University of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek. (Photo: Mike Dudin via Unsplash)
In 2018, Shahid Matoo, an aspiring MBBS student from Srinagar landed in Kyrgyzstan, where he is, currently, about to complete his degree.
During his four-year-long stay in the Central Asian country, Matoo has been happy and satisfied with the learning environment he found himself in, the amenable faculty of the college and fee structure.
“Kyrgyzstan is a feasible destination for Kashmiri students as the weather is cold like Kashmir and the fee is affordable. The labs and clinical practice is also great while comparing with the colleges of other countries,” says Matoo.
Over the years, Kyrgyzstan has emerged as a top option for aspiring Kashmiri MBBS students, other places of draw being Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
A Srinagar-based educational consultant Jahangir Zargar says, nowadays, students prefer Kazakhstan because of its institutions’ low-budget fees.
“The minimum package to study MBBS in Bangladesh is Rs 30 lakh compared to Rs 20 lakhs in Russian countries,” Zargar adds.
Some students, mostly from the Shia community, prefer to study in Iran and majority of them get scholarships.
Over the years Bangladesh seems to have emerged, over the past decade, as the top option for Kashmir’s aspiring medical students.
A huge number of students from Kashmir prefer to go Chandigarh, Amritsar, Bengaluru and Pune for engineering, management and courses related to computers, while Bangladesh is being seen as an ideal destination for MBBS.
“We get the admission of candidates done in various countries but Bangladesh is at the top. For example, if we get 10 candidates who are planning to do MBBS abroad, seven would prefer to go Bangladesh,” says consultant Zargar.
Every year, nearly 2,000-odd candidates from Jammu and Kashmir go to Bangladesh for medical studies.
He added that since Bangladesh is a Muslim dominated country, a lot of Kashmiri students prefer to go there. “The food and culture in Bangladesh is almost matching with India and the syllabus is quite similar to Indian syllabus, which is why students pick Bangladesh for their MBBS.”
The COVID-19 pandemic since 2020 and the ongoing Ukrainian war has also made Bangladesh a “viable choice” for medical students of Kashmir.
“Since a lot of students remain stranded during COVID and during the war in Ukraine, the parents in Kashmir are no longer willing to send their children to far-off countries and are either zeroing in on Bangladesh or Central Asian countries,” says Ovais Ahmad, another educational consultant in Srinagar.
Seerat ud din, who completed her MBBS degree from Bangladesh last year, says, a majority of MBBS pass-outs from Bangladesh also crack the difficult Medical Council of India examination.
She adds, for a Kashmiri student, weather, food and language do bring a lot of frustration but the learning experience overpowers everything. “In Bangladesh, you cannot bribe to buy degrees. You have to work hard and pass each and every exam to get the degree. The medical colleges in Bangladesh are seen to have a high standard,” says Seerat.
Study options in some countries no longer exist
Before the war broke out in February 2022, Ukraine was one of the preferred destinations for Kashmiri medical students. Nearly 200 Kashmiri students studying in the country are back, awaiting the government’s decision on their futures.
Similarly, the government of India’s decision to not recognise the degrees and courses from Pakistan have also reduced options for Kashmiri medical students.
In April last year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) debarred those studying in Pakistan from jobs and higher studies in India.
Previously, about 100 students travelled every year to Pakistan, mainly for MBBS courses. Every year, around 50 students go to Pakistan under the scholarship programme for MBBS alone while a similar number of students get admission in other courses.
The different colleges and universities of Pakistan, including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), offer six per cent reservation for students from Jammu and Kashmir.
Likewise, the option to study in China is no longer on the table as more than 23,000 Indian students, including students from Kashmir, mostly studying medicine in Chinese colleges, are stuck in India after they returned home in the wake of COVID outbreak in December 2019.
Many Indian students studying in China could not return, causing complete disruption of their careers.
MBBS pass-outs from abroad face humiliation in Kashmir
For medical students of Kashmir, the challenges while studying abroad do not end with the degree but challenges mount when they return back to Kashmir.
“The problems of staying away from homeland for years together, hefty fee structure in foreign colleges, language barrier and adapting to new culture no doubt end after finishing the degree. But the real problem starts when we start returning to Kashmir. For instance, we qualify for Foreign Medical Graduates Examination, a licensure examination conducted by the National Board of Examinations in India and, yet, students who have done their MBBS within Kashmir look down upon us,” says Matoo.
Seerat agrees with Matoo and adds, while practising in Kashmir’s hospitals, MBBS pass-outs from Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are humiliated, forcing them to pursue their internships from other Indian states.
Europe is the preferred destination for higher education
Suhail Ahmad, who provides consultancy service to Kashmiri students seeking to pursue higher education abroad, says, most Kashmiri students mostly go to Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, the UK, the US and Australia.
Though European countries are expensive destinations due to the currency value difference, Kashmiri students get scholarships and chances to work (up to 20 hours per week).
International Higher Education expert from Kashmir Mehboob Makhdoomi says, on the world map, the UK has more Kashmiri students than the US or any other country. “The UK being the first choice for Kashmiri students is due to the matching weather conditions; it is closer to India than the US and the master’s degree gets completed within a year compared to two years in other nations,” says Makhdoomi, a pass-out of Harvard University, the US.
He adds, in the absence of counselling centres in Kashmir, students make wrong choices and end up ruining their careers. “The students instead of studying new subjects like digital marketing are only going for traditional degrees. For example, every year, hundreds of Kashmiri students go abroad for MBBS, but hardly anyone is aiming to learn contemporary subjects,” says Makhdoomi, the founder of Uni4Kashmir, an initiative to set up an international standard university in Kashmir.
Full scholarships in world-renowned institutions
In spite of being caught in the cycle of violence and political instability, a number of Kashmiri students are setting a new, encouraging trend while making it to the finest educational and technological institutions across the US, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Australia and other countries.
Young students have time and again managed to clear the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) with an exceptionally high score, securing admission in world-renowned institutions.
For example, earlier this month, Tashafee Masoodi, a Class XII student from Delhi Public School Srinagar earned an admission and full scholarship worth $70,000 at the prestigious Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
Similarly, in March 2022, Nishit Kaul, a Class IX student of Delhi Public School Srinagar scripted history by being offered admission by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the US, to its premier Bachelor of Computer Science Engineering (Artificial Intelligence) course at the age of 14.
In 2017, Sameer Rashid Bhat became the first Kashmiri student to get Rhodes scholarship in law. Hailing from a hamlet in south Kashmir’s Anantnag, Bhat was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship 2018 to pursue a postgraduate course in law at Oxford University.