June 9, 2018 @ 2:00 am

9 JUNE 2018

NEET nostrums

The national medical entrance test is here to stay; States must prepare their students better

There was no uncertainty over the medical admission process this year in Tamil Nadu. There were no attempts to get an exemption from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET). And, willy-nilly, as many as 1.14 lakh aspirants took the examination that has been made mandatory by the Supreme Court as the sole admission window for medical colleges. Yet, the poor performance of students from Tamil Nadu in the entrance test has demonstrated that the State is still far from being ‘NEET-ready’. It is true that a well-intentioned beginning has been made to upgrade the syllabus and to make students more competitive. However, only 45,336 candidates, or 39.6% of those who took the test, qualified for admission. Along with Maharashtra, this is the lowest ratio in the country. What is important is that these candidates are merely eligible for admission, and far fewer students are actually likely to get admission. Further, the chances of many of the candidates in the lower percentiles gaining entry into a government medical college are quite low, and many of them may not be able to afford to pay for seats in private colleges. Proponents of NEET may maintain that its objectives — ensuring uniformity in standards of medical education by admitting students on the basis of a common national test and eliminating capitation fee for medical courses in private institutions — are being successfully met. However, it is a moot question whether the commercialisation of education has been really eliminated, and whether the admission policy is sufficiently inclusive for this large and diverse country.

Lavish advertisements, as well as interviews with toppers, make it quite obvious that those who can afford expensive coaching classes have a distinct advantage in this system. Like many other competitive examinations, NEET has spawned a coaching industry, with some parts of the country proving to be ideal locales for academic sweatshops. Many of those in the top percentiles have attended long-term coaching classes as well as crash courses, paying exorbitant fees. There is anger in Tamil Nadu against this perceived socio-economic asymmetry built into the medical admission process that keeps medical courses out of bounds for disadvantaged sections. Such feelings intensified as a result of at least two young women committing suicide after they failed to clear NEET. One of them had enough marks in her higher secondary examination to gain admission to a medical college, if the State government had its own admission system. But overall, there is no escaping the fact that the country is committed to having uniform standards in medical education, and that this can play a role in meeting the important objective of maintaining standards in health care. NEET is here to stay and State governments are now best-advised to upgrade academic standards and prepare their students better. This will help in seeing that India’s healthcare infrastructure continues to get a steady inflow of medical manpower drawn from all sections of society.

A vicious cycle

The escalating trade wars will hurt economic growth worldwide

Nobody wants to lose a trade war. The European Commission on Wednesday announced it would impose tariffs as high as 25% on imports worth $3.3 billion from the U.S. beginning July. A whole range of American goods, from motorbikes and jeans to peanut butter and orange juice, will now face higher taxes when sold in the European Union zone. The Commission is also mulling import duties on more American goods if the trade war with the U.S. intensifies. Europe is not alone in waging a battle against imports from the U.S.; China, Mexico and Canada have joined hands in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. Last week, the U.S. imposed a 25% tax on steel and a 10% tax on aluminium imports from the EU, Mexico and Canada. The first salvo in this ongoing trade war, however, was fired by Mr. Trump in March this year, when he imposed tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminium to protect American producers. Workers in America’s manufacturing sector have played a key role in Mr. Trump’s electoral success, so his zealousness to be seen to be protecting their interests is unsurprising. However, consumers in America and the rest of the world are likely to suffer as their respective governments make it costlier for them to access foreign goods and services.

Judging by their actions, it is now clear that America’s major trading allies would not really want to lose this trade war against the U.S. The sad fact, however, is that at the end of the day nobody actually wins a destructive trade war. Tariffs that seek to disadvantage foreign producers in favour of domestic producers, whether they are imposed by the U.S. or any of its major trading partners such as Europe or China, only increase the burden of taxes. What this leads to eventually is slower global economic growth. The World Bank has warned that the effect of the increased use of tariffs to regulate international trade could be similar to the significant drop in global trade after the financial crisis a decade ago. Countries that are protesting America’s metal tariffs in the name of free trade are also only encouraging further protectionism when they impose retaliatory tariffs. As former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan aptly put it, the ongoing trade war is a “lose-lose situation” for the warring parties. The only winners will be special interest groups and consumers in countries that do not engage in the tit-for-tat tariff war, but their winnings will come at the cost of global growth. It is high time countries worldwide come together to promote the cause of free trade.

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