Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Department of Adult and Higher Education’s (DAHE) steering committee last week decided it would wait for the government to attend to the Assistance to Privately Enrolled Medical Students’ (APEMS) request on stipend revision.

Students studying on APEMS scholarship, particularly in Sri Lanka, submitted the request in January.  Following no response from DAHE, students submitted it to the prime minister, education minister, health minister, and the leader of the opposition in February.

However, they are still waiting for a response.

Given the need for health professionals in the country, the government instituted the APEMS scholarship scheme in 2009 through an executive order.

A student received a tuition fee of Nu 300,000 annually or USD 5,000 as 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 DAHE under the education ministry.

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

However, after a decade since the scheme was instituted, APEMS was never revised.

This has forced many students 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 said.

An official from DAHE said that, after a thorough discussion, its steering committee decided that, since students have appealed to the government, they would wait for the government to make a decision.

“DAHE doesn’t have the authority to revise fees because APEMS was introduced through an executive order,” an official said. “It’s not that we don’t support the students but we can’t do anything without an executive order.”

It is not the first time students have requested the revision.  DAHE official also claimed that the department proposed for a revision of stipend twice after students requested, but the request never came through.

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.

Submitting the letter through their student association to the prime minister, students stated that, after not getting help from anywhere, they were appealing to the prime minister with the hope that government would help solve the issue.

Explaining the situation, students wrote that, when the first batch of APEMS students started their MBBS course in Sri Lankan universities in 2009, the funding given by the government was enough to meet the tuition fee.  The fee was also enough to supplement their living.

“But for the last 12 years, the fee has been increasing equivalent to Nu 474,500 annually,” students wrote. “With this, we’re required to top up about Nu 174,500 annually for tuition fee alone.”

One of the students said that, while the fee had kept increasing, funding from the government had not changed.

“Considering the APEMS in Sri Lanka, the students have to manage our own house rents, electricity bill, water bills and meals, which come above USD 200 a month,” he said. “We’ve to also manage our own living expenses.”

Another student said that, while the full scholarship students were refunded after their renewals of visa, it was not the same as those under the APEMS scholarship.  Students spend about Nu 77,488 for document renewals in five years.

“We hope that the government will revise the clauses in the APEMS funding system and consider a raise as per the request,” the letter stated.