New Delhi: Even as the Union government plans to partner with the private sector to set up better primary schools and infrastructure, several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Assam, have already begun looking to the same model for medical colleges.
Citing a shortage of health care professionals nationwide, state governments are in talks with consulting firm Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd, or IL&FS, to set up 20 medical colleges, each involving an investment of Rs50 crore.
“It will take four-six months for the identification and acquisition of land. Then, we will involve private sector participation,” confirmed a senior IL&FS executive, who declined being named. “We are targeting districts with very poor health indexes.”
While 30,000 doctors graduate annually, India still requires 600,000 medical practitioners, with the number expected to increase, according to Planning Commission estimates.
The ministry of human resource development, which oversees education, is considering a proposal to reserve more than one-third of seats in such medical schools for the school managements, which they would essentially turn over to private players.
“Admission criteria would be fixed by the school managements. The draft document for the model schools will reach the cabinet in a month’s time,” said an official at the ministry’s secondary education bureau, requesting anonymity.
Companies such as Max Healthcare, Fortis Healthcare Ltd, Manipal Hospital and Heart Foundation Pvt. Ltd and Apollo Hospitals Group have shown interest in partnering the state governments on this.
While about two-thirds of medical colleges are in south and west India, the northern and eastern regions face a shortage and “shall be focus areas”, said Narottam Puri, president, medical strategy and quality, at Fortis Healthcare.
He, however, added that the current norms to open a medical school—from land requirements to height regulations—can be obstacles and that “at the moment, the business case for an academic medical centre is not very bright, though there is hope that a more realistic and practical approach shall be adopted by the powers that have the authority”.
“There is a huge shortage of medical personnel in the country and there is a clear need for private sector participation,” said Monika Sood, president of corporate advisory services at Feedback Ventures. “The Medical Council of India (MCI) guidelines have some barriers that have stopped private sector participation in this sector.”
“The private companies will have to form not-for-profit societies to enter the sector,” she said. “The other question is of the state government’s expectations and the fee structure. If the private companies play by the MCI guidelines to the book, it will be very difficult to make money.”
Requests for comment to Max, Manipal and Apollo didn’t elicit a timely response.
Meanwhile, the framework for 2,500 so-called model primary schools—an idea mentioned in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech in 2007—is still being devised.
The management of the model primary schools would work differently, with the private players responsible for fees and other admission regulations in the so-called private seats, while the government seats would be subject to government norms, according to the ministry official. The fees would likely be less than private schools but more than government schools.
These schools are to be modelled on Kendriya Vidyalayas, which largely educate the children of government officials, and will have a classroom strength between 30 and 40. The student-to-teacher ratio is not to exceed 25:1, according to a framework drafted by the ministry.
The fee structure for the seats falling under the non-management quota will be similar to schools such as Kendriya Vidyalayas, with the state governments funding students falling under the reserved categories of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Under the model, the state governments provide land while the private player would bear the cost of building and infrastructure. In the case of upgrading existing schools, draft regulations see state governments refunding the land cost to the private players after 15 years of a school’s operation. “This is being done to discourage non-serious private players from entering into this kind of an arrangement,” the ministry official said.
However, not everyone is convinced.
Harsh Shrivastava, vice-president of marketing at Feedback Ventures, said: “I am not sure how this will work. For an example, who decides that how the teachers are selected and rewarded? Creation of capital assets alone will not help but it is the provision of teaching services which is more important.”
Despite the government’s keenness to encourage private sector participation in setting up model schools, private companies have complained about a lack of clarity in the structure of the partnership with the government.