In a nation of billion-plus people with woefully inadequate access to healthcare and an acute shortage of qualified doctors, getting a seat at a medical college is often seen as a sure-fire way to prosperity. Owners of private medical colleges have for years sought to exploit this heavy demand by charging exorbitant fees, often with the blessings of the Medical Council of India (MCI). The Council, the country’s regulator for medical education and practice, has been accused of corruption in granting recognition to medical colleges. All this would change, or so the government hopes, once the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, introduced on Monday in the Lok Sabha, replaces the 63-year-old MCI with a new oversight body.

The bill seeks to establish uniform standards for medical education by proposing that the final year of MBBS exam be treated as an entrance test for post-graduate courses and a screening test for those who obtained a degree in medicine from abroad. This exam will be called the National Exit Test (NEXT). While some medical professionals have raised concerns over a possible dilution of standards this way, students at large appear to have welcomed the shift.

Perhaps the stand-out provision of the bill is its intent to cap fees on 50% of seats in MBBS and PG courses at private medical colleges. This seems to be a good interim measure, given the state-created squeeze on seat supply. However, price caps should not get institutionalized as a matter of policy. What the government needs to do is set up a large number of new medical colleges. Simultaneously, it must allow private players, as many as possible, to set up colleges with permits granted in an open and transparent manner. An increase in the number of seats, along with scrupulous regulation, would do a better job of solving the sector’s problems than price caps, which are inherently arbitrary and could distort the dynamics of medical education in the long term.

Close