Not Making the Grade

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Protests erupted across India this week over allegations of widespread corruption involving the country’s national medical entrance exam, a scandal that has prompted calls for accountability on the issue of youth unemployment, the South China Morning Post reported.

Allegations of cheating and test leaks arose after the June 4 results revealed unusually high scores in the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Exam Test – Undergraduate (NEET-UG), prompting concerns over exam integrity and fairness.

More than two million students compete annually for 110,000 spots to study medicine, with 60,000 in state universities and the rest in private colleges.

Students and parents have filed numerous court petitions, citing paper leaks and flawed questions. Activists highlighted the urgent need for a thorough investigation and a fair do-over, emphasizing the impact on 2.4 million students preparing for a career in medicine.

The Supreme Court has urged the government and National Testing Agency (NTA), which handles the exam, to address these demands.

Initially, the NTA denied any allegations of cheating, but later canceled scores for some students and scheduled a do-over for June 23. Police also detained a number of people in the states of Gujarat and Bihar over exam fraud.

The scandal puts increasing pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who secured a third term in office after this month’s general elections that were overshadowed by issues such as inequality, unemployment and joblessness. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party otherwise lost its majority in parliament, with Modi only able to remain in office by forming a coalition government with other parties.

Opposition parties have seized on the scandal to criticize Modi for ruining the country’s education and recruitment system, as well as worsening youth unemployment, according to the Times of India.

India’s rapid economic growth contrasts with its struggle to generate sufficient jobs: Despite India’s official unemployment rate falling to 3.2 percent in 2023, joblessness remains highest among educated youth between the ages of 15 to 29. The 2024 India Employment Report noted a decline in youth labor force participation from 54 percent in 2000 to 42 percent.

Amid the controversy, the Ministry of Education has dismissed the opposition’s allegations and announced the cancellation of another entrance exam, due to compromised integrity. Even so, Indian activists are calling for a revised exam process to prevent future irregularities.

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