The recent student protests against the callous policies of the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) proved a victory for student activist when the PMC announced that it would revise the syllabus to accommodate students demands for entry tests to medical colleges. Announcing that the Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test (MDCAT) will be held on Nov 15 and the last date to register for it is Nov 6, the Pakistan Medical Commission on Thursday said students should not worry regarding out of course exam. Any out of course question, if mistakenly included in the question paper, will be deleted, the commission promised.
The issue began when the Commission announced a revised syllabus that included topics and areas not covered in intermediate science courses, putting an added burden on students to study those areas for the test. This led to students protesting against the commission’s callous policy of announcing previously unstudied topics nearly 20 days before the entrance examination. Students and activists voiced concerns over the lack of concern for student’s future and ignoring the most important stakeholder in the decision-making process.
As 150,000 candidates will appear in the test, over 200 examination centres are being established across the country, including in Gilgit. The process of admission will be completed by Dec 31. “Though it is correct that there is some difference in the syllabus of different boards, only common topics of all boards will be included in MDCAT. Moreover, PMC rather than the National University of Medical Sciences (Nums) will hold the test and then answer sheets will be sealed and handed over to Nums for marking,” PMC Vice President Ali Raza said.
This is not the first time the PMC has made rash decisions that have endangered the future of millions of students all across the country. The PMC is born out of the older organization Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC). In October 2019, the PMDC was dissolved by the government through an overnight ordinance and replaced with the PMC. PMDC employees had moved the court against this decision, leading the Islamabad High Court in February to restore the PMDC and declare the PMC illegal. In a separate case, the Supreme Court in August 2020 issued orders for the setting up of an 11-member ad hoc committee to manage the PMDC. Very recently, the PMC bill was pushed through a joint sitting of parliament without due deliberation by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on National Health Services and signed into law.
The PMC reduces checks on private medical and dental colleges, which means reduced standards of qualifications and less regulation. These things can adversely impact student’s future prospects as the new Committee fails to enforce a basic minimum professional standard and qualification; reducing the value of Pakistani medical degrees. What this means for students is that now international or foreign institutions do not readily accept Pakistani medical degree certification, leading to either more tests for Pakistani students and/or fewer students making it to foreign medical institutions for their specialization. Not only does PMC reduce the numbers of expert professionals in the healthcare system, but it also restricts access to medical colleges due to regulation. According to the new rules set by the commission, private medical colleges are free to set their own fee structures and rules. This would likely lead to a massive increase in private college fees, greatly reducing access to a medical degree for working-class and middle-class students in the absence of enough public medical schools. Furthermore, this restriction of access is not limited to class but might also adversely impact students from provinces other than Punjab.
“We cannot compete with Punjab due its large population of students there. They would fill majority seats in KP colleges because of centralised merit list for private colleges,” former dean of a medical college told the press. Pakistan has a total of 167 colleges, including 102 medical and 65 dental, bulk of which are located in Punjab. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a total of 17 private colleges including 11 medical and six dental, which have 1,425 seats, and most of the students, who are not selected in public sector colleges, go there to become doctors.
About 200,000 students including 80,000 from Punjab, 50,000 from Sindh and 35,000 each from Balochistan and KP are admitted to public and private medical colleges every year in accordance with the merit list prepared by the respective admitting universities.
However, this year students will be admitted to private colleges through a centralised merit list and those qualifying the list can get admission in any province.
The Admission Regulations-2020 announced by the newly-established Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) say that admission to a medical college, public or private, requires having mandatorily passed the Medical and Dental College Admissions Test (MDCAT) conducted by PMC across the country.
For admission to a private medical or dental college, no restriction like domicile of the student exists. If a restriction is imposed by a provincial government in exercise of any executive power otherwise vesting in the provincial government, it will be accounted for admissions undertaken by Pakistan Medical Commission subject to fulfilment of merit.
It means that any student seeking admission to any medical or dental college will be required to have passed the MDCAT examination conducted by PMC.
Students are not the only one criticising PMC for disrupting a largely well functioning sector as in the days of the PMDC. Doctor associations and lawyers have also raised concerns on the legal and medical rules of the commission. Medical professionals and the Sindh Health Department on Saturday opposed the recently passed Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) bill, saying that it would turn medical education into a money-minting business and give unlimited autonomy to private medical and dental colleges to fix fees and admit students.
The Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, the Pakistan Medical Association, representatives bodies of health professionals and other associations of medical professionals have already declared the bill passed by the parliament a violation of the constitution.
They said the step to abolish the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) would cause the standard of medical education to deteriorate and create problems for doctors serving abroad. YDA Sindh Chairman Dr Umer Sultan and other medical professionals said doctors and medical associations of the country had unanimously rejected the bill. They vowed to launch a countrywide protest campaign if the bill was not revoked and the PMDC was not restored.
Claiming that the Centre was in contempt of court, as the bill had earlier been rejected by the Islamabad High Court, Dr Sultan censured the government.
He said it was not only taking anti-people decisions but was also playing into the hands of businessmen and medical education mafia. The PMC is being established only to make medical education unaffordable for the people of Pakistan, he added.
This highlight the seriousness with which the PTI led government has made national policy and how involved stakeholders have been in the process. All stakeholders unanimously have raised concerns over the issue but the government has shown a disgraceful apathy towards the criticism.