LAHORE: The recommendations of a Punjab government committee to abolish entrance test for admission to medical and other professional education institutions have triggered a controversy since it has been a purely federal subject.

The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) and the Supreme Court had protected the entrance test for admission to MBBS/BDS for public and private sector institutions by declaring it mandatory for all the provincial governments as well as Azad Jamu & Kashmir, a senior official told Dawn.

“The provinces were bound to conduct entrance tests in their respective jurisdictions under the rules framed by the PMDC in 2003”, he said.

These tests were being conducted in Punjab and AJK by the University of Health Sciences (UHS), Lahore, in KPK by the Educational Testing and Evaluation Agency, in Sindh by Dow Medical University, Karachi and Liaquat University of Medical & Health Sciences, Jamshoro, and in Balochistan the entrance test was being conducted by Bolan Medical College.

The official said more than 40,000 aspirants applied for the test every year in Punjab alone.

He said the Punjab government’s attempt to abolish it through an ‘executive order’ might create plethora of legal and administrative complications.

He said under the laid down rules, provincial governments were merely implementing authorities in this particular case. Abolishing the entrance test required amendment to the relevant laws by the federal government, he added.

In response to a text message sent by this reporter about the Punjab government’s version on this issue, Punjab education minister Rana Mashhood’s staff said he was reluctant to comment on it.

The official said the Punjab government initiated a process of abolishing the entrance test through a very ‘low-profile’ committee without consulting the federal government which was a major stakeholder.

He said the Chief Minister’s Examination and Admission Reforms Committee adopted a strange method of ‘voting’ to address the highly technical issue. Headed by education minister, the committee had no representation from PMDC or the federal government. Even no health department representative was part of it, which further shocked the stakeholders.

He said the step was taken because of pressure of private sector education institutions - mainly owned by a group leading in Punjab for a decade.

The committee mainly comprised the members who had been strongly opposing the entrance test scheme from the day one. These members are either from the private sector or they are ‘irrelevant’ people if its notification issued on Sept 11 was something to go by, he said.

Other members included secretaries of higher and school education departments, vice chancellors of University of Engineering and Technology (UET) and University of Health Sciences (UHS), the chairmen of Punjab Information Technology Board and Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Punjab Group of Colleges Academic Director Dr Asghar Ch, All Pakistan Private Schools Federation President Mirza Kashif and Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi from Lahore University of Management Sciences.

According to its terms of reference, the committee was mandated to re-examine the entry test, reconstitute Board of Governors of the BISE in Punjab and re-examining the practical test in science subject being conducted at intermediate level.

It was also directed to thoroughly examine, discuss and thrash out, in consultation with all stakeholders, the recommendations along with implementation plan within the stipulated timeline.

“Interestingly, the chair asked the committee members for individual voting in favor or against the entrance test by raising hands, instead of giving written input with solid arguments and references”, the official said.

He said introduction of ‘voting’ in the committee meeting had shocked some of the participants who had no option but to follow it ‘in letter and spirit’.

The official said the committee had dispatched a set of recommendations to abolish the entrance test to the chief minister for final consideration, ignoring the fact that these suggestions clearly clashed with the rules and regulations of the federal government.

The PMDC 2013 Regulations titled ‘admissions in MBBS/BDS courses and conditions for house job/internship/foundation year rules’ read: (i) an entry test shall be mandatory for admission in MBBS/BDS course in Pakistan and shall be taken of only the eligible candidates.

(ii) the provincial government shall make arrangements for holding a central entry test for admission in MBBS/BDS for both private and public sector institutions in their respective provinces in order to determine the order of merit and no admission shall be given to the resident of that province without it.

Similarly, he said, in a petition (No 1720 L of 2010), Justice Iftkhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Jutice Khalilur Rehman Ramday had declared, “The regulations framed by PMDC set up under the Medical and Dental Council Ordinance 1962 were binding on all governments and institutions viz a viz mechanism for determining the merit of the candidates for admission to medical colleges and the consequent training and education of the students in the said institutions’’

It had consequently declared that any departure made by the government from the set regulations promulgated by the PMDC was illegal and could not be sustained.

PMDC administrator Raja Amjad told Dawn that after 18th Amendment all the four provinces were mandated to conduct entrance test in their respective areas but they were bound to follow the policy guidelines or regulations of the Council in this regard. Declaring it a sensitive matter, he said the PMDC would give its formal version after thoroughly examining it.

He confirmed that no PMDC member was part of the committee formed by the Punjab government to review the status of the entrance test.

Published in Dawn, September 30th , 2014

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