News By Nirmala Ganapathy and Ho Ai Li,The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Johnce Joseph, an 18-year-old from the southern Indian state of Kerala, has only ever wanted to become a doctor.

But Johnce, a class-topper with a 97-percent score in high school exams, found that the only way to follow her dream was to leave India, where a demographic bulge has made competition to get into a medical college as high as the fees.

Next month, she is packing her bags and leaving family and friends to pursue a medical degree at Wuhan University. Her degree from China will end up costing her 3 million rupees (US$48,803), versus 8 million rupees (US$129,768) in India.

Johnce is one of a growing number of international students flocking to China to study medicine, drawn by lower fees, English-language courses and increasingly cosmopolitan campuses.

“My cousin is studying there and I know doctors who have studied in China and working in India,” she said.

In 2011, China hosted more than 27,000 foreign students doing degrees in Western medicine, up from 20,000 in 2009, according to Chinese media reports.

They hail mainly from Africa and Asia, with a handful from the United States and Europe.

Singaporean Keith Sun, 28, who is studying medicine at Fudan University, was drawn by factors like Fudan’s reputation and lower fees compared to medical schools in the U.S., Britain or Australia.

For instance, tuition fees for the English-language Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) course at the Shanghai-based Fudan is 75,000 yuan (US$12,264) a year, compared with AU$40,000 (US$36,760) or more at Australian universities.

To be sure, degrees from universities in China are still not as widely recognized as those from British and American universities.

Singapore recognizes only eight Chinese universities, compared with 34 from the U.S. and 22 from Britain, according to the Singapore Medical Council.

For Indian students, there is an added reason to seek out a foreign degree. India has a 1.2 billion population, with half under the age of 35, so the competition to get into college has never been tougher.

In China, the number of students taking the national college entrance exam has dropped as more go overseas to study.

Each year in India, an estimated 700,000 students take a centralized test for 31,000 spaces in some 350 private and government medical colleges. An MBBS in India costs anything from 5 million rupees to 9 million rupees.

The number of Indian students going to China each year has grown by 10 percent to 20 percent, education specialists say.

Of the 9,200 Indian students now studying in China, 90 percent are doing an MBBS course.

The main advantage is the similarity in the Chinese degree to what is offered in India,” said Neyas Mohammed, head of consultancy firm Asian Educational Consultancy, based in Kerala.

The second has to do with cost, according to Mohammed, who added that Chinese medical colleges also have better facilities.

China is seen as a safe option for Indian students — especially girls — wanting to study abroad.

“In China, universities offer separate housing for girls and boys which also makes parents happy,” said Mohammed.

His consultancy has helped send 1,500 students to China. A thousand have since returned to practice in India.

So many Indian students are scrambling to make it to China that Indian missions there are warning them about unscrupulous agents.

The missions also issue guidelines on student life in China, from raising awareness of Chinese customs — greet people with “ni hao” and remember that the surname comes first — to warning of the rise of petty theft in southern China and blacklisting institutions offering poor quality education.

“There have been instances of middlemen cheating (them),” said an Indian official. “We ask students to do their homework before going.”

Jolly Jogadiya, 26, is pursuing a postgraduate diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics from Patankar Hospital in Pune in India, after completing her MBBS at Tianjin Medical University.

“I had a great time,” said Dr Jogadiya. “There were so many international students, so it was a very cosmopolitan atmosphere which I liked. But I did want to come back to India because a doctor’s salary in China is very low.”

Back in India, she had no problems getting into the postgraduate course.

Friends and colleagues are still surprised to hear of her stint in China. “People still don’t know too much about China and the kind of development there is over there. So many say, ‘you studied in China?.’ I say, ‘yes, China!’” she said.

“Then they ask me, ‘why China?’ and I say there was no option. It was within my budget plus the education was good.”

 

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