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How Yunnan Is Helping Train the Next Generation of Indian Doctors

For years, if you saw an international student on a Chinese campus, it was reasonable to assume they were studying Mandarin. More recently, however, China has become a major destination for students in a wide range of fields, and with the exception of Chinese, no program is more popular with international students than a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree.

Internationally, discussions on medical cooperation and aid between China and other developing countries tend to center around the supply of medicine and medical equipment or the construction of hospitals and other facilities. However, my research on Indian medical students in China suggests that training doctors is an important if often overlooked part of the story on medical cooperation in the Global South.

In the southwestern Yunnan province, most medical students from overseas hail from South or Southeast Asia, especially India — a situation mirrored in other Chinese provinces. Indian students have been coming to China to study medicine since the turn of the millennium. In 2018, India was the fourth-largest source of international students in China, and 21,000 of the 23,000 Indian international students in the country the following year were studying for MBBS degrees.

India’s medical system is no slouch, so why do so many Indian students choose to study in China? To start, the medical profession in India offers high pay and high status, and the country has a shortage of doctors. The World Health Organization recommends a doctor-to-population ratio of 1:1,000; in India the ratio is 1:1,456. But while private medical education in India has developed rapidly since the 1970s, tuition fees at such institutions are high. The total tuition for a five-and-a-half-year degree program is between 40 and 75 lakhs (around $55,000 and $100,000), along with another potential 25-50 lakhs in fees.

On top of this, admission to India’s medical schools is highly competitive, with the pass rate for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test standing at just 56% in 2020. In short, high tuition fees and fierce competition act as barriers for many aspiring medical students, and even when they are admitted, there is an uneven quality of teaching at some privately run schools.

Beginning in the 2000s, this state of affairs has pushed some Indian students to look for alternative courses of study overseas. Popular destinations include Russia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and, since 2012, China, which has attracted Indian students largely for the quality and reasonable prices of its medical programs.


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