If medical admissions were entirely merit based what would be the cut-off percentile required to fill all seats? Without the entire list of NEET qualified students in the country, gauging this cut-off percentile is an exercise in approximation.
However, the list of students who qualified from Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Telangana are available in the public domain. An analysis of these shows that for all categories other than ST, even an 88th percentile cut-off (equivalent to a score of 340) would have ensured enough and more students qualified to fill seats available. For the ST category, this would be true at about the 75th percentile or above a score of 234.
The cases of Assam and UP are particularly illuminating to show how merit is being compromised severely by money in medical admissions. Assam has no private colleges, while UP has no government quota in its 22 private colleges with 2800 seats.
An analysis of NEET scores shows that in Assam, only 49 of the 603 students admitted were below the cut-offs that would have been needed (from 93rd percentile for unreserved to 74th for ST) to fill all the seats available if merit alone mattered and all students who qualified were willing to join.
In contrast, in UP, over 2,900 of the 4,908 students admitted were below the cut-offs calculated on the basis of merit (from 97th for unreserved and OBC to 75th for ST). About 95% of these students were in the private colleges in UP.
This happens because many high-scoring students from the different categories cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged by private medical colleges and are forced to drop out despite merit. This allowed rich students with scores as low as 17-18% at the 50th and 40th percentile cutoffs to grab the seats.
Medical seats: Why pure merit works in Assam, not in UP
Instead of fixing the cut-off percentile based on the number of seats available and the marks scored by students in each year, the health ministry and the Medical Council of India fixed the cut-off in advance at 50th and 40th percentile.
To make matters worse, with no stipulation on minimum marks in each subject, students with single digit marks in chemistry and physics, and a few with even zero and negative marks in these subjects have qualified and got admission. Despite this being brought to the notice of the health ministry and the MCI, the system remains unchanged.
In 2018, the eligibility scores fell even further to 119 (16.5%) and 96 (13.3%) for the unreserved and reserved categories respectively. “At this rate, they might as well remove the cutoff and say that anyone writing NEET will be eligible. Seats are still being sold thanks to such low cut-offs,” remarked Jawahar Shanmugham, petitioner in a case against the high fees in deemed universities.
Even with the government helping colleges fill the highpriced seats by keeping cut-offs as low as possible, many private colleges in Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra were in the news in 2017 for being unable to fill NRI seats, and in some cases even management quota seats, which forced them to slash fees.
The seats remained vacant not because there weren’t meritorious students, but because there weren’t enough of them willing to pay such high fees.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest beneficiaries of the management and NRI seats are students from the unreserved category, accounting for over 60% of these seats (10,373 out of 17,243). OBCs account for almost 29% and SC and ST together amount to just 3%. The average score of unreserved students getting private seats (361.5) is less than the average score of SC category students in government colleges (367).