NO stranger to controversy ever since it replaced the erstwhile Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, the Pakistan Medical Commission continues to court contentious issues. A month before some 150,000 aspiring medical students from across the country were to sit for their MDCAT, the PMC came up with its latest innovation: expanding their syllabus. Ever since the new syllabus was uploaded on the PMC website on Oct 19 with some surprise ie ‘out of course’ additional subjects and topics, several hundred protesting students have taken to the streets. They argue, with plenty of logic, that it would jeopardise the future of many who wouldn’t be able to compete. And that is not the only unnecessary controversy the PMC has kicked off. Earlier, it decided that MDCAT would be ‘centralised’ at the national level but allowed the National University of Medical Sciences and Aga Khan University to conduct their own independent entry tests to the surprise of everyone. This step has already led other private college owners to demand the same exemption for their institutions. This is not all. The PMC’s decision to abolish the quota for foreign students and make it mandatory for both foreign passport holders and non-resident Pakistanis to clear MDCAT in order to get admission in Pakistan is also controversial. Similarly, the permission given to private colleges to have their separate fee structures for foreigners, different from the one for Pakistani students, may encourage college owners to accommodate more foreigners in order to increase their earnings. The Pakistan Medical Association is concerned over the decision as it fears that it would potentially close the doors of medical education on many deserving local students.
More information is required to discuss the pros and cons of the PMC decisions in detail. One thing, however, is clear. The PMC has failed to explain the rationale behind these actions to stakeholders, and should have taken more time to deliberate before announcing such crucial decisions. Some of the steps appear to be aimed at serving the interests of private college owners at the cost of deserving students and medical education. It is advisable for the PMC to take all the stakeholders into confidence rather than imposing its decisions on them. At the same time, it must try and act as a regulator of medical education in the country rather than take measures that only expose it to accusations of bias.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020