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Event Title: Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination

Event Date: 2021-11-09

Meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination was held under the Chairmanship of Senator Dr. Muhammad Humayun Mohmand here at Parliament House today .

At the outset, the Committee discussed recently conducted Medical & Dental College Admission TEST (MDCAT), Testing agencies registration, selection, past experience and agreement / MOU signed by PMC with them. The Committee members expressed their reservations regarding widespread complaints of discrimination and mismanagement throughout the whole process of admission test.

The President PMC briefed the Committee  that the PMC Act, 2020 empowers the PMC  to conduct the tests and the MDCAT test was conducted. The reason to conduct the test through a computer based system was to ensure integrity and transparency of the exam. In addition the Council also directed the Authority to ensure that the MDCAT exam was offered internationally as a large number of Overseas Pakistanis applied for admissions each year and in the past they were permitted to use SAT II scores, however, with SAT II being discontinued and MDCAT being a mandatory requirement, it was essential to offer the exam internationally. To conduct the exam through a computer based system for the first time in Pakistan and at such a large scale, the Authority worked to review all possible solutions to conduct the computer based examination. In view of the above, the Authority initiated a review of the local market testing service providers to see whether a suitable partner could be available to the Authority for conduct of the examinations. It was in this regard that the public advertisement requesting proposals from interested parties was published on 4th May, 2021. The minimum mandatory requirements were identified in the advertisement. A total of 12 companies submitted their proposals which were reviewed and SOAR Education Private Ltd was approved for the task to conduct the test.

The Committee members termed the system adopted by PMC for conducting the test as Discriminatory. Senator Rubina Khalid inquired that   the reason for conducting exam in 32  days. Answering to which the President PMC said that logistical issues and non-availability of resources for conducting computerized exam in a single day has prompted us to take this exam over the period of 32 days. Senator Rubina Khalid further said that if PMC did not have the required facilities and resources available than they should have gone with previous system. “Everything is being done in haste, System should be changed gradually, and these abrupt changes have disturbed the whole system” she said.

Meanwhile the Chairman Committee inquired the  President PMC that how does the system ensured same level of difficulty for every student when the exam  spanned over 32 days with different questions involved each day. The President PMC stated that panel of experts compiled  pool of  questions with certain percentage of both easy and difficult questions, which ensured that level of difficulty remains the same for student.

The Committee members were of the view that it is impossible to maintain the same benchmark while conducting a test, stretched over 32 days.

Senator Behramand Khan Tangi pointed out that MDCAT exam stretched over 32 days is in violation of PMC Act itself which clearly states that MDCAT will be conducted on a single day throughout the country.  "Either conduct the exam on single day if not than PMC Act needs to he ammended" said Senator Behramand Khan Tangi.

Senator Dr. Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur commented that intention behind conducting the computerized test seems right but the execution has been very faulty.

SAPM on NHSR&C Dr. Faisal Sultan defended the system employed by PMC and said that system may not be perfect but we have ensured same level of difficulty for all the students. “Our effort is that our children can face safe and competent doctors in future. We have to define minimum standards. This test is an attempt to incorporate critical thinking into the system. We have enough candidates to fill 20,000 seats in our medical colleges. Over 68000 candidates have passed the exam which shows that system is working.  We have to correct our input so that 6 or 7 years down the line we have competent doctors available as per requirement”.

Senator Dr. Zarqa Suharwady Taimur maintained that “Change requires time. PMC should communicate with doctors around the country. They should be taken into confidence before taking such drastic decisions which affect the lives of millions. Doctors should be made part of the deliberations and that’s all they want. Sadly medical professionals have been left to protest on streets. Alternate avenues should be explored for candidates who do not make it to medical colleges. PMC should do something about them as well”.

The Chairman Committee sought details of extra marks given to candidates in MDCAT for wrong questions which were included in the exam. President PMC replied that an extra mark for each wrong question has been allotted to candidate. The Committee members expressed serious reservations on this and were of the view that this policy of awarding extra marks to candidates is discriminatory. The Chairman committee remarked that even a single mark is important, students either get or are denied admission based on single mark.

The Committee members questioned PMC officials regarding National Licensing Examination introduced by PMC. The Committee members were of the view that PMC should make a database of valid medical colleges and display the list on its website so that parents and students can get guidance before taking admissions abroad.

PMC officials were of the view that some of the students get admissions in medical colleges abroad which are not up to the international approved standards. It was further added that Agent Mafia has captured the market for money.  The President said that in order to bring transparency and ensure quality PMC has introduced NLE as per global and international practice.

The Committee also deliberated upon the process of awarding contract to a  testing agencyfor Conducting MDCAT test. The  Committee decided to discuss the matter in detail in the next meeting of the committee.

Meeting was attended by Senators, Prof Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani, Fawzia Arshad, Dr. Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur, Rubina Khalid, Jam Mahtab Hussain Dahar, Sardar Muhammad Shafiq Tareen, Khalida Ateeb, Behramand Khan Tangi, SAPM on NHSR&C, Officials from PMC and Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination.