28, 2016: The Supreme Court clears decks for holding of NEET in two phases for the academic year 2016-17.
May 1, 2016: CBSE conducted the first phase of NEET. As many as six lakh candidates appeared for the exam.
May 20, 2016: Amid strong reservations expressed by several states against conducting the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) this year, the NDA government Friday paved the way for an ordinance to keep state governments’ exams out of the ambit of the common test.
July 18: The Lok Sabha passed a bill mandating the conduct of a single common exam for medical and dental courses. The new measure will also cover private colleges.”
From the above it is clear that the move for NEET was initiated in 2012 i.e. under Congress rule. Two, NEET had the blessings of the Supreme Court.
5. A lot of socially and economically disadvantaged students find it tough to attend NEET coaching and hence they are at a disadvantage. But will the abolition of NEET solve this issue?
No. From the years 2007 to 2016, admission to medical colleges was through the sole criteria of plus two( Board) marks. Did it favour poor students studying in Government school? No. A RTI query reveals not more than 2% of students who made it to medical colleges in TN were from government schools.
More number of poor, government school students made it to Medical colleges when TNPCEE was around than when the admission was based on plus two marks which stands testimony to the fact that entrance exams actually help the disadvantaged students more.Those who wish that more government school students qualify for NEET should provide extensive coaching (free of cost) to students. That is the best way. Upgrade skills.
If one uses the rural students argument to scrap NEET, then some will ask for scrapping Civil Services Exams since rural students might be at a disadvantage!
Students studied and passed before coaching centers opened. It might be a good idea to ask doctors of the 1960-70s how they managed!
6. States like Maharashtra and Karnataka, which too have a large number of medical colleges, did not oppose NEET as vehemently as TN!
In Spite of an earlier SC order, in early 2023 the TN government challenged the constitutional validity of NEET. This is notwithstanding that the application of NEET was upheld by the SC in 2020 decision in Christian Medical College vs. Union of India.
The stakes must therefore be really high for the TN government! “Why” would require a separate article.
(Errors if any in data collection are unintended and without malafide intent).