Every year, Indian parents spend nearly $500 million on over 300 medical colleges across the world — especially in China, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Georgia and Nepal — for paper degrees.

From Ethiopia, Latvia, Mauritius and Bangladesh to Belize in Central America and Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean, everyone gets a share of this colossal national waste.

Last month, 6,948 Indian students reportedly appeared for the mandatory Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) conducted twice a year by the National Board of Examination (NBE) for recognition of such degrees in India. Only 480 were successful.

The rest face an uncertain future. Theoretically, they can keep appearing in the screening test for due recognition by the Medical Council of India (MCI). But very few make it.

At an estimated average spend of ₹25-30 lakh per student, the total annual loss on over 9,000 unsuccessful candidates is approximately ₹3,000 crore.

The rules stipulate that any student aspiring to take admission in a foreign medical college should obtain an eligibility certificate from the MCI, granted against a minimum of 50 per cent marks in physics-chemistry-biology in class XII.

Repeated telephone calls and emails to the MCI seeking information on the flow of students and the unsuccessful candidates did not yield any response. Unofficial estimates suggest at least 10,000 students go abroad every year to study medicine. Barely 7 per cent are ultimately recognised by the MCI.

The reasons are primarily economic. Most of the ‘affected’ students scored low marks in class XII, could not make it in the merit list for Indian colleges and found it cheaper to go Ukraine, China or Russia than pay ₹50-60 lakh capitation fee in private medical colleges back home.

Priya Biswas of Kolkata earned a medical degree from Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine at a total cost of ₹20-25 lakh over six years. She was one of the few students who could clear the NBE test at one go and is now preparing for PG admission.

On the contrary, 27-year old Abhishek Pandey from Mainpuri of UP returned to India with a degree from Smolensk State Medical Academy, Russia, in 2016. He failed to clear the FMGE despite two attempts, but is determined to keep trying. “I have no choice,” he told BusinessLine .

Administrative staff

Unless luck is on Pandey’s side, he may have to look for opportunities in hospitals as administrative staff. Medica Superspecialty Hospital in Kolkata, for instance, looks for such candidates.

According to a spokesperson of recruiting agency TeamLease, doctors with paper degrees find opportunties in fields such as BPOs (for medical transcription) and sales of healthcare products and equipment.

That may not be all. Many also end up as unlicensed doctors, said another industry observer.

According to Vivek Jaiswal, co-owner of the National Vidya Foundation — one of the biggest in the education counselling business — students who are academically focused do make it.

His institution has sent students to Russia and Ukraine in the past and is now looking at the Philippines. All his students clear the NBE test, he claimed.

According to him, Indian authorities should be prompt in announcing detailed results of the NBE test to help parents take a more informed decision about admission in foreign medical colleges.

But how do ‘bad’ students manage to earn the degree overseas? They simply run from one set of education mafia at home to another, who willingly give degrees for money.

In Russia and CIS countries for example, teachers are poorly paid, and it is common to let the bad apples pass the test for a few extra bucks, said a source. Result: Only 18 per cent of 5,950 students with Russian degrees could clear the NBE test in 2012-14.

According to data available with the NBE, during the two years from 2012 to 2014, a total of 35,936 appeared for the test and 7,334, or 20 per cent, cleared it.

Of the 11,825 students with Chinese degrees, 19 per cent were found suitable for practice in India. The pass rate was as low as 10-11 per cent for Sichuan University (239 students) or China Three Gorges University (299). Not a single student from Harbin Medical University (36) was successful. “No one fails in China,” said a source.

With 30 per cent success rate, students with degrees from Bangladesh fare better. But Bangladeshi private colleges are costly and mostly attract only Muslim students.

According to Rajbangshi Roy, correspondent of Samakal , 80 per cent of Indian medical students in Bangladesh are Kashmiris.