While the idea of low-cost medical education in foreign countries with much lower competition seems to be a perfect backup plan for medical aspirants, experts seem to have a different take on the idea.
When compared to private medical education in India, studying in these foreign medical institutes might seem like a sensible choice, with better infrastructure, pocket-friendly tuition and cultural exposure. However, experts advise students to consider several factors before they decide to go abroad for higher education.
We spoke to experts, loan providers and students to explore the pros and cons of pursuing medical education abroad and to understand why students are choosing this option.
Jump in numbers, why?
Experts believe that the availability of low-cost education is the one major reason behind more and more students choosing to pursue medicine in foreign countries.
Jayaprakash Gandhi, a career consultant and analyst, opined that the jump in the number of Indian students pursuing medical education abroad is purely due to economic factors.
“These students were not able to secure admission in government medical colleges and economically, could not get through the management quota as well. There were no students who were getting a seat in India and had scored 700 out of 720 who chose to go outside. The reason is purely economical,” he expressed.
Countries like Russia, China, Philippines, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Georgia are the most popular destinations for students aspiring to pursue MBBS. Even Nepal and Bangladesh are gaining popularity among medical aspirants, added experts.
This situation has been escalated due to a lack of seats and a lack of good quality colleges, opined Ankur Dhawan, President, upGrad Abroad. He added that while these numbers were slightly affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, even these events did not have a long-term effect.
“The demand has been growing about 7-8% per annum which means that these events did not have any permanent impact on the numbers. Students do not have any other choice. Options like BPharma, BAMS do not have good career prospects. The numbers will continue to grow because of the variety of options in foreign countries and their affordability. The students’ hands are tied. It’s either this or give up on their dreams,” said Dhawan.
Consider the challenges
While foreign medical education might seem to be an ‘easy way out’ for many students who struggle to get a good government medical seat in India, most students underplay the challenges that come with being a foreign medical graduate.
Experts say that when choosing a foreign medical university, one should always factor in future challenges.
“When students return from these countries they need to qualify for the FMGE (Foreign Medical Graduates Examination) exam. This exam has a 14-15% qualifying rate on average. This means out of 100, only 14 will be allowed to practice in India or pursue MD in India. Because of this, a lot of students end up not being able to actually practice medicine and end up doing something else. This beats the whole purpose of going abroad,” explained Ankur Dhawan.
Not just this, students who qualify FMGE also struggle to get an internship with an insufficient number of hospitals offering seats.
Jayaprakash Gandhi, education expert, explained, “There is already a huge backlog of students not able to clear the screening process. If they do not clear FMGE, their degrees will not be recognised and they will automatically be considered Class XII qualified.”
Gandhi added that students in foreign medical institutes in foreign countries might face challenges due to the language barrier.
“Because of the language barrier, your clinical training gets hindered as you are unable to understand the patient. This later poses difficulties while clearing the screening exam,” headed.
Opting for education loan?
Though the cost of medical education in countries like Russia and China might be significantly lower than private medical seats in India, financing for these degrees can be a tough task.
Experts and loan providers explained that getting funding for an MBBS degree abroad is highly unlikely, mainly owing to the low employability of Foreign Medical Graduates.
Damini Mahajan, CEO and Co-founder, WeMakeScholars.com, an education finance platform, said, “We get many applications from students aspiring to study MBBS in Georgia, South America, Philippines, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and China for an average quantum of around Rs 30 lakh which includes both living and tuition fees. However, even for this amount, we find it difficult to get lenders. This is because most lenders have these countries on their negative list. Moreover, the success chances of the screening exam are low, so banks are not keen to offer loans due to low employability.”
According to data provided by the Ministry of Finance in the Parliament, around 4.61 lakh students availed educational loans from Public Sector Banks (PSBs) for studying abroad in the last 10 years. Out of these numbers, only 42,364 availed loans for studying medicine abroad.
On the other hand, Prashant A Bhonsle, Founder and CEO of Kuhoo, an online education loan platform said that for students it is extremely important to factor in the rate of rupee depreciation while moving abroad for higher studies.
“It is something that students often do not factor in. But in the long run, it plays a major role as your fee might increase over time as the rupee depreciates. You have to factor this in while deciding how to finance your degree,” he explained.
What students say?
Even the students who have pursued medical education abroad say that financing through loans can be challenging.
Dr Koshal Kishore Vedi, who graduated from Yangzhou University, China in 2019, shared his own experience.
“I took a loan in 2014 during my admission with the help of university agents. I was told that the addition of interests would be applied after I graduate in 2019, but right from the first day of classes, the interest started adding up, and I had no idea. I had taken a loan of Rs 20 lakh. Now, even after paying an EMI of Rs 60,000 each month, I am in the bank’s debt for Rs 34 lakh. Many of my friends are in similar situations. The interest was charged during the pandemic years as well,”
Vedi said that it is better to fund the tuition fee personally or with the help of family and friends instead of taking loans or falling for the agents’ words.