Now that the stewards of state (of “commanding heights” fame) have completely botched things, how do we reform? Where do we begin? What do we do?
To answer that question, it may be useful to remember the Cheshire Cat from
To understand what we need to do, we need to have a suitable vision of where we want to go. We may, for instance, want to “Establish a system to produce world-class physicians and health care leaders to meet Maharashtra’s and India’s demand for talent, while creating economic value via high-quality patient care, research and accelerated job creation.”
Translated into plain English, this means more and better hospitals -- say three times as many, with vastly improved teaching skills and capabilities that directly meet
It is tempting – but wrong – to conclude that all it will take is more money. If that were the case, the thousands of crores of taxpayer money the government has spent in shoring up Air
No – it’s not more money that is required. What is required is an entirely new system for channelling cash, most of it from private pockets, to create an all new educational system.
There are three big changes the government must drive to make this happen:
1.Create competition in the delivery of medical education by liberalising norms governing setting up of medical institutions
The only way we can have more medical schools is, well, by allowing more people to start medical schools.
Transparent, simple yet stringent norms should be established – and anyone meeting those norms should be allowed to start a medical school. The norms could well cover requirements such as financial stability, experience in running medical schools – perhaps even globally. This is a good way of getting schools like Harvard and
Going beyond the school itself, medical institutions should be allowed to select the university with which they choose to be affiliated. Ergo Medicine programs should be repatriated to their parent universities, completely reversing the current trend for sameness. Creating competition – where universities strive to be affiliated to the best schools – is a far more powerful means of creating quality than by obsessing over standardising curricula across the state.
2. Create payment security in Education to attract the best medical schools
While (1) will grab the interest of leading healthcare educational institutions, it is unlikely to keep them from having bouts of attention deficit. To make sure the Harvards of the world come – and stay – the Government will need to assure them of a good return on their investment.
Discussing “returns on investment” in education is typically considered inapplicable – heretical even.
An education – in particular, a degree from a reputed college – is highly monetisable. When an average IIM-A student gets a starting salary worth 10 lakh, the market deems the worth of that “student+degree” combination to be worth at least as much. So, if an IIM-A student is charged Rs. 5 for a degree, s/he should not really be bothered – s/he will still be, economically speaking, better off.
So, in a nutshell, the government must give full freedom to medical schools to charge market rates for their fees.
And, instead of controlling fees, mechanisms should be established whereby the poorest of the poor have access to the capital required to fund this education. A cornucopia of solutions – from student loans to vouchers as suggested by Friedman – are possible. The government can, in fact, “fund” the education of students from whichever caste/creed/demographic/electorally useful group of people it wishes to pamper by directly paying the school the full cost of their education.
Such a move will have an altogether salubrious effect on the schools themselves. Forced with having to compete for the student’s rupee, colleges will have to offer better facilities, higher teaching standards and resources to attract students and value –added services – like career counselling and placements. The motivation for becoming distinctive will also incentivise them to establish tie-ups and alliances for research and development.
Existing shackles that prevent these relationships from emerging should also be removed.
3. Ensure public safety by establishing an independent regulatory authority.
While (1) and (2) may be adequate in other sectors, it is certainly not enough in medical education. After all, is it safe to leave the licensing of physician to a bunch of colleges that is interested in a 100% pass rate?
This is a legitimate concern, but effectively solved by establishing an independent regulator.
This independence and financial stability is crucial to staff the regulator with high quality experts – and not some spineless lackeys beholden to the present Minister.
Details about how we can make this regulator – indeed any institution – at arms length from political vicissitudes is matter enough for a separate post.
So there we have it – a framework to pull
Of course, several operational issues remain unanswered – such as how do we ensure that these medical colleges have the right kind of teaching hospitals available? This one is easy: allow hospitals to forge alliances with existing hospitals to upgrade them into teaching institutions. Give incentives for adopting and transforming poorly run government hospitals and so on.
Some questions are harder – such as how do we get the best here? How many medical schools are enough? How expensive is too much?
They are all valid and important.
However they are also amenable for resolution under the umbrella framework of the three shifts listed above: competition, payment security and outcome regulation.
So, why have we not started as yet?
Unfortunately, like most changes – this change too has to start from the government. Babus have to go from thinking of themselves as thekedaars and maay-baaps of the sector to facilitators and nurturers.
They have to realise that this sector is too important to be held ransom to their petty egos.
Alas, the recent fracas with Ramadoss and the AIIMS demonstrated how far the sarkar is from this realisation.
Einstein had once said that a problem can only be solved at a level of consciousness higher than at which it was caused.
Our netas and babus need to raise their levels of consciousness pretty significantly to embrace such radical change.
Cold comfort, that we need to wait for our Netas and Babus to think differently.
Perhaps they should begin their journey by reading