Almost 200 medical students who were rescued from Ukraine early this year have kept their fingers crossed about what the future holds for them. They are unable to return to the classroom as the war goes on, and back home they are not welcome in the medical schools of the allied hospitals, Khalid Bashir Gura reports
In February, when Russia invaded its weak neighbour and NATO ally, Ukraine panic and chaos followed. Now, the ongoing war, in its sixth month, has created a global loop of crises, in which Kashmiris are not excluded. The medical students from Jammu and Kashmir, who fled the war theatre in March, have now, their future at stake.
The war that was initially seen as triggering WW-III has hampered education and is taking a toll on the psyche of the students. Around 200 students from Jammu and Kashmir were enrolled in Ukraine medical schools. With half of the year over, they are sandwiched between a war-torn country’s struggle to deliver proper education and the legal quagmire of the home country which does not have a provision to accommodate or transfer medical students from any foreign medical institutes to its medical colleges.
“I went to Ukraine in 2017 and I am in my final year of MBBS. Months before the onset of war, there were reports of imminent war,” Aasif Mir, a resident of Anantnag, who studied at Kharkiv Medical University, said. “We continued our offline classes, which had resumed after a long haul of pandemic enforced online mode of pedagogy.”
After witnessing the city shrouded in war smoke, wreckage at swift pace and panic all across, he maintained his calm in the chaos. After a labyrinth of procedures and hurdles in crossing borders, he was rescued through Operation Ganga and reached home by March.
“For almost more than a month we had no classes,” Mir said. “Our teachers were scattered and unable to conduct classes. There were occasional online classes and we were not able to attend many classes due to network problems.” The teachers, he said, conducted classes from the basements. But he questioned the efficacy of continuous online learning.
The online classes, however, this time were fitful unlike during Covid. “At times we were unaware of links. Once a class suddenly discontinued and it was later resumed after two weeks. When we asked our teacher for reasons, we were told there were airstrikes and they had to escape and flee to bunkers,” Mir added.
“In the fourth year, we were not able to attend practical classes because of Covid and this year because of war.” Virtual learning, he said, is putting a question mark on our competence as future doctors.
After four years, pursuing practicals becomes mandatory. The university has issued letters to students to continue the online mode of education and pursue practicals in concerned medical colleges of respective countries.
Mir informed that the Ukraine Health Ministry notified them through the Indian government to get accommodated in a nearby hospital for pursuing practical education but no such permission was granted.
“I applied to concerned DC of Anantnag to accommodate us in any district hospital. He assured us that he will take it up with Director Health and other concerned officials,” Mir said. As months have passed, he is yet to get a formal response. However, after the latest government pronouncements, he stares at a bleak future. As he is battling with fitful online classes, he is uncertain about education once it resumes after vacations in September.
“Our practical side is becoming weak,” Mir said. “Irrespective of legality and validity, some of my friends in India and home state have been able to learn it in their respective hospitals, as their relatives are in the health sector.”
= Aman Singh Rajput, a resident of Jammu has finished his exams virtually. A Kharkiv Medical University student said that online classes are a formality. “Many of our teachers have written to us that they have network issues and they cannot conduct classes,” said Rajput.
“We do not have any classes as yet. The university is pondering shifting our classes on tentative bases to Poland,” said Neehan Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar. A fourth-year, Kharkiv Medical University student, said he has submitted full fees as there are only two or three classes a month.
“I was also expelled and I had to pay my fees. My fee is around US $ 4500. However, I will have to choose soon between Poland and other offered destinations,” he said.
According to Mir, Rajput, and Ahmed, the students from across the country are on hunger strike in Delhi demanding they be allowed to complete degrees in Indian Universities.
“There are no such provisions in Indian Medical Council Act 1956, National Medical Commission Act, 2019 as well as the regulations to accommodate or transfer medical students from any foreign medical institutes to Indian medical colleges,” Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharti Pravin Pawar told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply.
Foreign Medical Students or Graduates are either covered under “Screening Test Regulations, 2002” or “Foreign Medical Graduate Licentiate Regulations, 2021”.She also said that the National Medical Commission (NMC) had not permitted to transfer or accommodate foreign medical students in any Indian medical institute or university.
As per the Foreign Medical Graduate Licentiate Regulations, 2021, the rule states that the entire course, training and internship or clerkship shall be done outside India in the same foreign medical institution throughout the course of study and no part of medical training and internship shall be done in India or in any country other than the country from where the primary medical qualification is obtained.
Many Ukraine-returned students have started applying to other countries like Georgia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. However, transferring to a new country is not feasible for all. There are many black-sheep’s and opportunists who operate in this new market created by war. They, according to students, are taking undue advantage of helplessness, students said off the record.
As for many students who had enrolled themselves in Ukraine for medical courses, the war-ravaged economy of the country has changed. “Our education budget is increasing as we used to pay the US $3500 annually. But if we go to another country it is around US $ 5000 or more and our degree will become unaffordable and expensive,” one student said.
In a country ridden by war, many students are sceptical to pay fees as it may go down the drain with degrees. This has led expelling of many students according to Mir. “The university continuously pressured us to pay and assured us that our degree will be valid along with visa,” he said as due to non-payment of fees there were financial crises in university. Many first-year students have left the idea.
According to Rajput, he does not want to waste time and will seek transfer to other countries. “If the Indian government does not accommodate, I will be going to Georgia. My fees will be now the US $ 5500 to the US $ 7500 while in Ukraine it is US $ 4800,” he said. Georgia like Ukraine has a six-year MBBS course he said.
“We can study theory on our own through online educational portals as is the norm, however, we needed tentative accommodation for practical classes,” he said as he has been turned down by hospitals back at home as their internship demand is deemed illegal.
Bogomolets National Medical University is in the Capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv. According to Asif Bashir Lone, a resident of Kupwara, a final year student of the university, after the war he did not face any problems in online classes. “July and August are vacations. We have been told if someone is ready to come to Kyiv, they can have the offline mode of education or there is an option for the virtual mode of learning. There has not been much damage as it remained fortified,” Lone said. However, the majority of Jammu and Kashmir students are studying in war-impacted cities.
As students are seeking transfers, their home country India is not accepting the transfers and there are various apprehensions. “NMC is saying that if you have online classes for two consecutive years, either you have to do the internship for two years or maybe in future they may say the degree is invalid,” said Lone as they have spent one year in virtual learning.
Students are panicky because of the relentless war and there is an apprehension that their education is impossible in Ukraine. They are also facing problems as their universities are not able to respond to students due to communication disruptions.
“There is chaos because of NMC. Firstly, we were told that you will be accommodated. Now we are told transfers are not allowed. And now the issue of two-year internship,” Lone said
As students want to continue education and seek a transfer, their degree will be invalid in their home country according to the present laws according to Lone as this is war and the government needs to understand. Now their plea is that the government must understand their crisis and make a one-time exception to prevent them from running their careers.