Of Medical Entrance Examinations
The entrance exams to the Medical Colleges in India are perhaps the most competitive in the world. This has been so for many years now. We were among the first few batches that had to appear for the now famous Joint Entrance Examinations and I remember appearing for it at the Jaipuria College In Centtral Calcutta. Coming from the cloistered confines of Don Bosco School, the environs were a culture shock for me. I remember that the invigilators were the clerks and this shocked me. We were used to our teachers sitting on their desk, and their sharp glances at any of us if we dared to raise our eyes. Some of my fellow examinees talked quite openly among themselves, oblivious to a mild reproof from the invigilators. These were the days of mass copying and the newspapers were full of horror stories of how the University examinations were turned into a farce by brazen cheating. When we finally got to the Medical College, we used to hear hushed stories about which one of our seniors hired a porter to carry his heavy books to the examination hall in order to consult them during the exams. I cannot vouch for the truth of these stories, but they were widely believed.. However, the good days were already gone as the government was cracking down on this practice, but a general lack of respect for the authority had already become ingrained among the students of Calcutta and this remains true till this day. Anyway despite my lack of preparation for these advantages, I did manage to get selected and that started another phase of my life
In those days, the Joint Entrance Examination results were declared long after the results of the Higher Secondary examinations, This meant that we had to get admitted t o some other college and then we left to join the Medical course when we found that we had been selected. I duly joined the Physics Honours course at the Presidency College. This gave the privilege of studying, albeit briefly, at the other great institution of learning in College Street and with a history predating that of even the venerable Medical College which was founded in 1835. Presidency College dates back to 1820.The fees were ridiculously low in those days. If I remember correctly, we paid Rs 18 every month of our education and if you were a recipient of the college scholarship, this too was waived.
The reason why I bring all this up is because I came across an admission notice for the Medical College dating back to the nineteenth century in an old book today. On the 31st March, 1861, the then Principal of the Medial College, Dr S B Partridge invited applications for admission. If one had passed the Entrance examinations of the Calcutta University, they would be admitted without any examination. I fact some students who had not yet passed the exam might also be admitted provided that they promised to appear at the next Entrance examination. Life was a lot easier in those days, at least so far as admissions were concerned.
The fees, however, were extremely high. The entrance fees, for those students who were not on a scholarship were as high as Rs 15 which was a huge sum in those days. (Clerks in Government offices were routinely paid about Rs 3-5 per month in those times). The monthly fees were Rs 5, which was also a large sum. In fact in the seventies of the last century when I studied, the fees had risen to merely Rs 18, as I mentioned earlier. You could even attend a course of lectures for Rs 40 or attend the college for 6 months for Rs 60. This was for students who wanted to fulfill obligations in order to appear for the exams of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the University of London and the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, all of whom recognized the certificates issued by the Medical College. Despite some hiccups in the early part of the twentieth century, this recognition continued until the horror stories of mass copying from India prompted the derecognition of Indian Degrees in the seventies. India promptly derecognised the British qualifications also, and there we stand till this day. It has enabled the UK authorities to make a lot of money from eager Indian students trying to enter Britain by making them appear for the variously named qualifying examinations. As the stream of Indian students sought transatlantic pastures in the nineties and the first decade of this century, the canny British have now brought their postgraduate examinations to India so that this revenue stream is not lost.