States asked to probe for 'ghost' medical teachers

The Medical Council of India has asked state councils to investigate the problem of “ghost” teachers in medical colleges following the discovery of more than 400 fake teachers in four colleges in three states.

The Punjab Medical Council or PMC, during a routine inspection of medical colleges in the state of Punjab, India, discovered 436 fake teachers enrolled as full-time faculty in four colleges in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

These “ghost teachers” are registered as faculty members drawing a hefty salary, but have never taken a single class. Most of them run private clinics, and only attend the college when there is an impending medical inspection.

The four colleges identified by the PMC are two Maharishi Markandeshwar Medical Colleges in Solan and Ambala; the Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda; and Gian Sagar Medical College, Patiala.

According to Dr GS Grewal, president of the PMC, this racket affected some of the most crucial departments like anatomy, physiology and forensic medicine.

He said that the Maharishi Markandeshwar College in Ambala, established in 2008, has an annual intake of 150 students.

“It needs a minimum of 108 faculty members as per the Medical Council of India norms. On paper it has 145 teachers listed. But that’s on paper. The college would retain a majority of the names adding new ones off and on. During inspections the doctors would appear and then disappear once the inspections were over.”

Other institutions are also being investigated for allegedly following a similar practice.

Every year hundreds of thousands of medical degree aspirants from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh compete for some 2,445 places. Of these 1,395 belong to private medical colleges and each student pays well over INR5 million (US$80,200) to get admission.

So widespread is the practice of ghost faculty staff in medical colleges across the country that many of the state medical councils have thrown up their hands in despair.

India has the largest number of medical colleges in the world – 356 – of which 162 are government-run institutes and 194 are private. Privately run medical colleges were allowed to be set up in order to provide places for the large number of medical aspirants whom the government colleges could not accommodate.

However, the hiring of credible and qualified teaching staff has remained an issue. State-run colleges in Tamil Nadu in the south, for instance, face a 30% teacher shortage.

As per Medical Council of India, or MCI, guidelines, each college needs a minimum number of faculty staff to be recognised. But despite a severe shortage of teaching staff, most of these colleges show adequate staff numbers on paper or at the time of the annual inspections.

Doctors have claimed that they were offered up to INR400,000 (US$6,400) by these colleges to appear at the time of inspection.

The continuing shortage of teachers, especially in forensics, anatomy and community medicine, leads to a vicious cycle of compromised quality of medical education due to a lack of mentorship.

According to a senior professor in medicine in Mumbai, who has now retired from his post and spoke on condition of anonymity: “In some colleges in the south of India, students appearing for the MBBS [or medical degree] exam learned from specialists of other departments and not their own, or by rote from textbooks.”

Senior doctors said the shortage of faculty staff is a problem in most medical colleges in the country and the only way out would be for the MCI to relax some of its rules.

The MCI did not allow any part-time faculty staff in colleges. But in 2013, following similar complaints of a shortage of academics, the MCI relaxed the rules allowing doctors from the private sector to teach as faculty in all medical colleges.

Many doctors feel that the current shortage has been compounded by the policy of reservations that the government has followed, in order to increase representation of minorities.

Dr N Majithia, a senior doctor with BHEL, Delhi, said: “When we were in college there was no question of shortages. But over the years getting into an MBBS [or medical degree] programme has become even tougher. The number of places has shrunk because a percentage is reserved. The competition is stiff and people are willing to go to any lengths to get admission anywhere.”

She said that despite the relaxation in retirement age, no senior doctor wished to remain in a post where there was no chance of personal growth. “So the good ones are taken up by the many new corporate or privately run hospitals. Who is left to teach?”

While on the one hand the government is doing everything to increase graduate enrolment, there is a troubling situation developing more widely across the higher education sector.

With a complete shortage of qualified staff, higher education in India continues to be plagued by all kinds of scams and corrupt practices. The medical college scam is only one of the many that have so entrenched themselves into the system that critics believe nothing short of a total overhaul will help.

According to a senior doctor, Dr K Kaul, who runs his own private practice in Mumbai: “It is disturbing that the fate of a human life finally will depend on hordes of doctors who have passed out of colleges with an MBBS degree with no one to teach or guide them.

“Many of them find their way into internships and soon join the vast multitudes of junior doctors who practise in the many private and government run hospitals and clinics,” he said.