Dubai: Indian students in the UAE fear missing the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) exam in India because of uncertainty over travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of them have signed an online petition to have a test centre in the UAE before the exam on July 26.
NEET is the sole entrance exam for undergraduate medical courses in India, conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).
The exam is open to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) but they must travel to one of the test centres in India as the exam is only offered offline. Some 1.5 million students are registered to take NEET 2020, including around 300 from the UAE.
Students fear losing a year if they are unable to travel in time for the latest NEET. Currently, only limited repatriation flights for special cases are operating from the UAE to India. Within India itself, there are restrictions on air and road travel because of the nationwide lockdown.
Students in the UAE generally choose their home city or state in India to sit NEET exams.
Simran Shinde, who recently graduated from high school in Abu Dhabi, said she registered to take NEET in Mumbai or Pune (both cities in Maharashtra state) as part of her options, which have “most of the coronavirus cases and red zones.
“Even if we could travel, it’s risky because of the virus. Then there is the mandatory quarantine period to clear in India. If we are asked to transfer to another state for NEET, we may not be able to go from there; you need permission to travel anywhere,” Shinde said.
“The best thing would be to have a test centre arranged in the UAE for NEET this year, taking all the necessary precautions and approvals.”
Another candidate, Sharjah-based Ardra Sudhir, said she is yet to receive notification for which test centre she will take the test.
‘Everything is uncertain’
“I’ve chosen [Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala state] as my test centre. What if I get an unfamiliar city instead; how will I travel around when everything is uncertain. We just don’t know what will happen by the test date, regarding travel and restrictions. I’m also concerned about the risk of infection while travelling,” said Sudhir, 18.
“I think having a test centre in the UAE this time is possible, we just have to see if that idea will go ahead.”
India expat Jiya Shankar commented on ipetitions.com, which is hosting the petition, “there are many students from UAE who are enrolled to give the exam. Travel and stay in India will be very tough to arrange in time for the exam. It will be safer for everyone if an exam centre is held in UAE”.
That suggestion is “under consideration” by the NTA, said Subramanian Krishnamoorthy, CEO of Meccademia Education Group, citing an emailed response from the agency. Krishnamoorthy and Meccademia, which prepares candidates for NEET and other exams, are spearheading efforts for a local test centre.
Krishnamoorthy said Meccademia can provide its facilities for a local test, bearing its expenses, at its 10 centres in the UAE with a total capacity of 500 candidates. He added that a local test is feasible, providing the example of CBSE exams that were held in the UAE despite school closures in March, following all safety rules.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now. We wanted to give candidates in the UAE that benefit for a local test; we will not charge an additional fee for that. We can bring in, in co-ordination with teachers and the Indian consulate, invigilators for the three-hour test. We’ve already received interest in that regard,” Krishnamoorthy said.