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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Number of medical aspirants plunges 65% in 5 years


MUMBAI: Here’s a bitter reality pill—the number of aspiring doctors in the state has progressively declined over the past four years. About 80,000 students took the health sciences entrance exam in 2004, but only 28,551 will do so this year. On the other hand, the number of engineering aspirants seems to have spurted.

There was a time when the state did not even conduct an entrance test for aspiring engineers—they were merely admitted on the basis of their Class XII physics, chemistry and math scores. In 2004, when the state introduced an entrance exam for engineering, 52,400 students sat for it. This time around, over 95,000 (see box) will be vying for 71,701 seats across Maharashtra.

While most engineers walk into an MBA programme, the passport to a successful career and high salary, medical students spend close to ten years buried in books. Apart from the punishing length of the course, vice-chancellor of Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, Dr Mrudula Phadke, points to another reason that has discouraged students from studying medicine. “The number of postgraduate seats has also fallen, reducing the guarantee of a seat at that stage,’’ she said.

If seats in medicine have remained constant over the years, the engineering course has become the new motor for success. From 2002 to 2004, several seats in engineering courses went abegging, but with the IT revolution, 40 new colleges in the state have sprung up every year. Now, Maharashtra has the third highest number of engineering colleges after Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

An official of the state Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) echoed the sentiment of lakhs of students when he said that an engineer’s career begins with a hefty pay packet while a doctor’s is much slower to take off. “A doctor who graduates takes years to secure a place for himself in the fraternity before he can establish himself. Besides, job prospects for doctors are falling,’’ the official said.

Dr Vivek Korde, president of the Forum Against Commercialisation of Education, said when the Unnikrishnan formula was in place, meritorious students would get into the medical stream because 50% of the seats were under a government quota. Until 2003, even private medical colleges across Maharashtra had to hand over half their seats to the government and the state in turn admitted students on merit for an annual fee of Rs 18,000. “Now, private colleges don’t give seats to the government and there are merely 2,000 seats in the government and corporation medical colleges. Private colleges are unaffordable for middle-class students,’’ Korde added.

After the T M A Pai ruling and the Islamic judgment struck down the government quota in private institutes from 2004-05, there were only 44,537 medical aspirants in Maharashtra in the following year, and since then their numbers have further dwindled.

In all, 2.49 lakh students will be taking the MHT-CET on May 12, while close to 1.25 lakh undecided candidates will give both biology and maths a shot.

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