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Sindh government, PMC spar over medical admissions

Students in a quandary as row over MDCAT pass percentage continues

Sindh

KARACHI: The Sindh government’s controversial decision to lower the pass percentage in the Medical and Dental College Admission Test (MDCAT) has raised valid questions about the effect the decision will have on the quality of medical education in the province.

The decision, which has firmly been opposed by the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), may result in a disastrous outcome for both students and patients, Bol News has learnt.

The PMC has reportedly accused the Sindh government of paving the way for admissions in exchange for money.

Jinnah Sindh Medical University (JSMU), has issued a public notice inviting applications seeking admissions to the private medical and dental colleges in Sindh. On Jan 6 PMC guided JSMU not to intervene in private medical and dental college admissions.

PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/BOL NEWS

It also warned all private medical and dental colleges against violating its criteria for admissions and said it is directly in conflict with not only the Constitution of Pakistan, the Pakistan Medical Commission Act, 2020 and the PMC Regulations, but also the law as laid down conclusively by the Supreme Court and the Sindh High Court.

The letter to JSMU further said, “Any attempt by JSMU to undertake such admissions acting as proxy of the private medical and dental colleges would amount to JSMU attempting to provide albeit an illegal umbrella to such colleges undertaking illegal admissions by way of admitting students who have failed the MDCAT exam. Medical colleges violating PMC criteria shall be liable to having their registration with the PMC terminated with immediate effect.”

Moreover, many experts feel the Sindh government’s policy will lower educational standards and quality, ultimately affecting patient care. Concerns have specially been raised about lowering the pass percentage for entry into medical colleges from 65 per cent to 50pc, as proposed by the Sindh government.

“The move of Sindh government to go against the policy of MDCAT and allow students to get admission on 50pc marks in medical and dental colleges is very unfortunate.

“Bringing down merit will lead to further destruction of quality of education in future. This is likely to play with human lives. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Education has been commercialized, resulting in the opening of many private medical [and dental] colleges which do not even meet the requirements of registration.

“These colleges do not have permanent professors to teach, nor do they have enough staff. A large number of non-standard medical and dental colleges were closed in the United States to uplift the health sector. To produce quality doctors within the country there should be an uplift in merit,” said senior doctor Jaipal Chhabria.

“I just want to raise a question that why the students of Sindh could not get the required marks in MDCAT as compared to other provinces? Examinations and admissions should be held under uniform policy across the country. How can a doctor’s degree be handed over to a person who is not competent? After all, this is a matter of human life. The biggest loss in this whole story is going to be to the patients, how can we consider human life less important?” observed senior doctor and former professor Nadeem Rizvi

If colleges give admission as per the Sindh government’s policy, their registration may be cancelled. To counter this, the Sindh government is trying to form its own council. However, doctors approved by the Sindh Medical Council will have no recognition as soon as they cross the provincial boundary of Sindh.

In this row over admissions, not only the career of the students is at stake, but also the healthcare system of the country. The dispute between the Sindh government and the federal government has upset the candidates seeking admission to the medical and dental colleges of the province, which has made the candidates and their parents uncertain.

Lowering standards

The PMC, which is run by the federal government, had stated that for admission in medical and dental colleges across the country in the year 2021-22, candidates must obtain 65pc marks in the MDCAT 2021 examination. Admission will reportedly be given under the uniform policy of PMC across the country. Last year, the Sindh government objected to the policy, but this year it has taken further steps.

PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/BOL NEWS

The Sindh government has categorically rejected the criteria and weightage policy. It has announced that it would allow students to get admission to medical and dental colleges in the province if they secure 50pc marks in the MDCAT test 2021.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho said the provincial cabinet decided to lower the minimum pass percentage of MDCAT from 65pc to 50pc to “save” the academic career of students and also to avert shortage of doctors in the province.

The health department, in a notification dated December 31, 2021, said “The committee constituted by the Health Department, Government of Sindh is facilitating the admission of all private medical and dental universities/colleges of Sindh through Jinnah Sindh Medical University (public and private sector).”

Responding to a question on why compromise was made on merit when it’s all about the health and lives of the people, Sindh Parliamentary Secretary for Health Qasim Siraj Soomro said that 400 seats in dental colleges had remained vacant last year while the medical colleges of the province had been compelled to offer admissions to candidates belonging to other provinces. He added, “As per the World Health Organisation standard, there should be a doctor for every 350 hospital beds; but in Sindh, there is only one doctor for 3,500 patients. Meanwhile, the students from other provinces will go back to their homes having completed their degrees and the province will have to face a shortage of doctors.”

PMC, on the other, says “Any student admitted without meeting the eligibility criteria will not be registered with PMC and will not be issued a licence to practice in the country. An ostensible medical or dental degree issued by a college where a student has not qualified the PMC MDCAT therefore, will not be recognised in Pakistan and consequently shall also not be recognised internationally.”

To counter this policy of the PMC, the Sindh government has already put on the table the resolution for the autonomous Sindh Medical and Dental Council. The health minister shared that the provincial governments, under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, were empowered to adopt the admission policies for medical and dental colleges but the “federal government had been unduly meddling in this affair.”

Commenting on the tussle, Lahore PMA president Professor Ashraf Nizami said “it is unreasonable when the service profession starts trading. The Sindh government is being forced to form its own council. This is what happens when decisions are not made collectively. The lack of harmony in the provinces and the federation will cause irreparable damage to the health sector.”

Financial benefits?

The PMC, while targeting the Sindh government, said that the demand for lowering MDCAT pass percentage represents the desire of a handful of private colleges who are interested solely in filling their seats with students who are able to pay the high fees of private education with ease. This is irrespective of merit and opens the door to the past practice of allowing some colleges to seek added financial benefits for granting of admissions to students below the requisite merit yet having the financial means to oust students of high merit with lower financial means.

Putting aside their differences and squabbles, the two opponents should reconsider the issue and come up with a solution in the wider interest of the students. The Sindh government should also consider whether it would be right to bring merit down to this level.

 


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