Heartbroken, future in limbo: How NEET exams controversy has impacted UAE students

Many are shocked at the unexpected poor ranking despite good marks


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Mon 24 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 24 Jun 2024, 9:58 PM

For more than two years, Dubai student Sankarsan spent three to four hours every day studying for India’s medical entrance test. This was in addition to an already busy school day, balancing studies and school exams. The National Eligibility Entrance Test for Undergraduates (NEET-UG), the largest entrance exam in India, is a mandatory requirement for students who want to study medicine in the country.

“During the month before the exam, I was putting in 10 hours of studies every day, if not more,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times. “I was attending coaching classes and doing past papers, spending every waking moment preparing for this exam.”

However, like many other Indian students, he feels like all his efforts were “wasted” following the recent controversies that erupted over the exam.

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Over 1,500 students were awarded grace marks after there was a delay in the start of the exam while a record 67 students achieved an All India Rank (AIR) 1. Six of them were from the same coaching centre. In comparison, last year only two students got AIR 1. There have been accusations of massive irregularities and paper leaks as student union protests have rocked the country.

“It has been a very distressing time for us,” said Sankarasan. “We thought we would get what we deserved but unfortunately we didn’t. Now, our future hangs in limbo because it is still not clear whether there will be a re-exam or whether we will have to go ahead with what we have.”

Sachin Gupta
Sachin Gupta

On Sunday, the medical entrance exam for postgraduate students, NEET-PG, was postponed and a retest for the 1,563 students who received grace marks was held in six cities. However, there have been widespread calls for a re-exam for the more than 2 million students who took the exam.

Loss of trust

For Dubai-based student Rutba Qazi, the biggest takeaway from this incident was the loss of trust in the system.

“This is the largest exam that happens in India and it is conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) so there is a certain level of trust,” she said. “You would think that there is a proper procedure to prevent issues and ensure fairness. Every year there are some accusations of paper leaks and so on but this year’s has been the largest controversy in a long time. I feel like the entire nation has lost trust in the way things work.”

Rutba Qazi
Rutba Qazi

On Saturday, the director of NTA, Subodh Kumar Singh, was replaced and a seven-member committee was constituted to look at ways of improving the functioning of the agency. The probe into the incident has been handed over to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

According to Sachin Gupta, founder and CEO of educational institute of Knowledge Planet, the failures of NTA were shameful. “Conducting an exam of this magnitude on a single day is a herculean task for the testing authority,” he said. “And that's why, the entire process should be sacrosanct and there must not be any room for errors or irregularities. Otherwise we are playing with the hopes of millions of students who spend years working hard to prepare and excel at these exams. Imagine how many lives will be at risk when even one such student who has misused the exam system becomes a doctor."

Shocking ranks

Rutba, who scored more than 600 marks on the exam, said her future is uncertain despite her good performance. “With the marks I got, I was expecting to easily get into a government college in my state,” she said. “But when the ranks came, mine fell by around ten times from what was expected. It was astounding. Now I am not sure whether I will get into a college of my choice or go to another state.”

The NEET-UG exam is marked out of 720 marks, with 180 marks each allocated to Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany. It gives eligibility to over 100,000 seats in colleges across the country.

The parent of another top-performing UAE student who wished to remain anonymous, said her daughter’s rank was also a shock for them. “With her score, they expected a rank between 12,000 and 14,000, but the rank she got was 40,000, which was a huge shock to us,” the parent said. “I have watched my daughter sacrifice so much to prepare for these exams for two years, including her social life and outings. It feels so unfair that this happened.”

Farzan Mohamed
Farzan Mohamed

Dubai-based student Farzan Mohamed said he was “heartbroken” at the outcome. “Under normal circumstances, I would have gotten into a government college with my marks,” he said. “However, this year, I have no hope. I am heartbroken that so many years of preparation has been wasted. Now, I am trying to pick up the pieces and move forward in the best way I can.”


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