Every year, 20-25,000 students from India, aspiring to become doctors, but with budgets tighter than what is required to secure an MBBS seat in a private medical college at home, head out of the country. Nearly a quarter of them go to Ukraine for the cost advantage it offers as well as its location which provides easy access to Western Europe, say consultants who track these trends. A four-and-a-half-year medical course/MBBS in Ukraine, and even in Russia, costs Rs 24-30 lakh. In comparison, pursuing MBBS in countries such as Mauritius and Netherlands can set students back by Rs 50-55 lakh.
In India, privately run medical colleges charge a steeper Rs 70 lakhs- Rs 1.2 crore for MBBS.
In 2021, about 15 lakh students had written the extremely competitive National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, vying for 88,120 MBBS seats, about 50,000 of which were in 313 public colleges.
For those who failed to qualify for a government-run medical college in India, going abroad is an attractive option compared to studying in a private college at home.
Consultants say that these students seek admission in medical colleges across countries spanning the Netherlands, Russia, China, former USSR nations, Mauritius to Nepal, Bangladesh, and even Pakistan in the immediate neighborhood.
“There are options also in other former USSR countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan where the total expenses are under Rs 25 lakh, including fee, accommodation, and travel, but many students still prefer Ukraine because of the strong European cultural influences and advantages that it offers later,” said Neeraj Chourasia, who runs Gurukul, consultancy service in the national capital for students looking to pursue MBBS abroad.
These advantages, he explained, mainly include the ease of entry into Western Europe — either for the purpose of leisure or higher studies in countries such as Germany.
That’s why Indian students continue to go abroad despite the perception that MBBS colleges in non-English speaking countries have lower standards. Right to Information data shows that less than 10 percent of students who appear for the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination clear the test.
Medical students with a foreign degree must clear this exam, conducted by the National Board of Examination, to get a license to practice in India.
There are around 10 medical colleges in Ukraine, most of them run by the government and spread across the length and breadth of the country that are top draws for students from India.
Of the nearly 15,000 students who are estimated to be stuck in various parts of Ukraine after the Russian invasion and are anxious to return to their homeland, 80-90 percent are medical students, said, student activists and consultants.
Many of these students, understandably, are sending frenzied messages to their families and authorities back home.
Their concerns were echoed by the Indian Medical Association, the largest body of doctors in India, which on February 25, shot an urgent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking immediate intervention for the medics trapped in the volatile situation.
Most of the students said the association, can’t afford the escalated costs of air travel and even those who can, are unable to travel due to the adverse conditions there.
The government should help them financially and make all possible efforts to get them out, IMA said.