Yangchen C Rinzin  

Given the need for health professionals in the country, the then government instituted an Assistance to Privately Enrolled Medical Students (APEMS) scholarship scheme in 2009 through an executive order.

Under the scholarship the scheme, a student received a tuition fee of Nu 300,000 annually or USD 5,000 college fees. The scheme also provided a stipend after completion of the second year, which is 70 percent of the total stipend given to full scholarship students.

The scholarship is provided through the department of adult and higher education (DAHE) under the education ministry.

The scholarship was provided to 15 students every year to study medicine either in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, which was increased to 20 last year to address the acute shortage of doctors in the country.

However, after a decade since the scheme was instituted, APEMS has remained the same. There has not been revision or modification to the fund provided.

This has forced many students studying under the scheme, particularly in Sri Lanka to submit a letter to DAHE requesting to revise the funding system. The universities have increased the fees to more than USD 6,000.

Students Kuensel talked to claimed that it was not the first time they had requested to consider the fund.

One of the students said that when the scheme first started, the fund was adequate to cover the tuition fee as well as to cover other expenses. “But now with the change in economy and revision of fees by the universities, the fund is not sufficient,” a student said.

Students have to pay for stationery, transportation, visa documents, food and living expenses unlike students on a full scholarship.

“We had to spend about Nu 15,000 extra before, but with the increase in fees, we now have to pay about Nu 150,000 additional fees every year depending on universities,” a student said.

Some shared that this has now deterred students from opting for MBBS course in Sri Lanka through such scholarship scheme. A few claimed they withdrew from the scheme.

“DAHE or education ministry must look into this and change the scheme based on the current situation,” a third-year student said.

While some students availed loans to pay the fees, others have availed scholarship funding from Loden Foundation.

A student said that universities kept increasing fees so, the government must intervene to review the scheme. “We’re looking forward to the response this time.”

Meanwhile, DAHE’s director general Kesang Choden Dorji, said that the letter would be submitted to the steering committee for further directives after the offices re-open. “We’ve to put this in the committee since the decision cannot be made at the department level.”

Regularising APEMS to a full scholarship to address the acute shortage of doctors and making scholarship uniform was once discussed in the National Assembly in June 2019. No concrete decision was taken, however.

Kuensel learnt that DAHE does not have the authority to revise the fund for such a scheme unless the government issues an executive order to do so.